John Fund

Hollywood mogul David Geffen, a supporter of Barack Obama, knew he was setting the Democratic nomination contest ablaze when, in an interview with Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, he characterized his once-close friends Bill and Hillary Clinton as liars. For good measure he added that the former president was "reckless" and can't be expected to change his behavior while the New York senator has been overprogrammed by advisers "who are covering every base."

Mrs. Clinton's surrogates went into full attack mode to discredit Mr. Geffen, who during the 1990s helped raise some $18 million for various Clinton causes. They demanded — and didn't get — an apology from Mr. Obama, who pointed out that Mr. Geffen holds no formal position with his campaign.

Team Clinton's overreaction came from its conviction that any discussion of the scandals that swirled around Bill Clinton's eight years in office are completely off-limits during Hillary's own run for the White House. When a Newsweek reporter broached the subject of future Clinton scandals last December in an interview with a Hillary adviser, the reaction was quick and cutting. "If that's what you want to talk about, I'm hanging up right now."

A strategy of avoidance may be effective in squelching doubts and questions in the short run, but it carries the danger of eroding Mrs. Clinton's carefully cultivated image of moderation and reasonableness during a campaign that still has almost a year to run before the first primaries. Observes blogger Mickey Kaus:

Does Hillary realize that this taboo-enforcement strategy plays into the worst aspect of her public image — the dogmatic PC enforcer whose loyal aides seem, at least in public, to live in zombie-like fear that too much candor could incur her wrath? . . . Your fellow Democrats are tolerant, but they wonder what the deal (with your husband) is. That isn't the "politics of personal destruction." It's due diligence. Attempting to repress this discussion only assures that it will quickly come to the surface.

Mrs. Clinton has other challenges. While some people are focusing on the possibility that Bill Clinton might embarrass his wife, pollsters I talked to say that another remark of Mr. Geffen's points to an even bigger problem for her chances to become president.


John Fund

John Fund writes the weekly "On the Trail" column, reprinted here with permission from the Wall Street Journal and OpinionJournal.com. He is author of "Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy" (Encounter, 2004).

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