Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Well, now I'm confused. I said Sunday night that Bob Kerrey's invocation of Barack Obama's middle name and reference to him as a person who can speak to socially marginal black youths was a calculated attempt on the part of the Clinton campaign to associate Obama in voters' minds with groups of people those voters are uncomfortable with. And now it would be easy to conclude that that's obviously the case, because Kerrey subsequently said on CNN,

I've watched the blogs try to say that you can't trust him because he spent a little bit of time in a secular madrassa. I feel quite the opposite -- I think it's a tremendous strength.

But as the Politico's Ben Smith points out, Kerrey

said the exact same thing to the Economist on October 30, so if this is some sort of plot, it's quite a slow roll-out.

That was about a month before the news broke that Kerrey was on Hillary Clinton's team. And if you listen to that interview (in which Kerrey talks at length about several major candidates), he had a peculiar way of praising Hillary, too:

I think it matters that you've been there. You know what it's like to live in the White House. You know what it's like to try to get Congress to do what you want and fail. She had a significant failure in health care, and I think it helps her as she tries to decide what she ought to be doing. Plus, she watched her husband make terrible mistakes in his appointments, particularly the national security team -- and I loved Les Aspin, but he was, I think, not the person that the president should have picked, he was not really prepared to think about national security, and got into a heck of a problem, to put it mildly, in Somalia in October 1993. She's seen all of that, and she knows. My guess is, pound for pound, if you're looking just for a competent administration, I think Hillary Clinton is likely to lead the pack in terms of appointing people who can get the job done.

Vote Hillary! She and her husband screwed up a lot!

And then, a bit later, we get to Obama -- and Kerrey invokes the madrassa and the middle name and black youth ... and offers one other peculiar bit of "praise":

As I look at Barack Obama, I think he does have substantial experience in areas that matter to me personally. For example, he's addicted to nicotine. He's trying to kick the habit. You got a million adolescents every year in America take up smoking, so he's going to be able to lead in that area. Second, he's black, and, you know, some black leaders are saying he's not, but he's black, and he can speak to youth in America as he did in Selma, and tell them that "Look, I'm for civil rights, I'm for more money in health and education, but if you don't work harder, if you aren't a good parent, if you choose self-destructive behavior, there's nothing I can do to help you." And finally, I love that his name is Barack Hussein Obama, that he was educated for a while in a secular madrassa. I know the right-wingers are saying that he's a, you know, sort of an Islamic Manchurian Candidate. But he can speak like no other candidate to a billion Muslims on this earth and say, "We're not your enemy unless you make us so." So I like the experiences that he's had, because it gives him the capacity to do things that oftentimes are the most important -- they don't cost any money, they don't require any laws to be passed, that merely say, "There's an audience. Listen," as a consequence of the experience that he's had.

Nicotine? Nicotine?

So what's going on here? It almost seems as if Kerrey is just blurting out things he simply shouldn't say, in a Bidenesque way, and with an undercurrent of jealousy and anger that permeates even his praise.

But it also seems certain that the Clinton campaign is deploying him, knowing he'll say precisely these things about Obama (minus, apparently, the nicotine stuff) -- and that's unconscionable. But what I can't figure out is whether he's in on the scheme or is just mouthing off without knowing how the hell his words are being received.

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