March 26, 2008

Strange Bedfellows Indeed

If the name Richard Mellon Scaife doesn't mean anything to you, then you probably have no idea why this picture is so extraordinary. But trust me, it is. Scaife is the moneymaster of what Hillary Rodham Clinton, as First Lady, condemned as the "vast right-wing conspiracy," a "conspiracy" that she illustrated in an extraordinarily complex chart showing a variety of key figures in the conservative "movement" and a whole variety of political and quasi-political actors.

Full disclosure: As a newly-minted and somewhat more ideologically-strident young lawyer, I used to work at one of the entities illustrated in the "vast right-wing conspiracy" chart, a 501(c)(3) "educational" group funded, to a significant degree, by three of Scaife's foundations. We knew full well that some of the money came with strings attached, like "Attack and disparage the Clintons, especially Hillary." No one ever told me that in so many words, but if I wasn't smart enough to figure that out on my own, I wouldn't have got the job in the first place.

Pennsylvania is the next stop on the campaign trail, a rich prize Clinton needs to win decisively. Scaife's congolmeration of enterprises is based in Pittsburgh. So we are now treated to the spectacle of Hillary Clinton sitting down in editorial board meetings with newspapers owned by Scaife, condemning Jeremiah Wright. Talking, face-to-face, with the man she once condemned (with some justice) as the architect of a campaign to destroy her and her husband.

Question: What's in it for Scaife? Pride, I should think. Victory. This is precisely why he spent all that money back in the nineties -- so he could reduce Hillary Rodham Clinton to having to suck up to him, so he could be a master of the game and have Presidents owe him fealty. Congratulations, Mr. Scaife.

Still, I'm hardly the only person just astonished to see this kind of rapprochement. This may be another step in Clinton exercising what an anonymous DNC official calls the "Tonya Harding option" for securing the nomination. I really like that metaphor. It really distills the Clinton campaign down to its essence at this stage of the game. It also casts Obama as Nancy Kerrigan -- who, you will recall, overcame the vicious and underhanded physical assault intended to knock her out of the Olympics by winning a silver medal. Bill Clinton, the designated attack dog of the campaign, is Jeff Gillooly. Jeremiah Wright is, I guess, the truncheon. So who gets to be Oksana Baiul?

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