By Dick Morris on July 25, 2007


Volume 1, #16

July 25, 2007



Until Monday’s televised CNN Democratic debate, watching Barack Obama campaign has been a frustrating experience. Before that, he showed such potential, but floundered in using it effectively.

But on Monday, he found his style and bested Hillary and the others in the debate.  Focus groups convened by CNN and by Fox News (the Fox groups run by Frank Luntz) confirm the impression that Obama has finally figured out how to handle Mrs. Clinton one-on-one.

The simple truth is that Hillary has one act and one pitch and cannot grow beyond it.  Polled, focus grouped, and audience tested, she has learned her lines and her script and has no alternative but to repeat it endlessly. (As in: “I’m not running because I’m a woman. I’m running because I am the most experienced candidate and I can hit the ground running on January 20, 2009”) Sometimes, you almost feel as if you can finish her sentences for her. 

Obama, by contrast, is obviously a work in progress.  His deep intellect and articulateness can offer up vastly more than he has shown so far.  But, as he learns the game and becomes able to play at this level, his growth will inevitably contrast with Hillary and she will be seen increasingly as dull and he as exciting.

Why was Obama so effective and Hillary so off her game on Monday?

The Talking Dog No More

When Hillary first started campaigning, the “talking dog” theory she identified in her memoir Living History was at work.  In her book, she speaks of how impressed people are when a woman does well on a public platform.  She likens it to a talking dog. “It’s not that the dog talks well, but that he talks at all,” she wrote.

Watching one woman stand up to so distinguished a company of male suits was a sight that catalyzed approval and support from millions of debate watchers.  Hillary’s answers seemed on point, well spoken, and scored well.

They should have because they were all likely fully tested in focus groups and polls.  Reading from a memorized script, Hillary was able to appear glib, in control, and fully conversant with the most difficult of issues.

But the second and third and fourth time voters saw her in debate, it became clear that the lines were canned and the performance rehearsed and scripted.  After you have heard Hillary speak of “hitting the ground running” and having battled for health care and having the “scars to prove it,” again and again, the lines stop working and one realizes that she’s just reciting her talking points over and over and over.

It’s a bit like baseball where a new pitcher may befuddle good batters with his pitching style.  But after the hitters have had a chance to see him pitch several times, they are aware of his artifice and are no longer deceived.  Then, the home runs start flying!

The Eleventh Commandment is Repealed

In the previous debates, Obama has been stymied by the Democratic equivalent of Ronald Reagan’s famed “eleventh commandment” – Thou Shalt Not Speak Ill of a Fellow Republican.  Luntz’ focus groups found that when Edwards attacked Hillary, he dropped and the audience dials which monitor second-by-second reaction all turned down.

So the challengers – Obama, Edwards, Biden, Dodd, and Richardson – faced a real conundrum: How to gain without attacking the front runner?

But Obama solved the problem.  He came to understand that if his attacks were statesmanlike and coached in describing his virtue, not her failings, they would resonate well with the audience.  So Obama rebutted Hillary’s story — that she wrote the Pentagon asking if they had a strategy for withdrawing from Iraq only to be told she was unpatriotic for asking the question – by saying that the time to have asked that question was before voting for the war, not five years later!  Everybody knew that this was a knock on Hillary, but it was delivered with such class and used her own statement against her (Jujitsu) so effectively that it scored well on the audience dials.

And when Obama noted that he was the only candidate not to take special interest campaign contributions, he scored deep into Hillary’s base. She’s been the top recipient of lobbyist donations for years.

In the early debates, one sensed that Obama was intimidated by Hillary.  He was always wrapping his answers up in agreement with her or with Edwards and rarely worked to distinguish his own positions.  Inexperienced, he did not know how to go about taking her down a notch.  But on Monday, he learned.

Hillary’s Insider Response

Mrs. Clinton continued the bleeding the day after the debate, Tuesday, by criticizing Obama for being “naïve” when he affirmatively answered a question about whether, as President, he would personally meet with America’s enemies like Castro, Chavez, Ahmadinejad, etc. in the first year of his Administration.  Hillary, the next candidate to speak, disagreed in the debate and said that to have such meetings without sending out emissaries to test the waters first was only to be used “for propaganda purposes” by America’s enemies.

Convinced she was on the right side of the debate, Hillary banged away at the point the day after the debate and enlisted former Secretary of State Madeline Albright to back up her point of view.

But, to the voters, Hillary was just toeing the Bush State Department line and once again showing her Washington-insider caution in answering the question.  They liked Obama’s willingness to wade into enemy waters as president and reacted well to his proffer of good faith at the start of his presidency.  Hillary, not understanding what an insider her answer showed her to be, deepened her hole by focusing on the issue in second day coverage.

Obama fought back and showed Hillary’s hypocrisy: just a few months ago, she sharply criticized Bush for refusing to meet with ‘bad men’ like Castro, Chavez, etc.

So, let’s see if Obama can keep up the momentum.

The Damaging Question: Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton

If the Democratic candidates were too polite to say it, the questioners in the CNN debate were not.  One question addressed to Hillary asked if she thought that prolonging the hold of “two families” on the presidency “for 28 years” (assuming Hillary served two terms) was a way to bring change to America.

Giving her standard, scripted, poll tested answer, Hillary joked that she didn’t think that it had been a good idea to elect a second Bush.

But the die had been cast by the question and the fact remained that Hillary looked awfully like a remembrance of things passed.

Poll after poll shows that voters have serious are concerns about the creation of two political dynasties who would control the political process for more than a quarter of a century.

Obama Uses Race

For the entire first half of 2007, Hillary has unabashedly reveled in her status as the possible first woman president.  But Obama has rarely mentioned his own possible groundbreaking status as the first Afro-American president. Finally, he addressed it directly in the debate, telling viewers that he trusted the American people not to discriminate and to end the racial divisions that have plagued the nation.

He seemed charismatic, able, smooth, new, and attractive as he identified himself with America’s future and rejected our racist past.

The Hillary Smirk

CNN arranged the camera angle so that Hillary was on full display while Obama was speaking, looming silently in the background.  One could observe her smirk and the rolling eyes as he spoke.  Once, she even let out a mirthless chuckle when she said, with great arrogance and condescension, that she had studied in detail all the issues surrounding a withdrawal from Iraq, as if to imply that she was rungs above her opponents in information and sophistication.

In this presumption of victory and refusal to get down to the level of her opponents, she most resembled George W. Bush when he lost the early Republican debates to the likes of Alan Keyes because he seemed conceited and above-it-all.  His smirks showed that he felt the debate was a waste of his precious time and wanted to get on with the business of serving as president without having to bother with these preliminaries.

Hillary displayed some of that presumption in the Monday debate and it came across poorly to masses of viewers.

So What Now?

No single debate at this stage of the process is likely to move poll numbers massively.  The audiences are too small and the interest levels too muted this early.  But this debate might have marked the turning point in the battle for the nomination.  It might have been the night that Obama finally showed that he could handle Hillary.

The late, great political consultant Bob Squier once said that debates were like play in the yard on the first day at a new school.  Kids figured out who could beat up who and a pecking order was established.  In the previous debates, Hillary seemed unbeatable.  But now she seems suddenly vulnerable.  There will be many more debates and Hillary will not improve.  She has used all of her lines and has nothing to offer but to use them again.  But Obama will get better and better.  And that is the true meaning of Monday’s debate.


1.  Why didn’t your Senate personal financial disclosure for 2005 or 2006 list the 100,000 shares of infoUSA stock options that were granted to your husband in 2005, as required by Senate rules?

(infoUSA has paid Bill Clinton more than $3.5 million since he left office. The company was recently named as the source of marketing lists used to target the vulnerable elderly. Clinton had an option to buy 100,00 shares, which Senator Clinton was required to, but failed to  disclose.)

2.  Is it really your position that Senate rules permitted a U.S. Senator to accept vacation trips using private corporate jets – with no Senate business whatsoever involved – and that the Senator only had to reimburse the company for the amount of the first class air fare?

(Senator Clinton, Bill Clinton and Chelsea joined the CEO of infoUSA on a private jet to Acapulco for a vacation in January of 2002. Sen. Clinton claims to have reimbursed the company for about $2000 and insists that Senate rules permit such a trip. The total cost of the jet flights were $148,000. And Senator Clinton – can we see a copy of that check?)

Senate rules permit a Senator to travel on a boat or plane for personal use unless the use of the plane is a substitute for commercial use. In other words, if the boat or plane ride is for pleasure only, it is permissible. In Hillary’s case, the free use of the corporate jet for a vacation was not permitted. And the free jet trip for her husband and daughter were likewise improper.

The Clintons also accepted the hospitality of the head of infoUSA, Vin Gupta, for the use of his villa in Acapulco. Since that house was apparently owned by him, it was permissible.

3.  Why did you fail to report your membership on the Board of the Clinton Family Foundation, which was required under Senate rules?

Bill and Hillary Clinton got $5 million in federal tax deductions because of their contributions to the Foundation. But only a small portion of that amount has actually been made in grants. Without explicitly referencing the Clinton Foundation on the disclosure form, there was no information about the tax deduction.

4.  What is your husband’s interest in the Yucaipa Global Fund that invests with the funds of the Emir of Dubai and how much has be been paid by Yucaipa since 2001?

Although the Clintons have refused to divulge how much Bill Clinton has been paid by Yucaipa, in general, and by the Global Fund, specifically, the figures should be disclosed because the former president has publicly advocated positions favorable to the Emir of Dubai and offered advice on the Dubai Ports issue at the same time that his wife was involved in Senate consideration of the DP World Ports issue. Bill Clinton also recommended his former press secretary, Joe Lockhart, as a lobbyist on the Dubai Ports issue. Lockhart’s firm, Glover Park Group, provides political consulting to Hillary Clinton. After Clinton’s role became public, the firm represented Dubai, but it was channeled through a California law firm, so it was not obvious in the public record for some time.

5.  In 2001, when it was revealed that both of your brothers had been paid to (successfully) advocate presidential pardons from you husband, you insisted that you brother Tony Rodham had not been ‘paid’ to get a pardon for his former employers, the Gregorys, who ran a carnival company.

Now, bankruptcy court records indicate that he was paid over $100,000 right before and after the pardons were granted. The payments were listed as ‘loans.’ Tony Rodham had previously been paid over $200,000 by the Gregorys for arranging carnivals and other business.

How do you explain you brothers ‘loans’? Was this another Clinton play on words, a la “it depends on what the meaning of the word is is.” Were you trying to say that he was not paid, just given a loan?

A bankruptcy trustee is asking the court to require Rodham to pay back all of the ‘loans.’

6.  Are you committed to keeping the current $95,000 cap on social security taxes?

Although a question on this issue was asked at last night’s debate, it was not directed at Hillary.

In a previous debate, she quoted George Soros with approval about the need to change the law. Right now, after a person’s income reaches $95,000, there is no further deduction of social security taxes.

7.  Are you still committed to the same universal health care program that you promoted as First Lady? If not, what would be different?

So far, Hillary has refused to release any specifics about her health care plans – except to vaguely talk about the importance of reaching a political consensus.   

We won’t be hearing these questions asked or answered any time soon. But we should.


Mitt Romney has attacked Hillary’s economic policies as being anti-capitalist and close to those of uber-communist Karl Marx.

Romney must be reading the polls. Is a recent Gallup Poll, one of the negatives cited against Hillary Clinton was that she is a ‘Socialist.’ A full 10% stated that she was too liberal or a Socialist. (for the full poll results, see: https://www.galluppoll.com/content/?ci=28036&pg=1)

Romney criticized Hillary’s universal health care proposals and took on Obama and Edwards, too:

“Their solutions are Big Brother, big taxes, and big government, and that is not the right answer for America."

Watch for this theme to continue – it taps into a core negative for the Democrats, especially Hillary, and underscores a core positive for Romney.


Mark Penn, Hillary’s chief strategist, hurriedly settled a lawsuit last week brought by one of his former partners, who claimed that Penn was illegally hacking into his emails after he left the company.

Now Penn and the former partner agree that Penn was legally – but apparently secretly –  reading the emails. It seems that the former employee’s emails were automatically copied to the firm’s server while he worked there. After he left, Penn and his company never bothered to inform him that they still received copies and appear to have secretly monitored them to see what the former partner was up to.


Hopefully, Penn won’t be advising Hillary on privacy issues!


The House has passed a bill that would prohibit campaign committees and Political Action Committees from hiring the spouses of members of Congress.

That’s a good start, but it doesn’t nearly go far enough. Members could still hire their children, brothers and sisters, and in-laws. That’s what they’ve been doing for a long time. Under the new bill, members would merely have to file a disclosure of payments to family members – and they could keep paying them.

Congress needs to prohibit all members from hiring any family member or relatives or companies where they are officers. Why? Because hiring family members basically permits a member of Congress to transfer campaign contributions into personal income.

Here’s some examples of how family members are lining their pockets with salaries from campaign contributions:

•    Rep. Dana Rohrbacher (R-Ca) pays his wife, Rhoda Carmony, from his campaign funds. Her qualifications? Well, in 1996, she was accused of dirty tricks in a California race. Ultimately, she pled guilty to falsifying campaign papers for a dummy candidate and was sentenced to mandatory community service – and a prohibition from

Working in any campaign other than her husband’s. Would any candidate in his right mind ever hire someone who had been convicted of campaign law violations and barred from working in any campaigns? Apparently only if that person was a spouse!

•    Tom DeLay’s wife, Christine, and daughter, Danielle were paid a total of $473,801 for working on his campaign and for his political action committee. Mrs. DeLay was a homemaker before she was hired for the high-paying position.

•    Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) paid her husband’s law firm $251,853. She claims that he does similar work for other politicians.

•    Sen. Barbara Boxer paid her lobbyist son $130,000 over a four year period to ‘manage’ her political action committee.

•    Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) paid his daughter-in-law $126,761 for campaign work.

•    Rep. Pete Stark paid his wife, Deborah Stark, as his campaign manager. Since 2000, she has received more than $119,000.

•    Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA) hired his nephew, Todd Reichert, as a driver for three thousand dollars last year and threw in several hundred dollars for mileage.

•    Rep. Chris Cannon (R-UT) paid all three of his college age daughters to work on his campaign. Emily was paid $5,425; Jane was paid $9,508; and Laura was paid $17,766.

•    Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-TN) paid his sister-in-law, Sharon Davis, as his campaign treasurer for a thousand dollars a month. He also hired his daughter, Libby for $2,334

•    Former Rep. Scott Innis paid his wife, Laurie, $39,000 for consulting services – after he decided not to run for re-election.

•    Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) has piad his son, Elliott over $125,000 since 2002.

•    Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rogers (R-WA) has paid her brother over $50,000 and her father $2000.

•    Rep. Joe Baca (D-CA) paid his daughter over $25,000 and made PAC contributions to his son’s campaign for State Senator of over $6000.

•    Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA) paid his cousin over $50,000 for campaign services.

•    Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA) has paid his wife over $500,000 in the past ten years.

•    Rep. Howard Berman has paid his brother’s political consulting firm almost $200,000.

•    Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) paid his daughter-in-law over $100,000.

•    Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) paid his daughter over $12,000.

•    Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-TX) paid his wife over $90,000.

•    Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) has paid his daughter-in-law over $125,000.

•    Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) has paid his daughter, Lori, over $150,000.

•    Rep. Michael McNulty (D-NY) hired his brother and paid him $38,000.

•    Rep. Melvin Watt (D-NC) paid his son about $11,000.

Do you get the picture?


***Copyright Eileen McGann and Dick Morris 2007.  Reprints with permission only*** 

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