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Hillary and the 'Hit List': Christie-style payback or routine politics?

 

Are the media about to turn Hillary into this week’s Chris Christie?

Does she have a hit list to retaliate against her political enemies? Does she practice a brand of payback that would make the New Jersey governor look like a Boy Scout?

One might get that impression from a rather breathless book excerpted in Politico. The headline, “Hillary’s Hit List,” evokes a brass-knuckles approach on a par with Nixon’s infamous enemies list.

Now there’s no question that the Clintons have built a powerful political machine over the years and play the game aggressively. But unlike the Nixonian version—where enemies were targeted for wiretaps and break-ins—there is no evidence in this piece that Hillaryland actually punished anyone.

The problem is that nobody on the Hillary hit list got hit.

In fact, Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes undermine the headline at the tail end of their excerpt: “It would be political malpractice for the Clintons not to keep track of their friends and enemies. Politicians do that everywhere.”

So why is this news?        

“The difference is the Clintons, because of their popularity and the positions they’ve held, retain more power to reward and punish than anyone else in modern politics.”

Sure, at times. At the moment, neither one holds public office, though Hillary Clinton could be the world’s most powerful person in 2017.

The sad spectacle of Christie’s aides gleefully causing chaos around the George Washington Bridge to punish a Democratic mayor exposes the ugliest side of politics. But let’s not be naïve about the day-to-day practice of the art.

Politicians ask other political figures and rich folks for support. They tend to reward those who help them, often with jobs, contracts and ambassadorships, a practice that dates to the earliest days of the republic. Abraham Lincoln spent an extraordinary amount of time doling out postmaster plums and other positions. And these pols tend to freeze out, if not undermine, those who oppose them.

LBJ is recalled as a master of rewarding friends and punishing enemies, buying votes with bridges and pork projects. But that approach had its dark side. Johnson once threatened to sic the FCC on the parent company of a newspaper whose reporter was investigating his Texas television station. And he blackmailed the head of a Texas bank who was also president of the Houston Chronicle by vowing to block a bank merger until the man promised in writing that the paper would back LBJ editorially.

As for Hillary, she and her circle are described as obsessed with who endorsed her in her 20008 race against Barack Obama. In an early draft of the list maintained by aides, “each Democratic member of Congress was assigned a numerical grade from 1 to 7, with the most helpful to Hillary earning 1s and the most treacherous drawing 7s. The set of 7s included Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), as well as Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Baron Hill (D-Ind.) and Rob Andrews (D-N.J.).”

The Clintons were particularly ticked at Claire McCaskill because they’d helped her win her Senate race in 2006, but she said on “Meet the Press” that while Bill was a great leader, “I don’t want my daughter near him.” Still, guess what? Hillary courted McCaskill in an unsuccessful attempt to get her ’08 endorsement.

Do the Clintons have long memories? Of course. But I searched this excerpt in vain for one example of them retaliating against someone who screwed them.

“‘It wasn’t so much punishing as rewarding, and I really think that’s an important point,’ said one source familiar with Bill’s thinking. ‘It wasn’t so much, “We’re going to get you.” It was, “We’re going to help our friends.” I honestly think that’s an important subtlety in Bill Clinton, in his head. She’s not as calculated, but he is.’”

Sounds like a pretty good explanation of modern contemporary politics. The reason the Christie scandal has resonated is not that his aides—without his knowledge, he says—tried to hit back at Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for his non-endorsement of the governor. It’s that so many New Jersey and New York commuters were sideswiped in the process.  

Gates Pushes Back

I’ve been among those critical of Robert Gates for revealing private conversations with his ex-boss in a tell-all memoir.

Now the former Defense secretary is pushing back.

No one questions his right to rip Barack Obama as a war president; the question is whether Gates betrayed private confidences.

Gates said yesterday on the “Today” show: “I was disappointed that the book has been hijacked by people along the political spectrum to serve their own purposes, taking quotes out of context, part of the political warfare in Washington that I decry in the book…

“What has been lost in the news media is I actually agreed with virtually every decision Obama made on Afghanistan. I said, along the way, when he made those decisions, particularly on the Afghan surge in November 2009, I absolutely believe he was convinced it would work. The way I outline it in the book is his reservations began to grow in the spring of 2010. But as late as December 2010 he was still saying we were on the right track in Afghanistan.”

Gates also said he hadn’t seen Hillary Clinton make any purely political decisions as Secretary of State, as opposed to criticizing the Iraq surge when she was a presidential candidate.

The problem with the hijacking defense is that, as every author knows, putting in the juicy personal anecdotes is what creates the wave of publicity that sells books. His publisher put out excerpts, knowing full well what was likely to get picked up. “Duty” may be far more balanced that the initial headlines suggested, but Gates and Random House are largely responsible for that.

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Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.