Dave Weigel has a piece at the Washington Post titled Republicans are blaming Hillary Clinton for the ‘birther’ movement. That’s wishful thinking. But as John Nolte argues, Weigel has dug up some old material that undercuts the simplistic thesis of that headline.
Weigel’s main claim is that the Birther claim was “never pursued” by the Hillary 2008 campaign proper, but only its supporters:
But the Clinton campaign never pursued the idea that Obama was literally not American, and therefore ineligible for the presidency. A small group of hardcore Clinton supporters did.
Weigel acknowledges that the Clinton campaign discussed Obama’s limited American roots as a “strong weakness,” citing an all-but-forgotten internal campaign memo from Clinton pollster Mark Penn. However, Weigel minimizes the nastiness of Penn’s memo, which is very eye-opening in its frank desire to exploit Obama’s lack of ties to this country. Here’s Weigel:
“All of these articles about his boyhood in Indonesia and his life in Hawaii are geared toward showing his background is diverse, multicultural, and putting that in a new light,” wrote Penn. “Save it for 2050. It also exposes a very strong weakness for him — his roots to basic American values and culture are at best limited.”
But Penn wrote that as a warning, not a strategy.
Is that so?
The memo can be read here, and here is a screenshot of one relevant passage. I dare any fair-minded person to read this and conclude that Penn wrote this “as a warning, not a strategy”:
Especially critical are Penn’s suggestions on “[h]ow we could give some life to this contrast without turning negative,” including repeated references to the need to emphasize America. To discuss American values. To wave American flags.
In other words, to repeatedly reference Obama’s otherness — but to do so with deniability. That is the strategy.
When Weigel says the memo referenced Obama’s otherness “as a warning, not as a strategy,” the clear implication is that Penn, the memo-writer, rejected any notion of exploiting Obama’s lack of American ties. Weigel’s characterization leads the reasonable reader to believe that Penn noted this “otherness” as an issue — but as for the campaign exploiting it, he was having none of it.
Nonsense. He wanted to exploit it to the hilt. He just didn’t want to get caught doing it.
This is the context in which we must read what Weigel writes next:
In December 2007, a Clinton campaign worker named Judy Rose sent an e-mail asking whether Obama was a secret Muslim who intended to destroy America from the inside. She was fired and denounced.
She was denounced . . . for getting caught.
When I complained to Weigel about this on Twitter, he responded with this:
— daveweigel (@daveweigel) September 26, 2015
Fair enough, as far as it goes — but it doesn’t address the misleading characterization of the memo as something other than strategic.
Kudos are due to Weigel for unearthing the memo, but not for his characterization, which is so hyper-charitable that it is not really accurate.
Weigel’s piece highlights the critical need to read source documents and not accept Big Media’s characterization of those documents.