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And then there's the Bill Clinton-Joe McCarthy remark

March 24, 2008 |  8:03 pm

While part of the increasingly hard-edged, mean-spirited chatter between the warring Democratic presidential campaigns centered on the "Judas" analogy directed at Bill Richardson for having -- in James Carville's eyes -- the audacity to back Barack Obama, another portion focused on the Bill Clinton-Joe McCarthy comparison.

Hillary Clinton aides already were in a lather over Obama advisor Merrill "Tony" McPeak raising the McCarthyite charge against Bill Clinton. That accusation arose out of what McPeak saw as a sin of omission by the ex-president: he did not mention Obama when, late last week, he said a presidential race between his wife and Republican John McCain would feature "two people who love their country."

Many -- including an unlikely Clinton defender, Kathleen Parker, in a blog posting for National Review magazine -- took McPeak to task for overreacting. But then another Obama supporter went even further overboard.

Gordon Fischer -- an obscure figure nationally but known within party circles because he formerly chaired the Iowa Democratic Party -- wrote this on his personal blog:

“Bill Clinton cannot possibly seriously believe Obama is not a patriot, and cannot possibly be said to be helping — instead he is hurting — his own party. B. Clinton should never be forgiven. Period. This is a stain on his legacy, much worse, much deeper, than the one on Monica's blue dress."

That would be Monica Lewinsky, of course, and that was enough ...

to send Hillary Clinton's already perturbed aides through the roof.

Spokesman Phil Singer today said Fischer's post was proof positive that the Obama campaign was “fueled by insult and slander.”

The Obama campaign quickly disavowed any link to Fischer's missive. Spokesman Tommy Vietor said "comments like this have no place in our political dialogue" and that Obama (vacationing in the Virgin Islands at the moment) "strongly rejects them.”

Fischer himself, upon reflection (and perhaps a nudge from some Obama aides), took down his posting and this morning put up  a "sincere and contrite" apology. This afternoon, he apologized some more.

The Clinton folks, though, were in no mood to accept these mea culpas. Besides, McPeak's Joe McCarthy comment still rankled.

The result: A letter sent out to Clinton backers from campaign chairman (and former Democratic National Committee honcho) Terry McAuliffe. Here's how it starts:

"Do you think Bill Clinton is like Joe McCarthy?

"Of course you don't. Neither do I. But Barack Obama must because this past weekend, his campaign compared President Clinton to Joe McCarthy. Joe McCarthy!

"Ever since we won in Ohio and Texas we have been seeing these kinds of personal attacks from the Obama campaign. It's hard to believe that a campaign that talks so much about changing the tenor of our politics would employ these kinds of tactics, but it's the kind of thing we are seeing every day from Senator Obama and his campaign.

"Here is just a small sample of the words they have used to describe Hillary and her campaign: 'disingenuous,' 'divisive,' 'untruthful,' 'dishonest,' and much more.

"Well I'm not going to stand for it, and neither should you. ..."

And how does one fight back? Well, McAuliffe recommends a campaign donation.

The ongoing descent into daily bickering over real and perceived insults between the Clinton and Obama factions can't help but obscure more meaningful discussions (such as Clinton's discourse today on the housing market crisis).

It also caused us to read with special attention a major New Republic piece by Noam Schieber, headlined "Slouching toward Denver" (the site of the Democratic convention). The subhead is even more evocative: "The Democratic death march."

Schieber lays out in gory detail the disaster the party could be headed for, cutting to the chase with his first sentence:

"When Democrats contemplate the apocalypse these days, they have visions of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton slugging it out à la Ted Kennedy and Jimmy Carter at the 1980 convention."

That campaign, of course, ended with the election of one Ronald Reagan.

-- Don Frederick