Phantoms of Democratic campaign saga

March 30, 2008 7:01:53 PM PDT
Behold the phantoms of the political opera. They flit in the rafters of the presidential campaign, making mischief, undead. There is Judas, the archetype of betrayal. Kenneth Starr, dark lord of the inquisition. Joseph McCarthy and David Duke. Herbert Hoover.

All have been invoked in the struggle for supremacy in the Democratic presidential contest, in the awakening campaign for the fall and in Washington diatribes that summon rapscallions of the ages.

Two weeks ago, in what was regarded as a genuine if possibly choreographed grace note, Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton huddled on the Senate floor and agreed their supporters should turn down the toxicity in their historic campaign.

It appears now, however, that they were like exhausted boxers clinging to each other just long enough to catch their breath, so they could resume pummeling.

So it seems, from the recent expansion of the rogue's gallery. While the candidates refrain, their associates or prominent supporters don't.

A look at how figures of the past, including ancient times such as the 1990s, have returned to inhabit the new millennium.



The apostle Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus after sharing food at the Last Supper, in the biblical teachings of crucifixion and resurrection.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson shared munchies with his ex-boss Bill Clinton while the two watched the Super Bowl. Then during Easter week he endorsed his ex-boss's wife's opponent for the Democratic nomination.

The governor's choice of Obama over Hillary Clinton upset James Carville, one of her advisers. "Mr. Richardson's endorsement came right around the anniversary of the day when Judas sold out (Jesus) for 30 pieces of silver, so I think the timing is appropriate, if ironic," he said.

Predictable demands for an apology ensued; none was offered. "I wanted to use a very strong metaphor to make my point," Carville said.

Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson said he would have apologized if he had said that but, because he didn't, he wouldn't. Richardson was U.N. ambassador and energy secretary in Bill Clinton's administration.


Joseph McCarthy:

The central figure in an era of suspicion and paranoia, McCarthy was a Republican senator from Wisconsin who upended people's careers and reputations when he led communist-hunting hearings in the 1950s.

Merrill "Tony" McPeak, a retired Air Force general and a co-chairman of Obama's campaign, compared Bill Clinton's remarks about patriotism to McCarthy's rants.

Bill Clinton had suggested that a fall campaign between his wife and Republican John McCain would be a contest between "two people who loved this country and were devoted to the interest of this country." The implication, in some minds, was that Obama was not such a patriot.

"It sounds more like McCarthy," McPeak said. "I grew up, I was going to college, when Joe McCarthy was accusing good Americans of being traitors, so I've had enough of it."


Kenneth Starr:

Probably no one makes Democratic blood boil like Starr, the prosecutor who dogged the Clintons with his inquiry into their business dealings and Bill Clinton's personal life, capped by a report explicitly detailing sexual escapades between the president and an intern.

Wolfson summoned Starr from the rafters when he criticized Obama for criticizing Hillary Clinton. "I for one do not believe that imitating Ken Starr is the way to win a Democratic primary election for president," Wolfson said.

Even though he said it, he did not apologize for it, and Hillary Clinton said she agreed with his "historical reference."


Across the sea:

Campaign associates appear to think that what they say overseas, will stay overseas.

Nearly 150 years after the laying of the first trans-Atlantic cable and more recent inventions of the telephone and Internet, two aides have made eyebrow-raising remarks while abroad that soon reached U.S. shores.

First, Samantha Power told a Scottish newspaper that Hillary Clinton was a "monster." She was soon out as an Obama foreign policy adviser.

Now a member of Clinton's finance committee, interviewed on Irish radio, has accused Obama of using his race when it suits him, and branded Obama's former pastor a "lunatic."

Niall O'Dowd likened the pastor, Jeremiah Wright, to two divisive racial figures: David Duke, who is white; and Louis Farrakhan, who is black.

"He's no different than Louis Farrakhan, who made all these comments about Jews," O'Dowd, an Irish immigrant, said on RTE radio, Ireland's public broadcast service. He said Wright's views are as outrageous as if they had been said by Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader who ran for governor of Louisiana in 1991 as a Republican although the party repudiated his racial views.

Concerning Wright's opinions, O'Dowd asked rhetorically: "Does the future president of the United States feel the same way?"


Herbert Hoover:

President Hoover's cheerleading at the brink of the Great Depression rang hollow to a country sliding into economic despair.

It was almost inevitable that President Bush's declarations of confidence now, in the face of market and housing convulsions, would bring Hoover down from the rafters to flit around.

"Herbert Hoover mentality," Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York said of the Bush administration.