Thursday, July 3, 2008

Destroying Hillary Clinton Part 1 & 2

Original Links:

By Melissa McEwan and Maureen McCluskey

Part one - How a bitter primary campaign saw the right's discredited smears gleefully revived and reused by the left.

In 1998, as six years of a national campaign to demonize First Lady Hillary Clinton — funded by conservatives and rooted in profound anti-feminism — was reaching a fevered crescendo, then-conservative David Brock (now of Media Matters) penned a book called The Seduction of Hillary Rodham. The publisher's note for the tome says of its subject: "No public figure in contemporary life has elicited more polarized reactions than Hillary Rodham Clinton. The first presidential spouse who pursued a major policymaking role, the beleaguered first lady has been a heroine and role model to her feminist allies - and a malevolent, power-mad shrew to her conservative foes."

Sometime in the last decade, her liberal foes evidently decided that whole "malevolent, power-mad shrew" thing sounded pretty good, too.

Throughout the course of the Democratic primary, it was neatly repackaged as "wildly ambitious person who will do anything in her voracious quest to win including destroying the Democratic Party while cackling monstrously and whose womanness totally doesn't matter we swear." The classic misogynist charge once used against Clinton by the vast right-wing conspiracy became the rallying cry of large swaths of the erstwhile reality-based community.

Without a hint of irony.

Clinton was suddenly a bitch, a witch, the Queen of Hearts "who has parasitically attached herself to the legacy and record of" her husband, the screech on the blackboard with an elitist trademark laugh. "Hitlery," "Hildebeast," and "Billary" - staples of 1990s criticisms of the feminist First Lady have returned with a vengeance. She was a monster, the devil in a pantsuit, targeted with dehumanizing and eliminationist rhetoric to which liberal bloggers used to object when the right used it against liberals, but apparently now consider okay, as long as it's only directed at a candidate they don't like.

In a spectacular ballet of aggressive misogyny, attacks on Clinton's femaleness masquerading as critiques of Clinton's policies and campaign failures (separate altogether from legitimate critiques of Clinton's policies and campaign failures), and indifference to the former, the liberal blogosphere - once a proud conglomeration of feisty challengers to Republican memes - embraced as its own one of the most pernicious strategies of the 1990s anti-Clinton conservatives.

And they didn't stop there.

In a complete 180-degree turn, the same members of the left who had once defended Clinton against the attacks of the right wing - the trumped-up scandals and dug-up dirt that led to endless hours and millions upon millions of dollars wasted in fruitless investigations of the Clintons, their business dealings, their friends, not to mention the peculiar features of Bill's twig and berries - adopted the frames of those attacks as their own. Everything old was new again. Call it political retro chic.

One diarist on Daily Kos even provided a helpful guide to all the scandals of the Clinton years, with ratings from one to 10 based on scandal level and the level of Hillary Clinton's involvement. The "Level of Scandal" for some of the scandals listed is artificially inflated by the diarist, JohnKWilson (author of a book on Obama), to reflect the impact of the "cover-up," thus adding five scandal points to Hillary's level-two-rated cattle-futures windfall for the alleged cover-up, and a whopping seven scandal points to level-one-rated "Travelgate", based only on Wilson's conclusion that, despite the charge not having been substantiated, that Clinton must have lied under oath.

Wilson acknowledged that Clinton has never, even after years of being investigated at great cost to the taxpayers, been charged with any sort of crime; however, that did not prevent him from concluding nonetheless, unhindered by the lack of evidence, that she has behaved unethically, that her judgment is lacking, that she lied under oath, that she is secretive, that she padded her legal bills (or lied about them), and that she must have participated in Bill's "abuse of power." The source for many of these allegations are books by Carl Bernstein and Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta, both of which were previously considered to be hit pieces containing a great deal of speculation and not much new information (in spite of the hype).

The scandals of the 1990s - Monicagate, Travelgate, Whitewater, and, more importantly, the hovering specter that Hillary Clinton has something to hide, and the ability to reflexively and repeatedly invoke them under the guise of what the GOP would use against her - came to serve a number of purposes for her detractors, even those within the Democratic party. The financial and political scandals, in particular, were used to fuel the meme that Clinton is a liar and a cheat who was trying to steal the election away from Obama, that she'd so anything to win, is secretive and was hiding unsavory business associations (this was a particular rallying cry prior to the Clintons' release of their joint tax records, which incited a small flurry about how much they had made in the past seven years) and a great deal of uninformed commentary about the family foundation, as well as Clinton's daily records from her years as First Lady).

Some of the scandal mentions were deployed defensively, in order to deflect attention away from Obama's own alleged scandals: When the press began to pay attention to Obama's association with Tony Rezko, supporters raised the complaint that insufficient attention was being paid to Whitewater, the Clintons' fateful failed Arkansas land deal, despite a multi-million dollar investigation that found no wrongdoing having been completed a decade earlier.

By April, the blogfather Kos himself was agreeing that Clinton wasn't even to be considered a Democrat anymore.

It was an indication of how thoroughly the left co-opted the use of the GOP and media-created scandals, to smear Hillary Clinton during the presidential primaries, that the Republicans weren't even mentioning them much anymore, content to let the Left do its dirty work. There was little reason for GOP operatives to get their hands dirty reviving the villainous First Lady Macbeth caricature, when many liberals were happy to do it for them.

Not content to merely destroy the entire Democratic party single-handedly, Hillary Clinton was hell-bent on murder. Evidently having failed to satiate her bloodlust after murdering Vince Foster - or such was the claim of her ideological enemies, a charge still being chanted like a demonic incantation by rightwing pain-maker Rush Limbaugh - now she was openly lusting for the assassination of her opponent, Barack Obama. (That is not to suggest there were no legitimate concerns about her statement.) And Randi Rhodes - a "progressive talk radio personality" - fresh from calling Clinton a "fucking whore," fanned the same flames when she announced fearing for her life after delivering the insult to someone who routinely has her enemies whacked.

"Billary", the two-headed monster created by the rightwing to demonize the "two-for-one" presidency of Bill Clinton and his feminist, advisor wife Hillary Clinton, also stumbled out of its grave, given new life by liberals who defended the Clintons against the very same attack when it was her being used against him during his administration, but now found it politically expedient to use him against her. Billary was back in vogue, and infamous Clinton-haters in the media like Maureen Dowd or Chris Matthews (who remains as fixated on Clinton scandals, especially the Lewinsky matter - the scandal that made his career - as ever) accused Hillary of being nothing without her husband, only having come within inches of the presidency because her husband had cheated on her. The progressive blogosphere largely remained silent, or, worse, acquiesced by suggesting there was some truth to the categorisation.

Even the architect of many of the most significant smears against the Clintons during the 1990s, Richard Mellon Scaife, had apparently dropped his campaign against them. Indeed, Scaife, the publisher of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, inserted himself into the paper's editorial board's interview with Clinton while she was campaigning in the crucial state of Pennsylvania and walked out impressed - so impressed that the paper endorsed her.

Not that this satisfied the Democratic critics of Clinton, though - if anything, the howls of outrage that she would sit down with Scaife after what he'd done only got louder. She was not credited with courage or a willingness to reach across the aisle for facing down an old nemesis and changing his opinion of her, nor was she praised for neutralizing an old foe; instead, she was accused her of cozying up to him, of using the interview as an opportunity to trash Obama (during the interview, she responded to a direct question about the Rev Wright matter, then in its first flower, which was the first time she had said anything on the matter), of betraying her family. These accusations were made with no apparent sense of irony, since they were often made by the very same people who were using the baseless, Scaife-generated scandals of the 1990s to trash Clinton in 2008. Hyperventilated one Daily Kos diarist: "This is a bigger story than if Bill Clinton and Ken Starr decided to become best friends forever. This is like OJ and the Goldman family developing an alliance."

Other sources of the attacks of the 1990s found fresh credibility, as long as they were smearing the Clintons. Many of the Clintons' foes on the Left uncritically accepted rumors and claims pushed by Matt Drudge and Rush Limbaugh because they reflected poorly on the Clintons, rushing, for example, to condemn Hillary Clinton for disseminating a photo of Obama in Somali garb, not considering that the source of the claim that the photo came from the Clinton campaign was none other than Matt Drudge (a claim that has since been debunked, but persists nevertheless). And many eager to find fault with the Clintons believed that Bill Clinton had appeared on Rush Limbaugh's radio show and granted an interview to his guest-host, Mark Davis (the interview was actually recorded by a service and sold so that local interviewers could dub their own voices over the interviewer's questions). In addition, they swallowed whole Limbaugh's claim that his "Operation Chaos," in which he asked his listeners to vote for Clinton in the primaries in order to mess with the nominating process, was effective and believed that this was tantamount to an endorsement of Clinton by the right wing.

Meanwhile, a hatchet job on Bill Clinton in Vanity Fair - rife with rumor and speculation, either unsourced or anonymously sourced, precisely the kind of journalism the Left blogosphere would once have almost universally rejected, irrespective of its target - was peddled by some progressives as though it were fact. And we were meant to care what the Moonie Times had to say about ancient Clinton scandals.

Increasingly, it looked as if many on the left had never spent a moment believing those attacks to be untrue, or the Clintons defensible, in the first place. And eventually came the posts of regret for having ever defended the Clintons in the 1990s, a curious position if those defenses were merited in the 1990s.

Perhaps the left had never defended the Clintons on the merits, instead merely playing a game of partisanship that once required rejecting rightwing frames, even while they internalised them. Perhaps the "vast right-wing conspiracy" had reached further than we once imagined.

Clinton, of course, came nowhere close to tearing the Democratic Party in two, and could not, by any reasonable measure, be said to have done "anything" to win. Despite the plethoric assertions during the primary - which grew louder and more insistent toward its end - that Clinton would never willingly withdraw, would take the fight to the convention, and even try to sabotage Obama's candidacy so she could run again in four years - Clinton instead withdrew, endorsed Obama, encouraged her supporters and donors to support him, explicitly exhorted them to reject McCain, and spent last Friday campaigning with Obama (in matching outfits!) in New Hampshire, in a town named Unity.

Some of her detractors insist yet it is only a guise, driven by her need to pay off campaign debt, to which there's undoubtedly some truth, although the suggestion that is her only, or principal, reason for supporting Obama is just another way of casting her as insatiably self-centered - and is contingent upon ignoring, once again, that she is first and foremost a politician.
Just a mainstream politician who lost a hard-fought primary to another mainstream politician. That the story is about a mythical beast that was slain at long last says less, in the end, about the alleged beast than it does about those who sought to destroy her.

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