June 26, 2004

Bill Clinton vs. Roger Porter, Round II

Ah. Things become clearer. When the Harvard Crimson asks Roger Porter about Clinton's account of this conversation, Porter responds that "We never had any conversation as he has described in his book. You don’t remember every conversation in life, but I would certainly remember a conversation like that".

When David Maraniss asked Porter about the same conversation back in the mid-1990s, Porter did remember a conversation--albeit he remembered it very differently. Bob Somerby quotes Maraniss:

Bob Somerby: Daily Howler: Near the end of The Agenda, Bob Woodward’s book on the first two years of Clinton’s first term, Hillary reflects on what she sees as the “politically motivated attacks aimed at undermining” her husband’s presidency. She remembers a telephone call that her husband told her about back in 1991, just when he was “pumping up” to run for president. The call was from someone in the Bush administration who had worked with Clinton on state policy issues, and as Hillary remembers her husband telling her the message, it went like this: “We’ve done a lot of looking at this race and your profile as a candidate is one, and one of a very few, that could cause us trouble. And we just want you to know if you get into this race, we will do everything we can to destroy you politically.”

Who made the call? Hillary declined to say at first, but eventually she and Clinton passed the word through an aide that it was Roger B. Porter, Bush’s domestic policy adviser. Porter, a mild-mannered policy wonk, said he had no such conversation with Clinton and was not aware of anyone else in the [Bush] White House who knew Clinton well enough to say such a thing. In the only conversation he had with Clinton in 1991, Porter said, he told Clinton that he ought to switch to the Republican party if he wanted to become president...

This seems to me to be strong evidence that Clinton has been telling the story of this conversation in essentially the same form ever since the conversation happened in 1991.

My guess at the moment is that Roger Porter did call Clinton in July 1991. In the conversation that Porter had with Clinton, Porter told Clinton, a serious policy-substance guy Porter respected, some of the facts of political life, and urged Clinton to switch to the Republican Party and run not in 1992 but 1996 if he ever wanted to become president--thus giving Clinton good advice and trying to recruit a charismatic centrist to a Republican Party badly in need of charismatic centrists.

By contrast, the conversation that Clinton had with Porter was very different. In the conversation Clinton had with Porter, Porter, a serious policy-substance guy Clinton respected, revealed his true colors as a Lee Atwater hack by making crude threats of personal destruction. As Clinton tells the story:

One July day [in 1991], Lynda Dixon told me that Roger Porter was on the phone from the White House. As i've said, I had worked with Roger on the education goals project and had a high regard for his ability to be loyal to the President and still work with the governors. Roger asked me if I was going to run for President in 1992. I told him that I hadn't decided, that I was happier being governor than I'd been in years, that my family life was good and I was reluctant to disrupt it, but that I thought the White House was being too passive in dealing with the country's economic and social problems. I said I thought the President should use the enormous political capital he had as a result of the Gulf War to tackle the country's big issues. After five or ten minutes of what I thought was a serious conversation, Roger cut it off and got to the point I'll never forget the first words of the message he had been designated to deliver: "Cut the crap, Governor." He said "they" had reviewed all the potential candidates against the President. Governor Cuomo was the most powerful speaker, but they could paint him as too liberal. All the senators could be defeated by attacks on their voting records. But I was different. With a strong record in economic development, education, and crime, and a strong DLC message, I actually had a chance to win. So if I ran, they would have to destroy me personally. "Here's how Washington works," he said. "The press has to have somebody in every election, and we're going to give them you." He went on to say the press were elitists who would believe any tales they were told about backwater Arkansas. "We'll spend whatever we have to spend to get whoever we have to get to say whatever they have to say to take you it. And we'll do it early."

I tried to stay calm, but I was mad.... I told Roger that what he had said made me more likely to run. Roger said that was a nice sentiment, but he was calling as my friend to give me fair warning. If I waited until 1996, I could win the presidency. If I ran in 1992, they would destroy me, and my political career would be over.

After the conversation ended, I called Hillary and told her about it. Then I told Mack McLarty. I never heard from or saw Roger Porter again until he attended a reception for the White House Fellows...

And, of course, the conversation Porter had with Clinton was the same as the conversation Clinton had with Porter.

Posted by DeLong at June 26, 2004 09:00 AM | TrackBack | | Other weblogs commenting on this post
Comments

No one can accuse Professor DeLong of being dumb.

He reads and considers evidence when it is presented to him, which is the mark of a scholar and a gentleman.

Posted by: Charles on June 26, 2004 09:15 AM

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Rashomon. The one fact, the conversation occurred, indisputable. Everything else understood in a haze of personal context and meaning.. If only this level of nuance existed in our national conversation. Sigh..

Posted by: bigring55t on June 26, 2004 09:17 AM

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Perhaps Porter felt he was was less identified with the Rovian personal-destruction message than Clinton felt he was.

What Porter thought was a mild and friendly warning of what "someone" might do, Clinton took as a relayed threat. Perhaps Clinton paraphrased Porter's words in a way Porter has a right to object to.

If I say, though, something like "You're my friend, Bill, but some people on my team are thinking of killing you", from some points of view I might be doing a friend a favor, and from some points of view I might be acting as a middleman for the goons.

Bill's interpretation might be better than Porter's, granted that he's a political realist who figured out what the game was. Maybe Porter had granted himself a figleaf that Bill was right to strip off.

Posted by: zizka / John Emerson on June 26, 2004 10:19 AM

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By Rovian I mean Rovesque. I'm aware that Rove didn't work for Bush I.

Posted by: zizka / John Emerson on June 26, 2004 10:22 AM

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Excellent analysis, Brad.

Posted by: boloboffin on June 26, 2004 10:41 AM

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Note, this also means that Porter is lying now when he says that Clinton " "fabricated a damning conversation between the two of them in his newly-published memoir,"

"Recollections differ" would have been the truth. But , "I never had a conversation" is a lie.

Posted by: Bones on June 26, 2004 10:57 AM

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As best I can tell, the "fabricated a damning confession" is the _Crimson_ reporter's spin on what Porter told him, not what Porter said...

Posted by: Brad DeLong on June 26, 2004 11:28 AM

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Ah, in that case, it's probably just everyone involved hearing something other that what was intended.

< Gilda Radner> never mind...</Gilda Radner>

Posted by: bones on June 26, 2004 08:12 PM

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In my personal experience, Harvard Crimson reporters are very good at fomenting conflict where there isn't necessarily any.

Posted by: Tyrone Slothrop on June 26, 2004 08:46 PM

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Actually, i suspect that porter meant he didn't remember "that" conversation as a reference to the "conversation as Bill Clinton described it."

Posted by: howard on June 27, 2004 09:49 AM

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Who should we belive? A President who has lied to us several times and will never stop or a mormon who has never lied in his life. A man with integrity and an upstanding family. Did you know that Porter has two children who have graduated from Harvard. Another who finished his first year at Harvard and is now serving an LDS mission in Argentina. Open your eyes people. This sounds like a guy who would lie. If you read carefully the quotes you will see the truth, you people just don't want to see your pathetic President in his true light.

Posted by: Elizabeth on July 5, 2004 02:59 PM

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Porter is not at all the way that Delong portrays him. Delong is a lying Snitch who has nothing important to say but what is in his a tiny, little brain.

Posted by: Stacie on July 5, 2004 03:02 PM

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Porter is not at all the way that Delong portrays him. Delong is a lying Snitch who has nothing important to say but what is in his a tiny, little brain.

Posted by: Stacie on July 5, 2004 03:02 PM

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Porter is not at all the way that Delong portrays him. Delong is a lying Snitch who has nothing important to say but what is in his a tiny, little brain.

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