WashPost Political Editor: Focusing on Clinton Legacy an Astonishing 'Distraction'

In Thursday's daily morning political chat at washingtonpost.com, Post National Political Editor and author John F. Harris professed "astonishment" that anyone would drag the Clinton adminstration's diplomatic legacy into the debate over North Korea. When pressed that obviously, the Clintons' designs on recapturing the White House add modern relevance, Harris still pooh-poohed that "these arguments about things that happened a decade ago can be a distraction to more vital contemporary debates." For those who might not know, Harris has been at times a very receptive water-carrier for Team Clinton. See an old article on that tendency here. Or here.

As someone who covered the Bush White House for two years, I find it odd when liberals claim the Bushies always blame the Clintons for everything. I would argue they've been quite restrained in attacking the Clintons and their legacy, partially because they know the deep admiration liberal reporters carry around for them. Harris took this question early on:

Arlington, Va.: In today's Post, Dana Millbank mentioned that President Bush is blaming the Clinton administration for the North Korea situation. Clinton has been out of office for almost six years, and the Bush administration is still trying to pin the blame on him. The current administration seems to place blame for all policy blunders on Clinton. Will this strategy work with the public?

John F. Harris: I don't know how well it works. Certainly it resonates with conservative audiences, but I wonder about how well with the public at large. I share your astonishment at the ease with which almost any policy debate tends to become an argument about the Clintons.

Harris also took a question clarifying the matter:

Hamilton, Va.: The Clintons come up in policay arguements because Hillary is still around. If the Clintons had left town in 2001 I think we would hear far less about his administration, but since conservatives fear/loathe another Clinton in the WH they have to keep going back to his policies and actions.

John F. Harris: Yes, of course that's true. But even I as a historian of the Clinton presidency (I covered it for the Post and later wrote a book about it) sometimes feel these arguments about things that happened a decade ago can be a distraction to more vital contemporary debates.

By the way, Wednesday's political chat with Charles Babington had few highlights (perhaps Charles accepting the Iraq Body Count number as impressive), but I hadn't yet seen the Christopher Shays bombs-away on Foleygate:

Milford, Conn.: Things getting nasty in the Conn.-4 race:

"I know the speaker didn't go over a bridge and leave a young person in the water, and then have a press conference the next day," said Shays, R-4th District, referring to the 1969 incident in which the Massachusetts Democrat drove a car that plunged into the water and a young campaign worker died.

"Dennis Hastert didn't kill anybody," he added.

Shays Hits Hard In Page Scandal , ( Hartford Courant, Oct. 11, 2006 )

Charles Babington: Wow.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis