Missing the Swiftboat

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Are we ever going to hear the end of last week’s Democratic debate? One of the flimsier arguments we have heard lately is President Clinton’s suggestion yesterday that the criticism that his wife got over her confusing and confused response to a question about granting drivers licenses to illegal immigrants was tantamount to swiftboating:

“I had the feeling that at the end of that last debate we were about to get into cutesy land again,” Clinton told some 3,000 members of the American Postal Worker’s Union at a convention.

Let’s be clear here: What happened to John Kerry during the 2004 campaign did not involve a dispute over policy. It was a smear. Hillary Clinton’s rivals have been quick to point out the difference. In an AP interview today, Barack Obama says of Bill Clinton’s comments:

“I was pretty stunned by that statement,” Obama said with a chuckle when asked about the former president’s comment in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

He said that when debating last week whether illegal immigrants should be given driver’s licenses, Hillary Rodham Clinton “seemed to contradict what she said previously.”

Both Obama and John Edwards have criticized her repeatedly on that score, but Obama said in the interview: “How you would then draw an analogy to distorting somebody’s military record is a reach.”

Chris Dodd is blunter:

Sen. Chris Dodd, another candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, called the Clintons’ response to the debate “outrageous.”

“To have the former president come out and suggest this is a form of swiftboating … is way over the top in my view,” Dodd said in a telephone interview.

“If elected to the presidency, there will be a lot of tough questions and if you can’t handle it in a debate without accusing everybody who has an issue with you of piling on or a sexist attack, somehow, first of all that’s unwise and, secondly, it’s false,” Dodd said.