Clinton, Obama and double standards


Are the media treating Hillary Clinton more harshly than Barack Obama? Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post:

Clinton's senior advisers have grown convinced that the media deck is stacked against them, that their candidate is drawing far harsher scrutiny than Barack Obama. And at least some journalists agree.

"She's just held to a different standard in every respect," says Mark Halperin, Time's editor at large. "The press rooted for Obama to go negative, and when he did he was applauded. When she does it, it's treated as this huge violation of propriety." While Clinton's mistakes deserve full coverage, Halperin says, "the press's flaws -- wild swings, accentuating the negative -- are magnified 50 times when it comes to her. It's not a level playing field."

The article cites plenty of instances. I think there's no question that Obama has been given an easy ride. It struck me throughout the televised debates that Clinton was generally declared the winner, but by a narrow or less-than-commanding margin--whereas in fact she nearly always trounced him. Quite a few commentators have called her slip over driver's licences for illegal immigrants in the Philadelphia debate a turning-point: since then she's been in trouble, they say. But Obama made a complete fool of himself on the very same issue in the next debate, by which time Hillary had sorted out her line, and he got away with it. Yes, the press is failing to be objective. Yes, it is treating Hillary quite harshly, while fawning over Obama.

But is this sentiment peculiar to the press, I wonder, or a feeling in the country at large? I suspect the latter. The United States may have doubts about Obama's policies (if it knows or cares) or lack of experience (compared with Hillary's such as it is), but it likes him. He is new, and the country is giving him the benefit of the doubt. When it comes to Hillary, there is no such instinct. She is asking for eight years in the White House--another eight years, as her claim of greater experience keeps reminding people--and people seem tired of her already.

Bill makes this worse. Predictably, with problems in Iowa and her national numbers starting to slide, he is playing a more forward role. David Warsh, author of the indispensable Economic Principals, drew my attention to this column by Alex Beam in the Boston Globe:

In 1999, after almost seven years of Bill Clinton's rule, the commentariat christened a new buzzterm: Clinton fatigue. The peccadilloes, the double-dealing, the outright lying had overwhelmed the American public. "The Clintons have finally worn out their welcome," wrote columnist Linda Bowles. "There is a prevailing sentiment that it's time for them to go, and to take their baggage with them."

Clinton fatigue. With the presidential election less than 11 months away, I am feeling it already.

I'm not talking about Mrs. Clinton...

My Clinton fatigue is about Bill. I am getting sick of him.

Bill's problem is that he has no idea of how to be a political wife. Right now, Michelle Obama is the best in the business. Smart, accomplished, articulate, and capable of projecting empathy, she moves the Obama campaign forward with every appearance. She fills the stage without stealing the spotlight from her husband, from Oprah, or from whoever she appears with. With Bill Clinton, it's just the opposite...

[An angle suggested by Herald columnist Margery Eagan:] Is Bill "The Underminer," as defined by the hilarious book of the same name by Mike Albo and Virginia Heffernan? The underminer is your "friend" who waxes enthusiastic about your fabulous trip to New Zealand, and then lets slip that he was hang-gliding there in the early 1980s, you know, before all the American tourists arrived.

Mainly, I think Bill makes his wife look weak. Otherwise, why would she need his help? And he reminds people just how long this double-act has been in business. When it comes to policies, Hillary may in fact be more of a "change candidate" than Obama (see Paul Krugman on this), hard though it is to say, ahead of time, how either presidency would work in practice. The point is, with Bill at her elbow, she does not look or sound like the change candidate. The more she relies on him, the more stale and diminished she will seem.

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Clive Crook is a senior editor of The Atlantic and a columnist for Bloomberg View. He was the Washington columnist for the Financial Times, and before that worked at The Economist for more than 20 years, including 11 years as deputy editor. Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics. More

Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics.

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