Clinton in the Fox Hole


Clinton on Fox. Notice the footnote: If Clinton hadn’t done this interview, Richard Clarke’s role in fighting terror (and Bush’s role in ending Clarke’s role) would drift further away from the Fox viewer’s consciousness.

I read a post today at Sean Coon’s connecting*the*dots blog entitlted “and keep your enemies closer“, and I thought at first it was going to be about how progressives and liberals shouldn’t be afraid to get up close and personal with conservatives, that in fact it may be to our advantage to keep them close by and engaged. Specifically I was thinking about how Democrats are apparently afraid to appear on Fox News, and about how stupid that strategy is.

Bill Clinton was on Fox News Sunday today, in an interview with Chris Wallace. Wallace asked a series of questions that, in effect, accused the Clinton Administration of ignoring Al Qaeda. Wallace probably thought that Clinton, like many other Democrats, would hem and haw and foolishly attempt to actually answer his “when did you stop beating your wife”-type questions instead of coming back and attacking the question by responding with facts that undermine the question itself.

Bubba wasn’t having any of that.

What Happened

Wallace rattled off a list of specific canonical right-wing allegations about Clinton’s alleged inaction, ranging from Somalia in 1993 to the USS Cole attack in 2000. Clinton responded vigorously — passionately to the point of clear emotional agitation (in Fox parlance, “crazed“) but incredibly articulately and confidently. He wasn’t spinning history or expressing a philosophical or political opinion, he just said things that everyone with a brain already knows: That the GOP wanted the USA to unilaterally pull out (cut and run?) from Somalia in 1993. That almost nobody even knew who Al Qaeda was back then, and that Somalia had nothing to do with bin Laden. That when we attacked bin Laden in Afghanistan in 1998, the GOP ridiculed Clinton for his obsession with Al Qaeda. That we didn’t know for sure that Al Qaeda was behind the USS Cole attack until after Bush became President, and that in the 8 months between then and 9/11 the Bush Administration did nothing whatsoever to go after bin Laden, even though Clinton left behind attack plans — that in fact they even demoted Richard Clarke, the man actually in charge of going after Al Qaeda. All true facts, but somehow all forgotten under the right’s aggressive rationalization for Bush’s ineffectiveness against Islamic extremism (they’re basically arguing that Bush wouldn’t even have an Al Qaeda problem if not for Clinton’s inaction).

Clinton made the counterargument look easy. Which isn’t surprising because the facts in his favor are overwhelming, and the case against Bush is startling: there is no evidence whatsoever that anyone in the Bush Administration cared about Al Qaeda until September 11, 2001. Not one mention of it in any campaign statements, hardly a word in neocon position papers, not in any debates, not in the 2000 Republican Party Platform, not in the inaugural address. Even worse, there wasn’t a single counterterrorist action, project, or even a meeting on the subject or Al Qaeda or terrorism between Bush’s inaguration on January 20 and September 11, 2001. And yet Democrats have allowed the Republican meme (that Bush is basically cleaning up Clinton’s mess) to catch fire with almost no resistance.

Why Haven’t We Seen This Before?

Strangely, this was Clinton’s first interview on Fox News Sunday. High level members of the Bush Administration have been on Fox a zillion times, for friendly softball interviews and rhetorical backrubs with off-camera happy endings. But Democrats seem to avoid Fox, never giving the interviews or participating in the debates that Fox uses to put forth their agenda. Why? Obviously because they’re afraid of getting sandbagged (as Wallace thought he could do with Clinton). Sure, they’ll be asked tough questions. In fact, the probably will, like Clinton, be asked to defend themselves against lies and twisted-up bullshit. But if they stand up like Clinton and articulate the facts, and if they do it repeatedly and often, I have confidence that Fox’s ability to be a megaphone for the GOP will wither.

Come on, Democrats, take it to the source. Go into the lion’s den. Sure, you’re not all as quick-witted as Bubba is, but truth is on your side. You’ll lose a little at first, but you’ll eventually get the hang of how these interviews operate and you’ll have the facts and arguments ready, and you’ll come out scot-free. Do it.


3 responses to “Clinton in the Fox Hole”

  1. chris, i think you nailed the importance of this interview within the image caption.

    progressives far too often label bush and co. as inept, stupid, idiotic, etc. i hate to break it to everyone, but they’re not… they’re brilliantly successful when viewed through the neo-con lens; so much so you could even call them genius.

    george bush didn’t demote richard clarke because george bush is incompetent; george bush demoted richard clarke because george bush and company viewed richard clarke as a threat to the neo-con agenda. period.

    with more conceptual frameworks comes greater perspective. you’re absolutely right — clinton provided a number to chew on in this interview.

  2. I watched the end of that interview this past Sunday. I was filled with the thrill and excitement as if watching Michigan beat Ohio State in the fourth quarter. I shouted at the TV, “You go Bill!” And now, a couple of days later, after all the talk has settled, I read your post, Chris, and again I’m filled with those same fourth quarter feelings. You go Chris!

  3. Yeah, it’s pretty uplifting. Even in the week since, where the right-wing counterattacks have been pretty heavy (alternating between calling him crazed and simply rolling out more and more soft-on-terror allegations), the overall effect is still nice to see. As awkward as it is to compare the politics of counterterrorism to sports, in the world of Fox News it is like a competition, in a way, where for game after game the Democrats simply didn’t show up and forfeited the games, or where Democrats showed up, let the other team play dirty, and lost. This time around, it was a clean win because Clinton simply played the same game Fox was trying to play.