The Democratic presidential candidates are challenging each other's credibility as never before. And the hard-edged tone of the campaign is raising doubts that the two sides will be able to unite for the fall showdown with Republican candidate John McCain, who is running even with both Clinton and Obama in the polls.
Egged on by Obama surrogates, the cable TV networks and the blogosphere have been filled with stories about how Clinton vastly exaggerated the danger she was in during a trip to Bosnia with her daughter, Chelsea, in March 1996. During a speech last week on Iraq, she said, "I certainly do remember that trip to Bosnia and...there was a saying around the White House that if a place was too small, too poor, or too dangerous, the president couldn't go, so send the first lady. That's where we went. I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base."
Clinton has now admitted that she "misspoke." But that was only after TV news clips of the incident began running on TV and on the Internet—contradicting her. Further, reporter Ron Fournier of the Associated Press was on the trip and, in a report filed yesterday and entitled "Hillary's Flight of Fancy," he says, "Hogwash. The truth is: There was no sniper fire. Nobody ducked for cover."
In a radio interview yesterday on KDKA in Pittsburgh, Clinton said, "I say a lot of things—millions of words a day. So if I misspoke, that was just a misstatement."
But Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor wasn't so dismissive. He said the claim was part of "a growing list of instances in which Senator Clinton has exaggerated her role in foreign and domestic policy making." Clinton critics saw the incident as particularly damaging because it undermines her claim to have hands-on experience to be commander in chief while she says Obama is a naive neophyte on such matters.
Obama strategists add that Clinton has also exaggerated her role in bringing peace to Northern Ireland, negotiating "open borders" in the Kosovo region, and on other issues. They say she will do anything and say anything to win.
For their part, Clinton strategists have issued a lengthy bill of particulars challenging Obama's credibility. "Once again, the Obama campaign is getting caught saying one thing while doing another," the Clinton campaign said in a news release Tuesday. "They are personally attacking Hillary even though Sen. Obama has been found misspeaking and embellishing facts about himself more than 10 times in recent months."
Their criticisms range from the serious to the trivial, such as his claiming to be a law professor at the University of Chicago when he was only a senior lecturer, to his exaggerating his role in arranging a Senate compromise on immigration. The Clinton campaign also said, "Obama misspoke about his being conceived because of Selma." Quoting the New York Times of March 5, 2007, the campaign noted that, "Mr. Obama relayed a story of how his Kenyan father and his Kansan mother fell in love because of the tumult of Selma, but he was born in 1961, four years before the confrontation at Selma took place. When asked later, Mr. Obama clarified himself, saying, 'I meant the whole civil rights movement.' "
In another E-mail to reporters this morning, the Clinton campaign said, "In the end, Sen. Obama's words cannot erase Hillary's 35-year record of action because when all is said and done, words aren't action. They are just words."