Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Clinton Rules, 2008 edition

-- by Dave

We've known for a couple of years that the "Clinton Rules" of journalism would be in full effect this election cycle. What's been amusing has been watching its very practitioners -- the Beltway Village Idiots -- defending those rules by claiming, as they always do, they're perfectly appropriate because the Clintons, you know, really are Awful People.

But don't be fooled. The "Clinton Rules" really don't just apply to the Clintons. Barack Obama and his followers will be discovering this soon enough.

We were treated this week to the unpleasant spectacle of Maureen Dowd -- one of the Village's Queen Bees -- sloshing around, as Jane Hamsher says, like a concern troll in explaining why the rising wave of ugly misogyny aimed at Hillary Clinton is happening. Of course, Dowd herself has been one of the main cheerleaders of the Hillary-hate squad, but this doesn't really concern her.

Instead, she tells us, the "Clinton Rules" really are just a Clinton exception:
But Hillary is not the best test case for women. We’ll never know how much of the backlash is because she’s a woman or because she’s this woman or because of the ick factor of returning to the old Clinton dysfunction.

And what, exactly, was the "old Clinton dysfunction"? Well, in the Village view, it was all about the Clintons and what Awful People they are.

But outside the Village, the chief dysfunction in most people's minds was the press's -- particularly the way it let itself become a willing mouthpiece for the right in the name of dragging down the Clintons.

You can understand this, of course, when it came to movement conservatives, who reasonably saw that they weren't going to be able to beat Bill and Hillary Clinton on the issues, and also reasonably saw them as a potential threat to their own designs for long-term national political hegemony. So they made it personal -- tearing down Bill for his philandering ways, and not only dragging Hillary through that mudpit but simultaneously instilling a visceral antipathy toward for not only being ambitious but -- as befalls, they tell us with a shake of their sage heads, ambitious women generally -- cold, calculating, venal: a Bitch.

The Village poobahs not only picked up the conservatives' ball but ran with it. It wasn't just true of Fox News: it was true of every major media outlet, from the New York Times to the Washington Post to CNN and MSNBC. As Chris Matthews' spittle flecked the faces of guests whenver her name arose, and Bill O'Reilly and Tucker Carlson displayed their fear of emasculation whenever the chance presented itself in discussing her ... Hillary became, increasingly, not just a Bitch, but the Queen Bitch herself.

Nurtured by people like Maureen Dowd and David Broder as well as Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, this view has deeply imbedded itself, not just among the right, but among broad swaths of middle America, particularly in "red" states where the antipathy not only has been given free reign but the distance from any actual exposure to the Clintons personally tends to enhance the willingness of people to believe the ugly stereotypes about them. You can see this, particularly, in the recent caucus results in the West, where Democrats in rural areas went heavily for Barack Obama.

So when Maureen Dowd offhandedly admits that the "Clinton Rules" exist, but it's only because Hillary really is a bitch, she's acknowledging that anything goes when it comes to getting her. Beyond its gross abdication of any kind of journalistic standard of basic fairness, it's the kind of thing that plays well with certain elements -- particularly the Angry White Male crowd that loves Rush and hates Hillary -- because it justifies their own visceral, inchoate hatred of The Bitch. To them, Hillary is only the latest and most prominent incarnation of something they fear and loathe already, and always will.

Take this recent piece by an Aspen Times columnist -- and obviously prime speciment of American masculinity -- named Gary Hubbell, who opined:
He also votes, and the Angry White Man loathes Hillary Clinton. Her voice reminds him of a shovel scraping a rock. He recoils at the mere sight of her on television. Her very image disgusts him, and he cannot fathom why anyone would want her as their leader. It’s not that she is a woman. It’s that she is who she is. It’s the liberal victim groups she panders to, the “poor me” attitude that she represents, her inability to give a straight answer to an honest question, his tax dollars that she wants to give to people who refuse to do anything for themselves.

There are many millions of Angry White Men. Four million Angry White Men are members of the National Rifle Association, and all of them will vote against Hillary Clinton, just as the great majority of them voted for George Bush.

He hopes that she will be the Democratic nominee for president in 2008, and he will make sure that she gets beaten like a drum.

The Hillary Haters take their cues from people like Dowd, and the Clinton Rules are how they justify their antipathy. It becomes so deeply imbedded that even Hillary's ostensible defenders succumb to the notion that there's some rational element involved in it at all.

Take, for instance, Stanley Fish's recent NYT blog post in which he discussed, in some detail, the deeply irrational nature of so much of the Hillary hate. But then he noted:
Their mirror image on the left objected to my saying that President Bush fills the same role for liberals that Clinton fills for her detractors. No, no came the protest. However free-floating hatred of Clinton may be, hatred of Bush is firmly grounded in the record of a disastrous presidency that has left us at war, in debt, and in bad odor throughout the world. The two groups differed only in the bad qualities they attributed to their nemesis. Bush haters derided him as stupid. Clinton haters complained that she is too smart (the word “brilliant” is used as a pejorative), seems to know it all, and makes those who hear her speak feel they are less intelligent than she is.

Actually, Fish misses the critical point: it's not just that the anger that's directed at Bush is in most regards founded in rational views (especially considering that, with issues like the Iraq war and the "war on terror" particularly, many people's lives are at stake in those issues). It's that the ugly antipathy directed at the Clintons involves issues that not only are largely personal and ultimately picayune and irrelevant, but they're also deeply and fundamentally irrational.

First, consider what are the chief causes of what right-wingers like to dismiss as "Bush Derangement Syndrome":
-- They despise him for having "won" in Florida by essentially using Republican justices on the Supreme Court to strong-arm the normal democratic processes to a grinding halt.

-- They cannot forgive him for invading Iraq -- not only dragging the nation into war under false pretenses, but with no exit strategy even a consideration.

-- He is a walking disaster area for environmental policy.

-- He is a menace to our civil liberties, particularly in his megalomaniacal grab for executive-branch power in wiretapping American citizens and incarcerating "enemy combatants" at Guantanamo and elsewhere.

-- He has harmed, not enhanced, our national security; the consensus of nearly every anti-terrorism expert in the world is that Bush's handling of the "war on terror" has actually increased the likelihood of future terrorist attacks on American soil.

-- He has turned a historic surplus into a historic deficit and turned the most vibrant economy in history into one of the worst since the Depression.

-- He has numerous dalliances with unsavory corporate crooks who have managed to wreck whole corporations with irresponsible behavior and emerge scot-free.

None of these beliefs are founded in half-baked conspiracy theories. They are based in reported facts that are not in dispute. The only contention is in the interpretation of those facts. Moreover, every one of these beliefs revolves around policy and civic institutions -- they are not personal attacks aimed at impugning Bush's character. (It is true that Bush-haters do have a fondness for "Bushisms" and other ways of depicting him as stupid -- short-sighted and self-serving, perhaps, but not particularly hateful, nor in the least delusional.)

Contrast that, as I've observed before, with the kinds of things that formed the basis for the anti-Clinton animus engendered by the mouth-frothers of the right and recirculated with a "serious" veneer by the Village People:
-- Clinton was responsible for the fiasco surrounding the 1992 FBI shootings on Ruby Ridge.

The facts: Clinton was not in office until January 1993. The Ruby Ridge standoff occurred on the watch of his predecessor George H.W. Bush. Clinton was in charge when upper-level FBI officials mishandled the investigation of the matter -- but he was also in charge when those officials were caught and punished.

-- Clinton and his attorney general, Janet Reno, were responsible for the massacre of the Branch Davidians who died at the culmination of the standoff in Waco.

The facts: Though the standoff was planned before Clinton took office, he had been in charge for about a month when the initial assault occurred Feb. 28, 1993 (Reno did not take office as AG until March 11); and were certainly responsible for giving the go-ahead for the assault that produced such horrendous results occurred on April 19. Subsequent investigation of the matter revealed clearly that the fire that swept the Waco compound was indisputably set by the Davidians, almost certainly ordered by leader David Koresh. It was clear that the brute-force-assault plan was a disaster, largely because it had failed to anticipate the intended mass suicide it would spark. However, there was no evidence (despite various doctored videotapes popular among the militia/Patriot right that purported to show otherwise) that federal officials were responsible for setting the fire.

-- Clinton was the nominal leader of the "New World Order," a government conspiracy to subsume American sovereignty under the United Nations and destroy our freedoms.

The facts: This conspiracy theory was the raison d'etre of the Patriot movement, and like most of the material that circulated in that movement, it was entirely fraudulent, drawing in many respects on well-worn anti-Semitic theories about secret cadres of "international bankers" who conspired to rule the world. Nonetheless, it was peddled throughout the mainstream by a broad range of conservative Republicans, including Rep. Bob Barr, Rep. Helen Chenoweth, Sen. Robert Smith and Sen. Jesse Helms. All of these figures, it should be noted, were also prominent Clinton-bashers.

-- Clinton was responsible for a long string of deaths of people who had the misfortune to cross his path.

The facts: Probably everyone with an Internet account in the mid- to late 1990s received, at one time or another, a version of the "Clinton Body Count." And of course, there remain even today a panoply of Web site devoted to circulating this tale. And any number of conservative columnists and TV pundits made passing references to it, lending it further credence. But the "Body Count" has been thoroughly debunked as a fraud many times; the best remains this assessment from Clinton Body Count.

-- Clinton was a rapist.

The facts: This accusation was raised in 1999, after the impeachment fiasco, by an account of a woman named Juanita Broaddrick who said she had been sexually assaulted by Clinton in 1978. She told her account for a writer on the Wall Street Journal's editorial page (after NBC News, which originally interviewed her, sat on the story -- for good reason). The charges gradually evaporated as it became clear that Broaddrick (who had previously filed an affidavit denying any sexual contact with Clinton) was not a reliable witness, and may have had a profit motive for changing her story. The facts of their encounter have never been definitively established, but there is no sound evidence to suggest that any encounter he may have had with Broaddrick was not entirely consensual.

These, of course, are a mere sampling of the afactual rhetorical turds that were flung by the mainstream Clinton-hating right over the years: Clinton's love child. The airport haircut. The Mena drug ring. The White House travel office. Vince Foster's murder. The 'scandalous' pardons. The vandalization of the White House.

All of these things have two things in common: 1) They are flatly untrue, unsupported by facts and evidence, and mostly the products of hysterical hatred. 2) Their purpose is not the least policy-oriented, but dedicated entirely to denigrating Clinton's character and cast him in the most degraded light.

Indeed, aside from the Lewinsky affair (which only came to light after years of spurious digging through Clinton's personal life), the accusations inveighed over the years by Clinton-haters all were utterly without foundation and predicated on vicious smears and wild accusations. Moreover, all of them were about the Clintons' personal characters, not about their policies or their abilities executing them.

And yet these, in fact, were the foundation of the Clinton Rules. When I read Dowd's column, it took me back to early 2001, when the foremost issue in the minds of the press at the time was the Trashing of the White House -- the supposed "scandal" in which outgoing Clinton operatives "sabotaged" their offices as a way of hurting the incoming Bushevistas.

One of our local radio hosts, KIRO's Dave Ross, had Newsweek's Michael Isikoff on during the midst of the brouhaha to talk to him about it. When Ross mentioned that the stories seemed pretty thinly sourced, Isikoff reassured him that the story was likely to have some substance -- after all, he said (approximately), these Beltway reporters who have been writing all this stuff about the Clintons have good reasons for believing that these were just people of bad character.

Then there was that panel on CNN hosted by Howard Kurtz that featured the following exchange:
KURTZ: But, Chris Caldwell, do you buy the notion that journalists deliberately pumped-up the story, not just of the pardon, which I think everyone would agree, the Mark Rich pardon, very legitimate news story. But, of the $190,000 in gifts; other presidents took gifts, not at this kind of level, and the story about the prank/destruction of federal property, just because they can't stand Bill and Hillary Clinton and because they wanted to portray them as kind of low-class Arkansas hicks?

CALDWELL: Well, you know, these preconceptions that journalists have are not without a basis in fact. One of my colleagues likes to say ...

KURTZ: So, you're saying they are low-class hicks ...

CALDWELL: Well, yes, one of my colleagues likes to say, "The Golden Rule is that all rumors about the Clintons are true". But I think ...

KURTZ: That's quite a journalistic standard.

CALDWELL: That's why I'm not going to tell you who said it. OK? But, no, I certainly don't think the gift story was pumped-up, because it fits a normal Clinton pattern. People are very interested to know what actually was the China that she got for this? Why don't we know for a fact that she got it from this Borsheims Store (ph) in Nebraska where she is reported to have received it. It'd be nice to know what they're reporting as a $190,000. One would like some assurance that it wasn't bought wholesale.

But of course, not only was the gifts story entirely bogus -- which didn't stop the press from avidly circulating it anyway -- but so was the entire "Trashing the White House" story.

So when it comes to character, the Village Idiots consistently look much more dubious than the Clintons. Indeed, their continuing insistence that their vapid, hateful and irrational approach to the Clintons is perfectly justifiable tells us all we need to know about their judgment in general.

It also tells us something else we already know: that the Clinton Rules are not just for the Clintons, but can be freely applied to any liberal in general. And it is virtually guaranteed that it will be applied to whoever is any kind of standard-bearer for the Democratic Party: Al Gore, John Kerry, Tom Daschle, Nancy Pelosi -- they've all been subjected to the Clinton Rules.

So far, Obama has been largely exempt from them (the exception being, of course, the long-running "Obama is a Muslim" tale). Some of that is most likely a product of the anti-Clinton animus: as long as he's hurting Hillary, he'll be cut a certain amount of slack.

I'm sure a lot of Democrats have been taking the depth and breadth of the Hillary Hate into account in their decisions on who to support, and a number of them are leaning toward Obama because of it. The thinking seems to be that because of the Clinton Rules, it might be better to nominate someone else. Certainly, Obama and his campaign have encouraged that view -- and it must be noted that, so far, polling data does indicate he has a real advantage.

But as Stanley Fish quite adroitly observed:
Electability (a concept invoked often) is a code word that masks the fact that the result of such reasoning is to cede the political power to the ranters. Carolyn Kay (456) makes the point when she observes that if you vote against Clinton because you fear the virulence of her most vocal enemies, “you have allowed the right-wing hatemongers to decide who our candidate will be.” Underlying this surrender of the franchise to those least qualified to exercise it is the complaint (rarely overtly stated) that the Clintons have had the bad taste to undergo the assassination of their characters in public and have thereby made us its unwilling spectators.

Moreover, the Clinton Rules are a systemic problem, not a personal one. People today forget that when he was elected in 1992, Bill Clinton's campaign was all about finding a "new vision" and a fresh, bipartisan approach to politics, "reaching across the aisle" and forging the same kind of alliances that Barack Obama likes to tout now. He entered office full of hope that he could work with conservatives and liberals alike to get things done -- essentially the same kind of politics Obama is now touted by the George Wills of the Beltway for representing.

Well, we all saw how that worked out, didn't we?

Don't worry: If Obama is in fact the nominee, you can bet your bottom dollar that the Clinton Rules will be applied to him as well. We've already seen the germ of this with the "cult of Obama" nonsense, which has already morphed into the "Obama equals Hitler" meme.

Trust me, it's just the beginning.

No comments: