- Assistant to former President Bill Clinton
- Developed a reputation for mercilessly smearing opponents of Clinton
- Proponent of the "Third Way," a centrist philosophy that borrows ideas from both Marxism and capitalism
Sidney Blumenthal was born in Chicago on November 6, 1948, and graduated from Boston's Brandeis University in 1969. During his time in Boston, Blumenthal worked for the alternative publication Real Paper. In 1980 he published The Permanent Campaign, a book that, according to National Public Radio, described “how fixation on electoral politics had begun to paralyze governing in the U.S.”
In the 1980s Blumenthal began writing for The New Republic, where in 1984 he gave a great deal of positive coverage to the failed presidential campaign of Gary Hart, a Democratic U.S. senator from Colorado.
It was also in the '80s that Blumenthal first came to know Bill and Hillary Clinton, with whom he went on to develop a close and permanent friendship. His initial encounter with the Clintons took place at a Renaissance Weekend retreat, where leaders in the fields of business, finance, government, the media, religion, medicine, science, technology, and the arts would meet to discuss a variety of matters with public-policy implications.
Later in the decade, Blumenthal wrote for The Washington Post and Vanity Fair, but by 1991 he was back at The New Republic. When Bill Clinton ran for U.S. president in 1992, Blumenthal lauded the former Arkansas governor as a transformative figure who had the potential to bring “epochal change” to America. After Clinton's electoral victory, Blumenthal became the Washington correspondent for The New Yorker. A number of his peers in the media, however, claimed that his close relationship with the Clintons rendered him unable to write objectively about them. Journalist Andrew Sullivan, for one, described Blumenthal as “the most pro-Clinton writer on the planet.” The New York Observer once referred to him as Clinton's long-time cheerleader.”
In August 1997, Blumenthal was hired as a special assistant and advisor to the president, a post he would hold until the end of the Clinton administration. In this role, Blumenthal was responsible for writing major speeches, crafting foreign policy, and researching news stories that were pertinent to the White House.
Even more importantly, Blumenthal was tasked with smearing and defaming Clinton's political opponents, which he did with enough tenacity to earn himself the nickname “Sid Vicious.” For instance, in 1998 Blumenthal was widely believed to have been responsible for leaking information to the media regarding an extramarital affair that House Judiciary Committee chairman Henry Hyde had been involved in during the 1960s. At the time that this charge was made public, Hyde was preparing to preside over congressional hearings that would determine whether President Clinton should be impeached for transgressions (perjury, obstruction of justice, and abuse of power) related to the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal. Blumenthal, for his part, released a statement averring that he “was not the source or in any way involved with this story on Henry Hyde.”
In February 1998, Kenneth Starr, the special prosecutor who had been assigned to investigate the facts of the Lewinsky case, subpoenaed Blumenthal to testify before a federal grand jury on three separate occasions. In addition, Blumenthal was deposed by the U.S. Senate when it tried Clinton on the impeachment charges in January 1999.
Immediately following one of his February 1998 appearances before the grand jury, Blumenthal went to the courthouse steps to make a theatrical denunciation of Judge Starr's allegedly inquisitorial tactics, and to say he could hardly believe that such an undignified invasion of people's private lives was occurring in the United States. Claiming that the grand jury had asked him to reveal details about his past communications with at least eight separate news organizations (whose names he enumerated), Blumenthal declared: “I never imagined that in America I would be hauled before a federal grand jury … and forced to answer questions about my conversations, as part of my job.”
Months later, when the transcript of that grand jury session became public as part of Judge Starr's impeachment report, it showed that Blumenthal in fact had not been asked even a single question about his communications with any news organizations. As investigative journalist Michael isikoff wrote in Slate.com, “It was Blumenthal, not the prosecutors, who brought up the names of the news organizations—apparently so he could later claim that the questioning was more sinister than it really was.” The late author/journalist Christopher Hitchens, however, observed that Blumenthal's disingenuous claims had served their purpose, in that they successfully “bought Clinton some time with the press and added to the standard caricature of Starr as a tyrannical monster.”
In a subsequent grand jury hearing, the forewoman told Blumenthal: “We are very concerned about the fact that during your last visit, that [sic] an inaccurate representation of the events that happened were retold on the steps of the courthouse.”
By this time, Blumenthal's reputation as an unprincipled prevaricator was well established. Columnists Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover, for example, said that Blumenthal was “so widely suspected of spreading stories of a conspiratorial nature that he has been nicknamed ‘Grassy Knoll’ by some in the White House and ‘Sid Vicious’ by some outside it.” Columnist Jonah Goldberg put it this way: “Sidney Blumenthal did what he did and said what he said because that is the kind of man he is. He likes saying bad things about people. If you snapped him open like a peapod, nothing but bilious black ooze would come out.” And Michael Isikoff wrote: “In the book as in life, he [Blumenthal] rearranges facts, spins conspiracy theories, impugns motives, and besmirches the character of his political and journalistic foes — all for the greater cause of defending the Clintons (and himself).... Distortion is standard fare for Blumenthal.”
During the weeks and months that followed his grand jury testimony, Blumenthal consistently characterized Judge Starr as “a prosecutor on a mad mission from God,” a “constitutional illiterate,” and a key player in a “vast right-wing conspiracy.” By the same token, he depicted President Clinton as “the victim” of both a predatory and sexually demanding young woman, and a Republican “sexual inquisition.”
Politically, Blumenthal—like Bill and Hillary Clinton—professed to be a proponent of the so-called “Third Way” movement. Indeed, during his tenure as a Clinton staffer, Blumenthal helped organize several Third Way conferences. Also known as the “Radical Middle,” the Third Way is a nominally centrist philosophy that, according to Third Way social democratic theorist Anthony Giddens, embraces a conception of socialism that emphasizes the need for a large social-welfare apparatus, greater economic egalitarianism, and a rejection of capitalism's allegedly unjust elements, but does not endorse the traditional Marxian call for the total abolition of free markets. Author and political analyst David Horowitz has exposed the “Third Way” philosophy as a bankrupt and incoherent construct:
“'The Third Way' is a familiar term from the lexicon of the left with a long and dishonorable pedigree in the catastrophes created by messianic socialists in the 20th Century.... In the 1930s, Nazis used 'The Third Way' to characterize their own brand of national socialism as a equidistant between the 'internationalist' socialism of the Soviet Union and the capitalism of the West. Trotskyists used 'The Third Way' as a term to distinguish their own Marxism from Stalinism and capitalism. In the 1960s, New Leftists used 'The Third Way' to define their politics as an independent socialism between the Soviet gulag and America's democracy. But as the history of Nazism, Trotskyism and the New Left have shown, there is no 'Third Way.' There is the capitalist, democratic way based on private property and individual rights—a way that leads to liberty and universal opportunity. And there is the socialist way of group identities, group rights, a relentless expansion of the political state, restricted liberty and diminished opportunity. The Third Way is not a path to the future. It is just the suspension between these two destinations. It is a bad faith attempt on the part of people who are incapable of giving up their socialist schemes to escape the taint of their discredited past.”
Following his tenure in the Clinton administration, Blumenthal authored The Clinton Wars, a 2003 memoir of his White House experiences. More specifically, it was a book about the political and media battles that occupied President Clinton's attention throughout his scandal-plagued second term. As Michael Isikoff put it: “If The Clinton Wars has any central point it is that the scandals that beset the Clinton presidency—from Whitewater to campaign finance to Lewinsky to Marc Rich—were each and every one of them entirely concocted, from start to finish.” To be sure, Blumenthal depicted each of these matters as nothing more than “empty,” unsubstantial “pseudoscandals” engineered by evil, malicious scoundrels with political axes to grind. The author even claimed not to know if Clinton had in fact carried on an affair with a 21-year-old White House intern (Lewinsky). More than that, explained Blumenthal, it was not his, nor anyone else’s, place to ask the president about such things.
Also in his book, Blumenthal took pains to build up Hillary Clinton's political bona fides. For instance: (a) he affirmed Mrs. Clinton's claim—made in the midst of her 2000 U.S. Senate campaign in New York—that she was a longtime Yankee baseball fan; (b) he provided a benign description of the then-First Lady's supposedly dignified and philosophical acceptance of the need for a special prosecutor vis-à-vis the Lewinsky scandal, even though then-Clinton advisors George Stephanopoulous and Dick Morris both recall Hillary's obstinate refusal and tearful ranting against the appointment; (c) he affirmed that Mrs. Clinton was the author of the 1996 book It Takes A Village, despite the fact that her ghost writer was paid $120,000 for the project; and (d) he gave Mrs. Clinton some undeserved credit for advancing the Irish peace process, saying that her “work” had made it all possible.
As he appeared in numerous media venues to publicize his The Clinton Wars, Blumenthal repeatedly bemoaned “the politics of personal destruction” that demonic conservatives were allegedly using to smear the reputations of innocent Democrats.
In 2007, Blumenthal served as an advisor for Hillary Clinton's presidential primary campaign against fellow Democrat Barack Obama. Though Obama ultimately emerged victorious, the campaign's heated rhetoric left the president-elect and his allies bitter and angry at Blumenthal, whom they viewed as the Clinton camp's primary smear merchant. According to Occidental College professor Peter Dreier, Blumenthal in 2008 regularly distributed e-mails attacking “Obama’s character, political views, electability, and real or manufactured associations.” In addition, Blumenthal also promoted the rumor that a highly inflammatory “whitey [video]tape” existed of either Barack or Michelle Obama derisively referring to white people as “whitey”—something that, had the tape ever materialized, would clearly have been toxic to the Obama campaign.
When President Obama eventually named Hillary Clinton as his choice for secretary of state in 2009, Mrs. Clinton reportedly wanted to offer a State Department job to Blumenthal. But the White House adamantly refused to permit this.
Having thus been denied an official position in the new administration, Blumenthal was subsequently hired by Mrs. Clinton's family philanthropy—the Bill, Hillary, & Chelsea Clinton Foundation—to help with such tasks as research, “message guidance,” and the planning of commemorative events. Meanwhile, he also worked as a paid consultant to Media Matters For America and American Bridge 21st Century, pro-Clinton organizations that were both established by left-wing activist David Brock.
After longtime Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi had been deposed (in August 2011) by Islamist rebels in a civil war effort supported by Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration, Blumenthal served as an advisor to a group of business associates who, according to The New York Times, were seeking “to get in on the ground floor of the new [post-Qadhafi] Libyan economy.” Specifically, they hoped to persuade the Libyan transitional government to award them lucrative contracts for the construction of floating hospitals (to treat Libya’s war wounded), temporary housing (for people displaced by the war), and schools. In order for these projects to move ahead, they would require approval not only from Libyan authorities, but also from the U.S. State Department.
In May 2015, it was learned that during 2011-12—both before and after the October 2011 death of Qadhafi—Blumenthal had sent at least 25 memos about events that were unfolding in Libya to a private, secret, non-government email account belonging to Secretary of State Clinton. According to The New York Times: “Mrs. Clinton took Mr. Blumenthal’s advice [regarding those events] seriously, forwarding his memos to senior diplomatic officials in Libya and Washington and at times asking them to respond. Mrs. Clinton continued to pass around his memos even after other senior diplomats concluded that Mr. Blumenthal’s assessments were often unreliable.” Moreover, Clinton often appended Blumenthal's memos with comments like, “Useful insight” or “We should get this around asap.”
Sidney Blumenthal is the father of journalist Max Blumenthal.
For additional information on Sidney Blumenthal, click here.