My Clinton Problem - And Ours

A reader writes:

Now don't get me wrong; I don't like Hillary Clinton for a lot of reasons. But, to characterize her as a "paranoid, polarizing co-president" is going too far. Perhaps it is you who are suffering from amnesia. 

When Bill Clinton was elected, I remember discussing the election with members of a Texas branch of my family closely tied to James Baker and 41. They, and their exalted friends, were all genuinely outraged and incensed that this counter jumper, this political charlatan had flim-flammed the presidency away from George H. W. Bush who had EARNED the right to second term. I heard repeatedly words to the effect of "we wish him joy of his presidency, but we will do everything possible to make him regret his victory." The Clintons were under attack even before the inauguration. And they remained under attack for eight years. The conservative press served as cheerleaders, reported rumor as fact and inflamed against the Clintons rhetoric of a violence and viciousness that I thought America had foresworn a century earlier.  It isn't paranoia when someone really is out to get you. 

As for polarization, I don't want to play "who started it", but let's face it, the Republican strategy of divide and conquer was not invented in 2000. Grover Norquist, Pat Buchanan, Jerry Falwell, Phyllis Shafley and many other Republican apparachiks had been poisoning the well for years before Clinton ever launched a national campaign.

Yes, I remember. I was an unillusioned Clinton supporter in 1991 and 1992. As editor of The New Republic, I helped guide the magazine toward an endorsement of the guy. Heck, I edited Sid Blumenthal's coverage of the campaign and wrote the editorial that endorsed him. And I absolutely understand that the hard right was out to get them regardless. That remains the greater failing, I'd say. And I gave the hard right hell in the Clinton years, and opposed convicting Clinton in the impeachment. But to argue that the Clintons were innocents - or didn't give their enemies enormous and needless ammunition - is far from the truth. Read Bernstein's book. Or "Primary Colors" again.

I witnessed the following eight years close-up. I was lied to repeatedly, as all of us were. (For a brief reprise, Hitch's book, "No One Left To Lie To" is helpful.) The lies were not as bad as Bush's - WMDs and torture. But the stakes were much lower. The arrogance and condescension of the 510qpyk20sl healthcare debacle were revealing of a classically bad left-liberal mindset on Senator Clinton's part. She knows best; she always has; everyone else is part of the VRWC. (You just saw a flash of that in Iowa - but her main lesson of the last eight years has been not to change but to better disguise who she is. MoDo, who also endured those eight years, has her number today.) Watching the Clintons pivot off homophobia - while pretending to be civil rights pioneers - really sickened me (although not as much as the gay establishment symps who rolled over and begged for more. They're still at it, of course). Then the wagon-circling over the sexual harassment suits; the firing of the Travel Office staff; the dissembling over legal records; the smearing of enemies; the enabling of preventable genocide in Bosnia ... maybe being forced to cover them day after day made me swear off the Clintons for good. Or maybe watching them close-up gave me a false perspective and we should just chill and let them take over the government again. But I would be remiss if I didn't write that the idea of restoring the two of them for two more terms on top of the two they have already had fills me with dread.

Recommended Reading

The man was a perjurer and an abuser of women; she was deeply complicit in all of it, and ultimately used it for her own political advantage. This is who they were. I don't think they've changed - and God knows what psychodramas the right-wing press has in store for us next spring if she wins. That the Clinton presidency was immeasurably preferable to the last six years I do not dispute. As I wrote continually at the time, their co-presidency was in many respects a substantively admirable one, although I doubt it would have been half as admirable if the Congress hadn't reined them in. But it came at a severe cost - to the polarized country and to the integrity we have a right to expect in public figures. She has re-earned her credit as a national leader in the Senate, and she deserves respect for that. I think she'd make a great Supreme Court justice for the left. But she is still part of that co-presidency aiming for another eight years; and she is still part of that ruthless machine. She may be preferable to many Republicans (who isn't, at this point?); but it amazes me she is given such a pass on her past, especially since she has already wielded national power through her husband for two terms. We still have alternatives. If this blog can help remind people of that, and of what we already know about her and her co-president-in-waiting, so much the better.