Candidates' Surrogates Sling Mud Minnesota governor accuses Obama of hypocrisy; former Gen. Wesley Clark downplays McCain's war record.
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Candidates' Surrogates Sling Mud

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Candidates' Surrogates Sling Mud

Candidates' Surrogates Sling Mud

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Let's talk politics now. The campaigns had their surrogates working overtime on the Sunday talk shows yesterday. Here from ABC's "This Week" is what Republican Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty had to say.

(Soundbite of TV show "This Week)

Governor TIM PAWLENTY (Republican, Minnesota): I think Barack Obama's book, "The Audacity of Hope," perhaps should be re-titled, "The Audacity of Hypocrisy."

PESCA: And here, on CBS's "Face the Nation," was what retired General Wesley Clark, a Democrat, had to say about John McCain yesterday.

(Soundbite of TV show "Face the Nation")

General WESLEY CLARK (Retired, U.S. Army; Former 2004 Democratic Presidential Candidate): I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president.

PESCA: Ouch! John Harris, editor in chief of, joins us now. Hello, John.

Mr. JOHN HARRIS (Editor in Chief, Hey, they're getting a little skin there on those Sunday morning shows.

PESCA: I thought so, too, and I'll get to Pawlenty in a second. Now, I didn't see "Face the Nation," because all the Sunday shows are on, like, at the same time, so you've got to pick your battles.

Mr. HARRIS: TiVo, TiVo!

PESCA: Yeah, I know, and I listen to them on the iPod later. But I did see the Clark quote online, and I almost fell off my chair. I thought that was a beyond-the-pale attack, especially by a fellow member of the military. But then, I saw it in more context, it seemed a more understandable quote. He was answering a question. But what are your thoughts on it?

Mr. HARRIS: Well, he certainly was responding to a question from CBS host Bob Schieffer. Nonetheless, that was definitely the line that echoed off the Sunday shows, because, in whatever context, that's a pretty - speaking of audacity, that's a pretty audacious statement, to seemingly challenge what is John McCain's most impressive personal and political asset, which is his war service and extraordinary human sacrifice, spending five years in a Vietnam war prison.

Now, logically, he's right. What does that have to do with whether or not he would be a good president? Not much, if anything. But nonetheless, a real eye-opener, and the thing is, you can find much stronger stuff on liberal blogs. We had a story in Politico today about just a number of commentators saying, wait a minute, what is John McCain's war record, really?

PESCA: So, it's pretty much the same as John Kerry and the swift boating, except that it was a part of John Kerry's biography. It's a much bigger part of John McCain's biography.

Mr. HARRIS: That's right, and I think the lesson of both campaigns is the same, that if you think there are certain topics that are just off limits, verboten, in a presidential election, that's not true.

PESCA: Right. Everything's, I guess, fair game, especially to the most partisan of partisans. But is there any sense that McCain is actually vulnerable on his military leadership?

Mr. HARRIS: I had never heard of it before, and you know what? Any Democrat has wandered near this turf in the past. Jay Rockefeller, during the primary campaign, said something similar, like, well, hey, John McCain was up there in an airplane but didn't care about the people he was bombing. He had to quickly backtrack, abject apology. This has not been fertile ground for McCain's critics for pretty obvious reasons, it seems to me.

PESCA: Now, going over to Pawlenty, his line of criticism was sort of, like, that Obama gets in front of popular causes instead of taking tough stands, which actually isn't the definition of hypocrisy, it's more like opportunism, but you know the...

Mr. HARRIS: You have to declare for...

PESCA: Yeah, the title of the book is "Audacity of Hope," so hypocrisy rhymes with audacity.

Mr. HARRIS: Right.

PESCA: Right, right so...

Mr. HARRIS: It has very much the feel, at least to my ear, of a canned line that they'd obviously been working on.

PESCA: I know.

Mr. HARRIS: But that is - that's been pretty much the standard formula for Republicans in the last two presidential elections. We'll see if it works against Barack Obama, which is to portray the Democrat as essentially a big phony.

PESCA: Now, well, my question, what it raised, to me, was Pawlenty, you know, he's on that - maybe that long short-list of vice-presidential possibilities. What the vice president usually does in a campaign is he's the attack dog. And I was just wondering if McCain will delay picking a vice president, and then you have all these guys who are potential attack dogs, and they get booked on the Sunday shows...

Mr. HARRIS: Right. They're all going to be trying to outdo each other...

PESCA: Yeah! Might be good strategy from the McCain prospective.

Mr. HARRIS: You know, McCain better do something to sort of enliven this contest. Obama's getting vastly more media coverage and has been driving the narrative for several months. So if McCain can use this vice-presidential selection contest to, you know, produce a little drama and attract some attention for his campaign, that wouldn't be such a bad thing for him.

PESCA: Let's quickly touch on what happened in Unity, New Hampshire, the coming together of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. This was prefaced by Barack and Michelle Obama writing checks to Hillary Clinton for 2300 dollars each to pay down her campaign debt. Is this usual? The winner pays off the loser's debt?

Mr. HARRIS: I hadn't heard of it at the presidential level. Certainly, it's happened at the state level. She could certainly use the money, and it is a powerful gesture, saying, look, we're all coming together - as, in fact, for all speculation that they wouldn't be together, most primary contests, no matter how bitter, do usually end with some kind of ritual of everybody laying on hands.

PESCA: But there's a lot - ritual, and laying on hands, and you know, at the convention, the one candidate holds the other, and they hold their hands above their heads like they just won a race or, you know, the...

Mr. HARRIS: Right, and everybody looks if she's smiling or grimacing.

PESCA: Yeah, yeah, but this, I mean, what - does she have, like, 20 million dollars to pay down? I was wondering if instead of Unity, New Hampshire...

Mr. HARRIS: And that pollster, those polls didn't come cheap.

PESCA: Yeah.

Mr. HARRIS: She owes one person, Mark Penn, five million bucks.

PESCA: I know, isn't it funny when he's quoted in the paper as some expert? He should, I think, be identified as Hillary Clinton creditor.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HARRIS: Sending out the collection agency, that's what they're trying to avoid. Even though Hillary was sort of laying on hands, apparently, there were reports that Bill Clinton is not quite so ready to say all is forgiven, a number of stories over the weekend about that.

PESCA: There were a couple of big Supreme Court rulings. One said that a child rapist couldn't be executed. Another said that there's a legal right to own guns. Will those rulings play better for one candidate over another? Will either of them actually become big campaign issues, do you think?

Mr. HARRIS: You know, I've seen some commentary saying this actually helps Barack Obama. It certainly didn't for the first day or two, where it focused a lot of attention on his gun-control position, where his statements have been a little bit ambiguous. But it essentially takes it off the table for the fall as a topic for debate. The Supreme has settled an issue, so that means it's going to be less one that is argued about between the two candidates. So it maybe that, in an odd way, that gun ruling did help Barack Obama.

PESCA: All right. John Harris, editor in chief of Thank you, John.

Mr. HARRIS: So long.

(Soundbite of music)

PESCA: And it should be noted, for those of you scoring along at home, that Barack Obama and John McCain do not have differing views on those Supreme Court rulings, even though Republicans have been criticizing Barack Obama as - what's the phrase that everyone always uses? - flip-flopping on the guns issue.

But to be clear, Barack Obama said that he was troubled by the Supreme Court's ruling on just the blanket ban on execution of a child rapist. If you go back to his Senate campaigns, he even talked about certain crimes being beyond the pale. And at that time, in a debate with Alan Keyes, he said including crimes against children. And on the Washington D.C. gun ban that was overturned, Obama said that he supports that ruling. That's one of the reasons for John Harris' interpretation of the results.

Coming up, ask not what the BPP can do for you. Ask what you can do for the BPP. We suggest either staying tuned for talk about presidential speeches or sending us huge sacks of money. It is your choice as an American. This is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News.

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