Now she’s back in New Hampshire, trailing Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders by double digits, and I’m hearing echoes of the McRae news conference. This time, the roles are reversed: Bill Clinton is attacking Hillary Clinton’s rival.
“When you’re making a revolution you can’t be too careful with the facts,” the former president said Sunday in Milford, New Hampshire.
In a 50-minute harangue, Bill Clinton portrayed Sanders as hypocritical, “hermetically sealed,” and dishonest. He described the attacks by Sanders supporters upon Hillary Clinton and her backers as “sexist.” He accused the Sanders campaign of theft and lies, and mocked the populist’s central argument: “Anybody that doesn’t agree with me is a tool of the establishment.”
The only thing missing was a sheaf of papers quoting Sanders praising Hillary Clinton. Wait for it. As Jonathan Martin of The New York Times reported, the Clintons are just getting started.
Mr. Clinton’s comments represented an escalation in the language that he and Mrs. Clinton’s campaign have used to attack Mr. Sanders, who has maintained a sizable advantage in the polls here. Mr. Clinton made headlines in 2008 for fiercely defending his wife, and leveling tough attacks on Senator Barack Obama, but he has been largely restrained so far in this campaign.
After his wife lost the 2008 Iowa caucuses and before she won New Hampshire, a frustrated Bill Clinton said the story of Obama’s long-held opposition to the war was bogus. “This whole thing is the biggest fairytale I’ve ever seen.” After his wife lost the South Carolina primary, Bill Clinton dismissed Obama’s victory by noting that Jesse Jackson had won the state in 1984 and 1988.
Bill Clinton was accused of race-baiting, a hurtful charge. He had long prided himself on being a champion of the African American community, and enjoying strong support from black voters in Arkansas and during his presidential races.
Personally, I never considered Bill Clinton the least bit prejudiced. Although I understood the criticism, I always thought his attacks on Obama had less to do with race than with the Clintons’ outsized sense of entitlement.
For all their strengths—all their accomplishments and good intentions—there has always been a less attractive side of the Clintons. They can’t fathom why anybody would challenge their motives, doubt their veracity, or criticize their policies. The Clintons’ self-conceptions are yoked to their sense of public service and joint commitment to making lives better—and they believe their ends justify their means.
If you’re not for them, you’re not just an opponent—you’re beneath contempt. That’s why when Hillary Clinton confronted McRae for leaving her husband’s cabinet to mount his primary challenge, she didn’t just attack his record, she said, “I’ve been really disappointed in you as a person, Tom.” It’s what led her to call Monica Lewinsky a “narcissistic loony tune.” It’s what led her to list, only half in jest, her enemies: “In addition to the NRA, the health insurance companies, the drug companies, the Iranians; probably the Republicans.”