Obama camp accuses Clinton of signaling 'anything goes' campaign
Nick Juliano
Published: Tuesday March 11, 2008

Print This  Email This

Hillary Clinton is signaling to her supporters that "anything goes" by not forcefully repudiating racially tinged comments from a prominent surrogate, Democratic rival Barack Obama's campaign strategist charged Tuesday.

The Obama campaign arranged a conference call to repudiate comments from Geraldine Ferraro, who told a California newspaper, "If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position."

"When you wink and nod at offensive statements, you're sending a signal to your supporters that anything goes," Obama chief strategist David Axelrod said, referring to the Clinton campaign's tepid response.

Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson, who just last week forcefully called for Obama to fire an adviser who called Clinton a "monster," said only that the campaign "disagree[d]" with Ferraro, who had not apologized for the remark as of Tuesday afternoon. Aside from Wolfson's brief statement, Clinton's campaign remained mostly mum on the Ferraro comments.

Clinton herself did address the dust-up during a brief interview with the Associated Press.

Clinton said, "I do not agree with that," and later added, "It's regrettable that any of our supporters — on both sides, because we both have this experience — say things that kind of veer off into the personal."

"We ought to keep this on the issues. there are differences between us" on approaches to health care, energy, experience.

Clinton's campaign manager, Maggie Williams, eventually weighed in on the issue as well, sending reporters a sharply worded statement around 5:30 p.m.. Williams rehashed a comment from Obama during a debate calling for the campaign to focus on the issues.

"Senator Obama’s campaign staff seems to have forgotten his pledge. We have not," Williams said. "And, we reject these false, personal and politically calculated attacks on the eve of a primary. This campaign should be about the leadership we need for a better future and these attacks serve only to divide the Democratic Party and the American people."

Williams response came four hours after the Obama campaigns conference call, and she didn't indicate any intention for the campaign to distance itself from Ferraro.

"It's disappointing that Clinton supporters have sought to somehow diminish Senator Obama's candidacy and his support by suggesting he's in some way being given preferential treatment because of his race," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), an Obama supporter who spoke during the call. "Any and all remarks that diminish Sen. Obama's candidacy because of his race are completely out of line."

Noting that Ferraro was a member of Clinton's campaign finance committee and had raised money for her presidential campaign, Axelrod said she "ought to be removed from those positions."

Axelrod said Ferraro's comments were part of a "pattern" of negative attacks aimed at Obama. He pointed to Clinton's former New Hampshire co-chairman Bill Shaheen, who questioned whether Obama ever sold drugs; supporter Rober Johnsen, the founder of Black Entertainment Television, who raised the specter of Obama's past drug use; and Clinton's own "unwillingness" to "definitively" shoot down rumors that Obama was Muslim in an interview this month.

Drawing a distinction with how Obama's campaign handled the dust-up after foreign policy adviser Samantha Power slipped up with her "monster" comment (she resigned the next day), Axelrod said Clinton is all-but encouraging these negative attacks, which he called part of an "insidious pattern."

Ferraro was the first woman to be nominated on a major party ticket when she was Walter Mondale's vice presidential nominee in 1984. Although she is not a paid campaign adviser, Ferraro is a vocal supporter and has raised more than $100,000 for Clinton's campaign.

The Clinton campaign established near-radio silence Tuesday as the controversy over Ferraro's comments intensified. For the first time in more than a week, the Clinton campaign did not schedule a daily press call, and the campaign had released nothing addressing Ferraro's comments. As of 3 p.m. Tuesday, Team Clinton apparently had spoken only four words on the matter:

"We disagree with her," spokesman Howard Wolfson told Politico's Ben Smith.

The press office did not respond to RAW STORY's or the Hotline's requests for further comment.

The Clinton campaign's response to its own dip in some surrogate-boiled hot water stands in marked contrast to its quick and forceful condemnation of Power's comments. By 10:30 a.m. last Friday, the day Power's comment appeared in the Scottsman, Clinton's campaign alerted convened several supportive lawmakers to discuss "the state of the race," which translated to slamming Power, an by proxy Obama, for saying, "She [Clinton] is a monster, too – that is off the record – she is stooping to anything."

Wolfson at the time decried that kind of "ad hominem personal attack" and said anyone on the Clinton campaign made a similar statement "we would not be on this campaign this morning."

Ferraro's comments first appeared in the Daily Breeze, a small southern California newspaper, last Friday, but they went largely unnoticed until late Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning.

When the subject turned to Obama, Clinton's rival for the Democratic Party nomination, Ferraro's comments took on a decidedly bitter edge.

"I think what America feels about a woman becoming president takes a very secondary place to Obama's campaign - to a kind of campaign that it would be hard for anyone to run against," she said. "For one thing, you have the press, which has been uniquely hard on her. It's been a very sexist media. Some just don't like her. The others have gotten caught up in the Obama campaign.

"If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position," she continued. "And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept." Ferraro does not buy the notion of Obama as the great reconciler.

"I was reading an article that said young Republicans are out there campaigning for Obama because they believe he's going to be able to put an end to partisanship," Ferraro said, clearly annoyed. "Dear God! Anyone that has worked in the Congress knows that for over 200 years this country has had partisanship - that's the way our country is."

Appearing on MSNBC Tuesday morning, Obama adviser Susan Rice said Ferraro's comments were "far worse" than those from Power.

"I think if Senator Clinton is serious about putting an end to statements that have racial implications, that diminish Barack Obama because he's an African-American man," Rice said, "then she ought to really repudiate this comment and make it clear that there's no place in her campaign for people who will say this kind of thing."