Sunday, October 07, 2007

The latest inexcusable attack on Hillary Clinton

By Michael J.W. Stickings

So it has come to this. With Clinton leading Obama in the polls, and with the Republicans in disarray and polling poorly against Clinton, that is, with Clinton looking more and more like the next president of the United States, the knives have come out.

And it's getting uglier and uglier. Again.

If her positions on the issues cannot be attacked (because she's actually quite moderate, and because her positions are, on the whole, quite sensible, and because she can defend herself with the best of them), and if her character cannot be attacked (what is there that hasn't been said already, what mud that hasn't already been slung?), then, by Zeus, she'll be attacked for what she is, that is, her husband's wife.

Consider this atrocious piece by Geoffrey Wheatcroft in today's WaPo. Wheatcroft starts out by calling himself "a friendly transatlantic observer," but he is nothing of the sort. His intention here is to ask a rhetorical question -- "Why on Earth should Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton be the front-runner for the presidency?" -- and to proceed to rip Clinton to shreds. But not before asking these similarly leading questions:

What has she ever done to deserve this eminence? How could a country that prides itself on its spirit of equality and opportunity possibly be led by someone whose ascent owes more to her marriage than to her merits?

Why read the rest? We can anticipate Wheatcroft's answers:

-- a) Nothing.

-- b) The country must be crazy.

You see -- Clinton's done nothing to deserve the presidency. America is a land of equal opportunity, but Clinton has gotten where she is today the old-fashioned way: family connections.

"[I]n no other advanced democracy today," claims Wheatcroft, with a most condescending tone, "could someone with Clinton's resume even be considered a candidate for national leadership." Sure, it happens that political wives ascend the political ladder in places like Sri Lanka and and Philippenes, but the West is different. Women have been liberated, feminism has opened doors for them, and they don't need those disreputable connections anymore. (Whether or not women are truly equal, that is, have the same opportunities as men, is another matter, one that the seemingly clueless Wheatcroft does not even begin to address.) "Everyone recognizes the nepotism or favoritism [Clinton] has enjoyed," he claims again, whereupon he quotes, of all people, the notoriously anti-Clinton Maureen Dowd, a women who evidently requires an entire Viennese institute to help her deal with her anti-Clinton neuroses.

Oh, fine, Clinton's been "a diligent senator," Wheatcroft allows, but, in the end, she "has become a potential president because she is famous for being a wife (and a wronged wife at that)". America may have been "founded on the proposition that all men are created equal," but now that woeful country has fallen well behind Europe in terms of meritocracy. Clinton's rise to power is all the proof you need.

What utter stupidity.

Clinton, like her husband, has been the target of countless venomous attacks, countless efforts to destroy them. Many of them have been predictable -- because they've come from predictable places on the right. Honestly, should it surprise us when Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity or Ann Coulter or any of that ilk comes out and attacks Clinton? But this is a piece by an allegedly serious international commentator in an allegedly serious and influential newspaper. What is the point here. What were the editors thinking?

The entire piece reduces the complexity of Hillary Clinton -- her complexity as a human being, her complexity as a major political figure, her complexity as a woman, her multifaceted identity -- down to a single, debased quality: She is Bill's wife, and that's the only reason she's had any success at all.

Forget that she went to Wellesley and Yale Law. Forget that she was a Watergate lawyer. Forget that she had a distinguished career before her marriage. Forget that she taught law in Arkansas, that she was a partner of a prestigious law firm in that state, that she was a leading advocate for children's rights. Yes, it was Bill who had the political career first, but Hillary was not just a passive political wife.

Has her marriage helped? Sure. But where in the world is there a pure meritocracy? Did not FDR and JFK also benefit from their family connections? Did not Reagan have connections? And what about the Bushes? Hillary has benefitted from what Bill has accomplished, but would Bill have succeeded without Hillary? Maybe, maybe not. And, last time I checked, Hillary is a senator. Is that not a significant accomplishment (one that undoubtedly far surpasses any of Wheatcroft's accomplishments?) She won a Senate seat from one of the country's largest and most important states, her own seat, in 2000. And she won re-election, quite easily, last November. And she has positioned herself as a leading figure in the Democratic Party, a presidential candidate who is polling well above some awfully strong candidates, notably Obama and Edwards.

Is that all Bill's doing? Or, rather, is that all because of her marriage?

Few attacks on Clinton have been this appallingly insulting.


Two further points:

1) Andrew Sullivan backs up Wheatcroft's argument. I have found myself frequently in agreement with Andrew recently -- but not on this. Clinton is not "deploying her husband's presidency as a reason to vote for her". You might not support her -- you might not even like her (not just Andrew, any of you) -- but at least do not stoop to this level of attack. There are other reasons -- good reasons -- not to support/like her. Focus on those. Focus on the merits.

2) As I have indicated before, I do not support Clinton. I prefer both Edwards and Obama -- and Gore. But I do not support her not because of her marriage, not because of who/what she is, but because I believe she is not committed enough to the liberal, progressive values that lie at the heart of the Democratic Party and my own political philosophy -- and because I worry about her triangulated positions on Iraq and terrorism.

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  • Aside from the possibility Hillary would tend to over react to prove she is tough on terror, the recent vote in support of the Kyl-Lieberman War Powers Act comes to mind, the main negativity I would see with a Clinton presidency is the rights hatred of her. The wing nuts are going to want to extract revenge for the treatment of GW and will want to assauge their guilt for supporting him in spite of his failures. They will want to get as much crap out as soon as possible on the next president. With Hillary it would seem their gun is already loaded. That doesn’t mean I will hesitate to vote for her if she is “our girl!” I’m just not looking forward to the ugliness that will ensue.

    By Blogger cwilcox, at 12:49 AM  

  • You're quite right. It would be incredibly ugly -- although the right is so ugly already. A Clinton presidency would quite likely be uglier, in terms of the right's venom towards it, then, say, an Edwards presidency, but she's proven that she can handle herself on the national stage and I think Democrats would rally around her against such venom. They've learned their lesson from the attacks on Bill. And I suspect that independents would move to the Democrats, too, in the event the Republicans (and conservatives more generally) got nasty. There is still rampant and deep-rooted sexism in American society today, but times are changing rapidly. A campaign to destroy Hillary could end up backfiring on those who wage it.

    I'm not a Hillary supporter, as I mention in the post, but, obviously, I would support her as the Democratic nominee, and I would do so enthusiastically. Whatever she is, and, like you, I have my very serious concerns, she's preferable to everyone on the other side.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 2:51 AM  

  • I can't help but wonder if Mr. Wheatcroft asked the same question when George W. Bush became the putative Republican nominee in 2000? Without the happy luck of being born to HW and Barbara, there was really nothing in his resume to suggest he should be president.

    At least Hillary had the stones to run for an open Senate seat where half the voters (upstate NY) where hostile to her. She won them over with hard work. Something our current president seems to lack the ability to understand.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:59 PM  

  • While I agree that Bill shouldn't be an issue as to whether to vote for or against Hillary, there still is far more media worship of her than that sort of piece. (The LA Times today has a story about how she has "won over skeptics." She hasn't won over any skeptics I know.) The problem with attacking her is she is so vague and contradictory on just about every issue that how can you specifically attack positions that she won't put out as she tries to play it "safe" the way Kerry, Gore and Dukakis all tried to play it safe and got their ass handed to them as a result. Hillary will be a uniter: of the Repulicans, who don't have any enthusiasm for their candidates but will have enthusiasm against her. That's why the Democrats can't afford to let her machine bully its way to the nomination in the most important election in a long time. All her moves to be "moderate" with things such as the Iran vote and past votes such as trying to push for an amendment banning flag burning won't win her any converts on the Republican side. All she has done is piss off Democrats who realize she'll say anything at any time to win, so the real Hillary is unknowable. For the Republicans, they've already decided who Hillary is and they hate her. The pro-lifers may threaten to bolt the GOP if they nominate Rudy, but if Hillary is the opponent, most of them will come back in droves just to stop her. Democrats cannot afford to let that happen. This election is too important.

    By Blogger Edward Copeland, at 3:05 PM  

  • I'm not a big supporter of Hillary Clinton either, but I'd like to see her supported or attacked on the merits versus this snarky, shallow crap by Wheatcroft.

    If we're talking merits, hardly any of the GOP candidates qualify. If you add basic sanity as a requirement, their field is all but empty.

    By Blogger Batocchio, at 5:55 PM  

  • What crap.

    Reagan and Schwarzenegger can be leaders because they played one in the movies. Jesse Ventura was a famous wrestler. Let's not forget Donny Osmond. These are all men who took big/little screen success and turned it into a political career.

    And let's not bother to get into the details of the old boys network and how that works.

    And this schmuck is upset because a lawyer took political experience and turned it into a senator ship and is now running on her record, platform, and policies to become an American president.

    This whole conversation is ludicrous.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:00 PM  

  • I have always loathed the hate Hillary brigade. I disagree with quite a few of her votes, and she does squirm around a bit politically: but no more so than many of your typical pols. How about Bush claiming during the election he didn't think Emergency room care was adequate health care for those unable to afford health care, then... just recently, saying we had health care for the poor: the emergency room?

    Come on, folks. This is the way the game's played. It sucks, yes, but so does the Electrolux-like FOX led media who is so eager to echo this "I hate Hillary," or whomever dares to challenge the extreme Right, mindless, knee-jerk, whine machine.

    As far as experience? She's got a hell of a lot more than many, especially the current resident. I'm sure she wouldn't be "my kind" of president, but she has the talent, the record and the fortitude to run.

    I don't put much stock in the "Right will crucify her" rant. They'll do the same to anyone who challenges them, these days, and the media... like a loving, adoring, yet frequently whipped puppy, will be eager to follow their lead.

    One positive? At least we'll have someone whose been there before and will handle it far better than say Kerry, opr even Edwards, did. Edwards tried, and failed. Too meek an effort, IMO. Kerry, on the other hand, may have been a war hero, but his political Swift boat turned tail far too fast and easily for my taste.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:55 PM  

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