"Tell him to quit lying about my record!" So Bob Dole spoke about George H.W. Bush in 1988. Hillary Clinton upped the ante Saturday after the rally at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College when she said angrily, "Shame on you, Barack Obama" for mailings that supposedly lie about her record.
Do they? One flier paid for by the Obama campaign alleges that Clinton's plan for universal health care "forces everyone to buy health insurance, even if you can't afford it." The other mailing says Clinton believed the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, was a "boon" to our economy.
NAFTA was signed by President Bill Clinton. He considered it one of his great achievements. Unlike welfare reform, which was virtually forced down Clinton's throat by a Republican majority in Congress, NAFTA became law before Democrats lost control of the House. Senator Clinton claims she has vastly more experience than Barack Obama because she played an important policy role in the Clinton White House. There is no indication that she ever spoke out against NAFTA. Even now she is calling only for a "pause" in free trade agreements, not the repudiation of NAFTA.
Barack Obama has said repeatedly, and during every one of the 19 debates as best I can remember, that Hillary Clinton had supported NAFTA. This is hardly a stealth attack. The Cincinnati State controversy centers on the word "boon." Clinton's camp claims it came, not from Hillary, but from a report in the New York newspaper Newsday. The paper says that word was not a quote from Clinton but a "paraphrase."
Regarding health care, as recently as their last debate Thursday in Austin, Obama told Clinton to her face that he opposes her proposed health insurance mandates, which would force individuals to buy coverage, much as drivers have to buy auto insurance. Obama has noted that Clinton did not rule out that possibility of garnishing wages to pay for that coverage. Clinton in turn says the Obama's plan is not universal because it offers subsidies to those who cannot afford health insurance, but gives them the choice to decline coverage. That plan, Clinton says, would leave 15 million people uninsured.
Reasonable people can debate the respective merits of these plans (or reject both of them) but the claims in Obama's mailing are hardly new.
What Clinton's "Shame on you" charge really seems to show is that her closing remarks at the Austin debate did not signal she's throwing in the towel.
About those remarks: the Clinton campaign accused Barack Obama of plagiarism for lifting an important part of a speech by Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick. At the Austin debate, Obama called that charge "silly." He said that Patrick, a friend and national co-chair of his campaign, suggested he use the lines.
Hillary Clinton got a standing ovation and national plaudits for her concluding remarks at that debate: "Whatever happens, we're going to be fine. You know, we have strong support from our families and our friends. I just hope that we'll be able to say the same thing about the American people, and that's what this election should be about."
But Obama's campaign asked reporters to note that at the December 13, 2007 Democratic debate, John Edwards said: "All of us are going to be just fine no matter what happens in this election. But what's at stake is whether America is going to be fine."
The next debate is in Cleveland this Tuesday. It would be a shame to miss it.