Hillary’s Rev. Wright, Part 2

On second thought, Scaife isn’t Hillary’s Jeremiah Wright. He’s her Louis Farrakhan.

Romance continues to blossom between Hillary Clinton and her once-mortal enemy, Richard Mellon “Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy” Scaife. In the March 31 issue of his crackpot newspaper, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, which loses somewhere between $20 million and $30 million a year, Scaife praises Hillary’s self-assurance, the depth of her knowledge on foreign and domestic issues, and her confidence. “Her meeting and her remarks during it changed my mind about her,” Scaife gushes—affirming, perhaps, Woody Allen’s famous maxim that 80 percent of success is showing up:

Walking into our conference room, not knowing what to expect (or even, perhaps, expecting the worst), took courage and confidence. Not many politicians have political or personal courage today, so it was refreshing to see her exhibit both. Sen. Clinton also exhibited an impressive command of many of today’s most pressing domestic and international issues. Her answers were thoughtful, well-stated, and often dead-on. […]Does all this mean I’m ready to come out and recommend that our Democrat readers choose Sen. Clinton in Pennsylvania’s April 22 primary? No—not yet, anyway. In fairness, we at the Trib want to hear Sen. Barack Obama’s answers to some of the same questions and to others before we make that decision. But it does mean that I have a very different impression of Hillary Clinton today than before last Tuesday’s meeting—and it’s a very favorable one indeed.

Scaife slobbered in similar fashion over Bill Clinton after the two enjoyed, last summer, what Scaife later described to Vanity Fair as a “very pleasant” lunch—one that prompted Scaife to contribute $100,000 to the Clinton Global Initiative—in the former president’s New York office:

“I never met such a charismatic man in my whole life,” Scaife says, glowing with pleasure at the memory. “To show him that I wasn’t a total Republican libertarian, I said that I had a friend named Jack Murtha,” a Democratic member of the House of Representatives from Pennsylvania. “He said, ‘Oh, Jack Murtha. You’re talking about my golfing partner!’ ” In the midst of these backslapping memories, though, Scaife goes carbuncle-eyed and refuses to answer on the record when asked if he still thinks Vince Foster’s suicide was, as he once told the New York Times, “the Rosetta Stone to the Clinton Administration.”

Scaife, as I noted last week, is a significantly more poisonous slinger of divisive rhetoric than Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s former minister, about whom Hillary expressed disapproval at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review powwow. During the 1990s, Scaife professed to believe that Hillary had actually killed Foster, and he used the Tribune-Review to spread that ugly rumor. Scaife’s unwillingness to retract such seamy accusations (“[Bill Clinton] can order people done away with at his will. He’s got the entire federal government behind him”) a full decade after the fact doesn’t strike me as repentant, even by the redempt-o-matic standards of today’s 24-hour news cycle. If, as Hillary said about Wright to Scaife and his employees, “Hate speech [is] unacceptable in any setting,” what are we to make of Scaife’s regular outbursts of blatant misogyny? In 1981 he called a female journalist profiling him for the Columbia Journalism Review a “fucking Communist cunt,” adding for good measure that her mother was “ugly.” Scaife’s marriage broke up after a detective hired in 2005 by his wife, Margaret “Ritchie” Scaife, caught Scaife in flagrante with a woman who’d been twice arrested for prostitution. When Ritchie sought to confront the couple, Scaife had her arrested for trespassing. She spent the night in jail. Later, after Ritchie and Richard commenced marital separation, he posted on his front lawn the sign “WIFE AND DOG MISSING—REWARD FOR DOG.” For Hillary “to seek help from Scaife in publicizing Obama’s supposed tolerance of hate speech,” Jonathan Alter observes in the April 7 Newsweek, “sets a new standard in campaign chutzpah.”

In the Feb. 26 presidential debate in Cleveland, Hillary told Obama that it wasn’t enough for him to express strong disapproval of Louis Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism; he had to reject Farrakhan’s support. She cited a “similar situation” she’d faced during her first Senate run in 2000, when she “rejected” the support of the anti-Semitic Independence party. “I was willing to take that stand,” she said.

And there’s a difference between denouncing and rejecting. And I think when it comes to this sort of, you know, inflammatory—I have no doubt that everything that Barack just said is absolutely sincere. But I just think we’ve got to be even stronger. We cannot let anyone in any way say these things because of the implications that they have, which can be so far reaching.

Obama replied that he saw no difference “between denouncing and rejecting,” but that “I’m happy to concede the point, and I would reject and denounce.”

Hillary’s willingness to tolerate the potential support of a misogynist reptile like Scaife strikes me as precisely parallel. In this case, though, Clinton has not been asked to denounce or reject the prospect of a possible endorsement by Scaife and his Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Why not? She could, I suppose, attempt a “hate the sin, love the sinner” approach and claim she’s only mimicking Obama’s Wright speech. But Obama was able to point to longstanding personal ties; to the bitter life experience of Wright’s generation of African-Americans; and to Wright’s more laudable accomplishments, of which there were many. Hillary, by contrast, only just met Scaife for the first time; can cite no mitigating hardships in Scaife’s life, save perhaps Scaife’s well-publicized alcoholism; and, except for that $100,000 check to her husband’s foundation, can point to little in the way of laudable accomplishments. This last would be particularly awkward not only because of the impression it creates—that the Clintons have been bought off—but also because any discussion of Scaife’s charitable giving would have to acknowledge its emphasis on funding conservative think tanks and nutty right-wing causes like the American Spectator’s get-Clinton “Arkansas Project.”

Scaife isn’t Hillary’s Wright. He’s Hillary’s Louis Farrakhan, Hillary’s Independence party for 2008. Does she dare tell Scaife that she doesn’t want his damn endorsement, and that if he bestows it, she’ll refuse it publicly? I wouldn’t hold your breath.