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New D.C. Powerbroker-in-Chief: David Geffen

by Kilian Melloy
Friday Nov 7, 2008
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With the presidential election over and the President-elect the Democratic nominee, BarackObama, the sorting and parsing of the campaign in all of its intensity and drama has begun. For one blogger at the Los Angeles Times a likely starting point is openly gay billionaire businessman David Geffen.

A Nov. 5 blog by Patrick Goldstein pinpoints comments by Geffen that were included in a piece by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd as a crucial moment in the primary race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton

The column, which appeared on Feb. 21, 2007, quoted Geffen as saying, "It’s not a very big thing to say, ’I made a mistake’ on the war, and typical of Hillary Clinton that she can’t."

Moreover, opined Geffen in the Dowd column, "Not since the Vietnam War has there been this level of disappointment in the behavior of America throughout the world, and I don’t think that another incredibly polarizing figure, no matter how smart she is and no matter how ambitious she is--and God knows, is there anybody more ambitious than Hillary Clinton?--can bring the country together."

As for the other then-contender for the Democratic nomination, "Obama is inspirational, and he’s not from the Bush royal family or the Clinton royal family," Geffen said.

"Americans are dying every day in Iraq. And I’m tired of hearing James Carville on television."

Geffen, famously a Bill Clinton supporter, making such remarks was headline news; those comments also served as the beat of the butterfly’s wings that introduced the first perturbations into the Hillary Clinton campaign.

But is wasn’t just Geffen’s personal assessment of Hillary that led him away from her camp of loyalists. The Los Angeles Times article points out that it was also Barack Obama’s own personal magnetism.

"I thought he was a remarkable guy," the blog quoted Geffen saying about Obama’s televised speech at the Democratic national Convention in 2004, at which John Kerry was nominated for that year’s election race.

Added Geffen, "After I heard him give that speech, I called him up and said, ’You’re going to run for president and I’m going to support you.’"

Obama’s reply? According to Geffen, Obama thanked him for the compliment, but demurred, saying he was not throwing his hat into the ring.

But things changed over the next couple of years.

Said Geffen, "He called me one day and said with a laugh, ’David, I guess you’re right. I am running for president and I’d like your support.’

"And of course, I said, ’You have it.’"

The blog related the origin of the Dowd column, at an event in New York City. Geffen spoke at the event, which took place at the YMCA on 92nd Street. Someone asked for Geffen’s opinion on the Democratic contenders for the party nomination.

The blog quoted Geffen as recollecting, "I said that Hillary was an incredibly polarizing figure and that if she ran, she’d never be elected president."

Added Geffen, "And when I said it, the audience broke into applause.

"Maureen was in the audience and afterwards she said to me, ’We oughta do a column about that.’"

Like Obama had when Geffen approached him two years before, Geffen demurred at first. "I said, ’No, no, no. No one’s interested in what I have to say about the Clintons.’

"But she kept after me and finally, when Steven [Spielberg], Jeffrey [Katzenberg] and I had the fundraiser [at which Geffen made the remarks carried in Dowd’s column], Maureen cornered me and said, ’You have to say what you’re thinking. It could have a real impact on the race.’

"So I did."

Said Geffen, "What can I tell you--I was just speaking the truth."

Hillary Clinton’s campaign unconsciously set the tone for much of the rest of the Obama candidacy; before Fox News attempted to hold Obama responsible for the atrocities committed by Bill Ayers and the Weatherman in the 1960s, and before anyone tried to put the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s fiery anti-white rhetoric into Obama’s mouth, the Clinton campaign took Geffen’s words and tried to staple them to Obama, calling for the rival candidate to renounce Geffen’s remarks and accusing Obama of "the politics of trash," the blog recalled.

But Geffen’s words were his own; they also articulated what plenty of Democratic supporters were thinking but not saying aloud. And not just big-bucks supporters: everyday people cold relate when Geffen, as quoted in the Dowd column, took aim at the kind of polished, inauthentic-feeling campaign Hillary had been running.

Said Geffen, "She’s so advised by so many smart advisers who are covering every base. I think that America was better served when the candidates were chosen in smoke-filled rooms."

The day after the election, Geffen told the LA Times blogger▀, "It resonated because it was what everyone was thinking, but no one wanted to say, because they feared the wrath of the Clintons.

"That’s also true of the press. They didn’t want to take on the Clintons, because they knew they’d lose all their access.

"But [Geffen saying it] put everything out in the open."

The blog author asked whether the public persona of Obama was different from the genuine article.

Said Geffen, "He’s really quite consistent. It’s why the Republicans were never able to bring him down.

"He’s a calm but commanding presence, thoughtful, measured and always consistent.

"He’ll be an inspiring president."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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