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March 4, 2008
Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama tussled over allegations that economist Austen Goolsbee, a senior Obama adviser, had told Canadian diplomats privately that Obama’s public speeches against NAFTA were just political maneuvering. The allegations, first made Feb. 27 in a report on Canada’s CTV, gained credibility when the AP obtained a copy of a leaked Canadian consulate memo. After denying that a meeting took place, Obama’s campaign said Goolsbee had met with the the Canadian consul general, but not in an official capacity; Goolsbee said the memo relayed an inaccurate and “ham-handed description” of their conversation. (AP in Newsday)
What the commentators said
“Barack Obama has a problem,” said Christopher Beam in Slate’s Trailhead blog. And it’s not that he might have “said one thing about NAFTA to Ohio and another to Canada.” It is that the “reams of denial” issued by his campaign about the meeting now look “borderline indefensible.” It's still unclear what Goolsbee really said, but the campaign’s “extremely misleading” statements brought on a very unwelcome “bad press day 24 hours before polls open” in Texas and Ohio. One thing they “can’t deny is that they brought this on themselves.”
This is “the first real scandal of the Obama campaign,” said Byron York in National Review Online. And the “growing indications” that the campaign isn't being straight puts Obama in “a difficult position.” Given Clinton’s “interest in keeping the controversy alive,” it’s likely a position Obama will find himself in for a while. “The only question is whether it will do Obama any significant damage and Clinton any significant benefit.”
Well, “if this story is getting the kind of coverage in Ohio” that the press says it is, said Noam Scheiber in The New Republic’s Stump blog, “it’s hard to see how Obama makes up ground there today.” But despite the “significant traction” it’s getting and its “problematic” aspects for the Obama campaign, the whole story just isn’t “substantively a big deal.” The Canadian memo isn’t “particularly revealing” and “there are, significantly, no direct quotes.” The real question is, “what is it with these Canadians?” Why is a foreign government “trying to torpedo Democratic candidates?”
That’s the question making the rounds in Canada, said Ian Austen in The New York Time’s Lede blog. Who leaked the memo? Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government is known for its “unusually tight control on information,” and, unlike in the U.S., "Canadian government documents are protected by strict secrecy laws and rarely make their way to reporters.” The opposition “grilled” Harper in Parliament, and accused him of “trying to undermine Obama’s campaign,” citing an ABC News report that fingered Harper’s chief of staff as the leak. Harper said he was “a little bit amused” that anyone would accuse him of wielding the power to pick the U.S. president.
of The Week magazine.