09/26/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Question For A Senior Clinton Advisor Planning to Boycott Obama's Speech

Forty-eight hours from now Senator Barack Obama will deliver to the nation what is expected to be his most important address thus far. But according to the Washington several senior Clinton advisors will not be there.
This is not unexpected given the lingering anger and bitterness resulting from the hard fought Democratic primary. But the decision by one former Clinton aide in particular is deeply troubling. The report that Clinton campaign chairman, Terry McAuliffe, will boycott Obama's historic speech raises questions about some of the former Democratic National Committee chairman's most impassioned comments about diversity and his scathing excoriation of the Republican Party's "minority outreach" program.

In 2003, as the Democrats were gearing up for the next year's presidential election, McAuliffe told the Chicago Defender: "If they (Republicans) were sincere (about recruiting blacks and Latinos) they would have more success." He further vilified the party of Lincoln (and Nixon for that matter) for using Blacks for Show.

A month before the start of the 2004 Democratic National Convention, McAuliffe made a point of naming a veteran publicist and producer, William Marshall Jr, to carry out an aggressive media relations campaign to black communities. With Obama, the Democrats have been successful in ways McAuliffe may have never imagined. McAuliffe often spoke in broad terms about Democratic values. "As Democrats," he said in 2004, "we consider the values of inclusion, tolerance and social justice to be fundamental to the fabric of our nation"

This question, therefore, to Terry McAuliffe: As someone who espouses principals of inclusion--principals that supercede your commitment to any one individual, including Senator Clinton --why would you decline to be present this Thursday during one of the most visibly inclusive moments in American history?

I met Terry McAuliffe in July of 2004 at the Democratic Convention in Boston where I was working as a senior editor for National Public Radio. I was helping to vet guests for Tavis Smiley, who at that time had a program on NPR. As chairman of the Democratic Party it made sense to get McAuliffe on the show. But when I escorted him into our temporary studio overlooking famous Boston Garden, Tavis exploded. "I don't want Terry McAuliffe on my show" he fumed. It was not clear what the beef was all about between Tavis and McAuliffe, but it was serious. We took the microphone off McAuliffe, and Former Labor Secretary, Alexis Herman, volunteered to replace him. Senator Clinton appeared on the show later that week. But McAuliffe, for whatever reasons, was persona non grata forever with Tavis Smiley.

Early this summer when it became clear that Obama would be the Democratic nominee, McAuliffe was quoted as saying, "Hillary is 100 percent behind making sure that Barack gets elected president. We're instructing everybody, 'Let's get on board, let's win this election.' '' McAuliffe's presence on Thursday night would signal to Clinton supporters that he and other senior operatives are indeed "100 percent" behind the Democratic Party's nominee for President.

I never knew what specifically transpired between Terry McAuliffe and Tavis Smiley. I do know it came down to an issue of respect or lack thereof. That's how many, no doubt, would interpret Terry McAuliffe's failure to show up on Thursday evening; as a sign of disrespect and a contradiction of the "big tent" ideals that he once championed.

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