LOS ANGELES – The political world was abuzz on Tuesday about things that didn’t happen.
Did Michelle Obama launch a new attack aimed at Hillary? No.
Did Hillary change her position opposing the war in Iraq in an effort to court members of the VFW? No.
But you wouldn’t know it if you read the most popular blogs, follow the news on some leading cable networks (present company excluded) which shall remain nameless, and get into the back and forth that goes on among candidates, members of the press, and voters all day long in this plugged-in, instant response political world.
The news about Michelle Obama’s supposed grenade aimed at Hillary broke in the morning Drudge Report, the much-read, right-leaning compendium of news and views. "Obama Wife Slams Hillary?" the headline asked. “If You Can’t Run Your Own House, How Can You Run the White House…”
As it turns out, the line is a standard part of Mrs. Obama’s stump speech, which she’s been giving all month. And it’s not about her marriage to Barack, or his to her, but about their two daughters, and how they have tried to keep their eye on them — on what’s important — even in the midst of the pressures of the campaign. To construe that as an attack on Hillary, who has been criticized for many things, but never for lack love or mothering towards her daughter Chelsea, is a stretch, to say the least.
But that didn’t stop Senator Obama from having to deny that his wife was attacking Mrs. Clinton’s marriage in an afternoon conference call with reporters. And it didn’t stop certain unnamed news networks and local television stations from turning that into a headline about Obama denying an attack on Hillary, which to those who assume that smoke means fire, was only further proof that what didn’t happen did. Welcome to campaign 2008.
And if that particular tiff could be blamed on the conservatism of the Drudge Report, it was the left-leaning Huffington Post that created the Hillary Iraq controversy that wasn’t. The Huffington Post, which is to be sure no friend to Hillary, despite or perhaps because of its liberal leanings, had Hillary suggesting that the surge was “working,” quoting one paragraph from a long section of her speech to the VFW in which she recognized that new tactics initiated by Gen. Petraeus were more successful in securing certain areas, particularly Al Anbar province, than the old strategy had been.
To quote the Huffington Post’s quote of Mrs. Clinton’s speech, “We've begun to change tactics in Iraq, and in some areas, particularly in Al Anbar province, it's working. We're just years too late changing our tactics. We can't ever let that happen again. We can't be fighting the last war. We have to be preparing to fight the new war.”
What the Huffington Post did not quote was the longer section of her speech in which Mrs. Clinton reaffirmed her opposition to the war in Iraq by emphasizing that what is required in Iraq is a political and not a military solution, and that none has been forthcoming from the vacationing Iraqi government.
To quote the section of the speech that the Huffington Post didn’t, “I know we may disagree about whether there is or isn't a military solution to this war. Having been there, having studied it and having seen the heroism and the accomplishments of our troops, I do not believe that we alone can impose a military solution. And I do not think the Iraqis are ready to do what they have to do for themselves yet. Therefore, I think it is unacceptable for our troops to be caught in the crossfire of a sectarian civil war while the Iraqi government is on vacation. I think it is time the Iraqi government took responsibility for themselves and their country, because the American people and our American military cannot want freedom and stability for the Iraqis more than they want it for themselves…. I think the best way of honoring their [American troops’] service is by beginning to bring them home and making sure that when they come home that we have everything ready for them.”
Not exactly an endorsement of the surge, by any means, much less a change in position.
Nonetheless, by day’s end, not only was the Huffington Post continuing to trumpet Hillary’s praise for the new tactics, but its featured blog for the day was a strong condemnation of Hillary for endorsing the surge (which of course she never did) and accusing her of double-talk on the war. And by Wednesday morning, her Democratic rivals were piling on her for her supposed shift in position, accusing her of pandering to the vets and saying only what they wanted to hear.
“The fact is the surge is not working," New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said in a statement. "I do not give President Bush the same credit on Iraq that Hillary does."
David Bonior, John Edwards’ campaign manager, while agreeing with Mrs. Clinton that “progress” was being made in Al Anbar, nevertheless called Clinton's comments "another instance of a Washington politician trying to have it both ways," and claimed that "by cherry-picking one instance to validate a failed Bush strategy, it risks undermining the effort in the Congress to end this war."
For its part, the Huffington Post, in an apparent effort to show how Mrs. Clinton was shifting her positions daily, added a new headline on Wednesday: “Clinton Today: 'No Military Solution To The Sectarian Fighting In Iraq'", which is, of course, precisely what she also had said the day before.
And so it goes. If so much can be made of things that didn’t happen, imagine what will be made of things that actually do?
Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the first woman President of the Harvard Law Review. She is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.
Estrich's books include the just published “Soulless,” “The Case for Hillary Clinton,” “How to Get Into Law School,” “Sex & Power,” “Real Rape,” “Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System” and "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women.”
She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel, in addition to writing the “Blue Streak” column for FOXNews.com.