As several news reports and commentaries have now pointed out, the turning point in the Ohio primary, which Hillary Clinton won to revive her campaign, was the sensational “news story” now being called NAFTA-gate. An Obama aide supposedly told a Canadian official at the Chicago embassy not to worry about Obama’s comments about re-negotiating the NAFTA trade treaty, which many Ohioans blame for their economic plight. Obama was just saying that to win an election.
Immediately, Hillary jumped all over this report, lacerating Obama for hypocrisy and double dealing. John McCain jumped in as well, noting that this was anything but “straight talk.” The attacks had their intended effect: late-deciding voters seem to have taken this (along with Clinton’s TV spot evoking the nightmare scenario of little children sleeping while the White House phone rings an emergency that she, but not Obama, would presumably answer) to heart and moved to Clinton in large numbers.
Now we find out, in a way that reminds us more and more of Karl Rove’s dirty tricks, that the whole story of Obama’s campaign aide was not only a classic case of spinning, but an outright fabrication. First, the leak came initially from Ian Brodie, the chief of staff of Canada’s conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, in what appears to be a blatant attempt by conservatives to try to eliminate the contender they fear most. Worse, Brodie was actually commenting about how Hillary Clinton’s campaign, not Obama’s, had issued the statement: “someone from (Hillary) Clinton’s campaign is telling the embassy to take it with a grain of salt. . . That someone called us and told us not to worry.” (Paul Rogat Loeb, 3/6/08Common Dreams). This comment was then picked up by a Canadian TV reporter in the U.S. and attributed to Obama’s economic advisor, Austin Goolsby, who was supposed to have contacted someone in the Canadian embassy in Chicago to make this reassuring remark. After Obama denied it, the story was made worse by another leak, this time from that same Chicago embassy, supposedly confirming the original story, to wit, that Obama’s campaign statements were more like “political positioning than the clear articulation of policy plans.” Obama seemed to be caught lying.
The truth is that it was the Canadian government that contacted Goolsby, not the reverse. And although Goolsby did meet with Canada’s consul general in Chicago, George Rioux, it wasn’t to assure him about “political posturing” but rather to say that Obama wasn’t talking about eliminating NAFTA entirely, but only making clear that labor and environmental safeguards mattered greatly to him. Which is exactly what Obama claimed in defending himself. As for the memo, even Prime Minister Harper now admits it was inaccurate, and “blatantly unfair” to Senator Obama. Opposition members in the Canadian parliament are expressing even more outrage, accusing the Harper government of interfering in a U.S. election to “help their Republican allies across the border,” and demanding that the Canadian Mounties investigate the leaker of the memo.
Sadly, the damage is already done. Equally sadly, what we have is an Ohio that continues to be the site of election shenanigans. Only this time, the perpetrators are not Karl Rove and his election Kommandos, but the mild-mannered Canadians in league with the ever more crassly Machiavellian Clintons.
The song says, Why oh Why oh Why-oh, Why did I ever leave Ohio…? The real question ought to be: When oh When oh When oh, When will Ohio get it straight-oh?