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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