03/28/2008 02:45 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Novak: Clintons Using Term "Vetted" As Racial Code

With Barack Obama nipping at her heels in Iowa, Hillary Clinton went on the state's public television Dec. 14 to say: "I've been vetted. ... There are no surprises."

That was the first use in presidential campaign politics of an unusual word. After losing in Iowa Jan. 3, Sen. Clinton said of Sen. Obama, "Everybody needs to be vetted." Chief Clinton strategist Mark Penn, on the way to New Hampshire, said of his candidate, "She's fully vetted ... and I don't think that process has occurred with Barack Obama." Clinton then told a rally, "Of all the people running for president, I've been the most vetted, the most investigated and -- my goodness -- the most innocent."

This frequent use of "vetted" caught the attention of the Democratic community. "Vetted," with a meaning distinct from "experienced," connotes investigating nominees for vice president, the Cabinet and the federal judiciary to uncover anything disqualifying. Its introduction in the presidential campaign by Clinton is tied to reminders -- overtly and by insinuation -- of Obama's teen-age use of illegal drugs that he confessed in his first book.

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