Clinton, Obama, Drugs and the Politics of Cynicism

There are plenty of what might charitably be referred to as "unsavory" characters associated with the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, who tends to attract the seamy political hangers-on who like to attach themselves to candidates who have money and good poll numbers.

One of the worst of these, Bill Shaheen, was serving as co-chairman of the Clinton campaign in New Hampshire.

Now he's suddenly out of his official role. But don't think this shady character is gone for good.

Shaheen, the husband of former New Hampshire governor and current U.S. Senate candidate Jeanne Shaheen, got in hot water after saying Clinton's leading challenger for the nomination, Illinois Senator Barack Obama', would be a weak nominee because of his admission of past drug use.

But don't think that Billy Shaheen, one of the most calculating people in New Hampshire -- and America, for that matter -- made any kind of mistake.

The veteran Democratic leader in New Hampshire was not really expressing concern -- sincere or simulated -- about the drug use admission. That's old news and Obama's frankness about the issue pretty much put it to rest.

Rather, Shaheen was trying to get reporters digging for more dirt on Obama and drugs -- and, of course, to get grassroots Democrats in key states worried about the prospect that the Republican opposition research team has already assembled the materials need to finish Obama in the fall.

"The Republicans are not going to give up without a fight ... and one of the things they're certainly going to jump on is his drug use," Shaheen told a Washington Post reporter Wednesday. "It'll be, 'When was the last time? Did you ever give drugs to anyone? Did you sell them to anyone?' There are so many openings for Republican dirty tricks. It's hard to overcome."

Notice the none-too-subtle "Obama-might-have-been-a-dope-dealer" hint by Shaheen.

That's the claim the Clinton campaign, which is feeling the heat from Obama's hot pursuit in polling data from the first caucus state of Iowa and the first-primary state of New Hampshire, wants circulating as the January 3 caucusing and January 8 voting rapidly approach.

For floating the drug-peddler's-don't-make-sound-presidential-timber line, Shaheen was officially -- if somewhat insincerely -- rebuked by Clinton and everyone around her.

But don't think Bill Shaheen has really lost favor with a Clinton campaign that likes nothing so much as digging dirt and distributing it -- preferably without the finger prints of the candidate or her top national aides.

Shaheen will remain a key player in New Hampshire and in the national Clinton campaign; working, whether officially or unofficially, for Clinton. As the preeminent Democratic fixer in what for the fading front-runner has emerged as the critical primary state, he knows his services will be in demand.

He also knows that the Clinton camp doesn't hold grudges against people who do the dirty work.

Officially, Bill Shaheen is off the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Unofficially, the smart bet is that Shaheen's taking "thank-you" calls from the Clinton team and awaiting his next assignment. An even smarter bet is that Shaheen's will not be a long wait.

John Nichols is a co-founder of Free Press and the co-author with Robert W. McChesney of TRAGEDY & FARCE: How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections, and Destroy Democracy -- The New Press.

(c) 2007 The Nation

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