Over the years, the chasm between the real Hillary Clinton and the unseemly caricature portrayed during two decades of personal attacks has been all too familiar to those who know her. Distinct from legitimate policy criticisms, these attacks have served as lazy shortcuts to undermine one of the most accomplished women of our lifetime.
Now, as the floodgates open on 2016 speculation, and despite her high standing in public polls, commentary about Hillary Clinton is following predictable patterns. Several pervasive anti-Hillary themes are being dusted off for yet another political cycle; these are carefully-crafted and patently false talking points designed to dehumanize and demean her. Many of the themes are rooted in the sexism that permeates our culture.
The 9/11/01 attacks and brutal amputation of Manhattan’s skyline
One of the most destructive tsunamis ever recorded (Indian Ocean)
One of the deadliest earthquakes ever recorded (Haiti)
One of the worst environmental disasters of all time (Gulf spill)
The virtual drowning of a major U.S. city (New Orleans/Katrina)
The near-drowning of a major U.S. city (New York/Sandy)
Japan’s monster earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster
The emergence – and denial – of the greatest man-made threat to human life (climate change)
The Middle East and North Africa uprisings
Early in 2007, as I was working on preparations for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign announcement, I had a conversation with one of her senior strategists about her chances of winning the nomination.
I said that I worried about one thing above all others: the day the aura of inevitability and invincibility surrounding her candidacy was punctured. It wasn’t a matter of if that day would come, simply a matter of when.
Once it happened, a virtuous circle would become a vicious circle, a vortex which could destroy her campaign. Sort of like the inverted passion in a relationship where love turns to hate, and the positive energy of one feeds the negative energy of the other.
To be clear, contrary to what many pundits believed and wrote, Hillary Clinton never bought into that aura; she was confident, but she was also a realist, understanding that only hard work, focus and discipline would get her over the finish line. And she was true to that dictum until the very end, showing inspiring strength of character and resolve.
Still, that moment I feared came, starting with a debate late in 2007 and culminating with her defeat in Iowa. Barack Obama expertly surfed the ensuing wave and captured the nomination.
Today, he’s having his Hillary Clinton moment. Inevitability and invincibility have turned inside out and opinion-makers across the political spectrum are writing his political obituary, doling out advice and criticism by the bucketful, bemoaning the demise of hope and change.
It was bound to happen. Bubbles are born to burst. I’ll be the first to say that he and his strategists accelerated the process by failing to adhere to core Democratic and progressive values and by telegraphing to the public that “compromise” was more important than principle. But either way, this moment was fated.
So, where does it lead? If Hillary Clinton’s current stature is any indication, President Obama has good reason to be hopeful.
TPM reporter Christina Bellantoni posed a question to me and another former Clinton campaign staffer on Twitter:
I’ll say exactly what I said a few months ago: no matter how thorough your dismay over the course of events, no matter how intense your critique of President Obama, if as a liberal or Democrat (or both) you find you’re making common cause with the likes of Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and other rightwing Obama critics, you should step back and reassess your motives.
There is considerable progressive dissatisfaction with the current administration, but the solution is to find and support more principled progressives, not to get into bed with those who oppose almost everything you stand for.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me ask you about Pastor Terry Jones. He gave a press conference today. Says he’s going to go through with burning the Korans. Is there anything you can say to him to convince him not to?
OBAMA: If he’s listening, I just hope he understands that what he’s proposing to do is completely contrary to our values of Americans. That this country has been built on the notions of religious freedom and religious tolerance. And as a very practical matter, as commander of chief of the Armed Forces of the United States I just want him to understand that this stunt that he is talking about pulling could greatly endanger our young men and women in uniform who are in Iraq, who are in Afghanistan. We’re already seeing protests against Americans just by the mere threat –
Republican leaders have also spoken out against the planned Quran-burning. President-in-exile Sarah Palin and Speaker-to-be John Boehner chose a different approach, equating the burning of a religious book with the construction of a mosque and cultural center.
“To Pastor Jones and those who want to build the [so-called Ground Zero] Mosque,” Boehner said (drawing an equivalence between Koran burning and the Cordoba House Project in lower Manhattan) “Just because you have a right to do something in America, does not mean it’s the right thing to do. We’re a nation of religious freedom — we’re also a nation of tolerance. I think in the name of tolerance, people ought to really think about the kind of actions they’re taking.”
Book burning is antithetical to American ideals. People have a constitutional right to burn a Koran if they want to, but doing so is insensitive and an unnecessary provocation – much like building a mosque at Ground Zero.
Boehner basically defines religious tolerance as not inflaming passions on both sides. What that means in practice is that Christians shouldn’t burn Korans and Muslims shouldn’t build mosques. Can we see what’s wrong with that picture?
It’s distressing, but the public discourse in the Obama era is even more unhinged than it was under Bush. Any hope for a return to sanity and rationality is out the window. The rightwing noise machine is at full throttle and Orwell would be proud of our strides backward:
- George W. Bush is steadily and surely being rehabilitated and now the question is how much gratitude we owe him.
- Sarah Palin can move the public discourse with a single tweet, promoting a worldview consisting of unreflective, nationalistic soundbites.
- Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Fox are dominating the national conversation, feeding a steady stream of propaganda packaged as moral platitudes to tens of millions of true believers.
- In the face of overwhelming evidence, climate deniers are choking the life out of the environmental movement and willfully condemning humanity to a calamitous future.
- From ACORN to Van Jones, liberal scalps are being taken with impunity.
- Feminism is being redefined and repossessed by anti-feminists.
- Women are facing an all-out assault on choice.
- Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy is being co-opted by a radio jock.
- Schoolbooks are being rewritten to reflect the radical right’s anti-science views.
- The rich-poor divide grows by the minute and teachers and nurses struggle to get by while bankers get massive bonuses.
- We mark the end of a war based on lies with congratulations to all, and we escalate another war with scarce resources that could save countless lives.
- An oil spill that should have been a historic inflection point gets excised from public awareness by our own government and disappears down the memory hole (until the next disaster).
- Guns abound and the far right’s interpretation of the second amendment (the only one that seems to matter) is now inviolate.
- Bigotry and discrimination against immigrants, against Muslims, against gays and lesbians is mainstream and rampant.
- The frightening unconstitutional excesses of the Bush administration have been enshrined and reinforced by a Democratic White House, ensuring that they will become precedent and practice.
- Girls and women across the planet continue to get beaten, raped, ravaged, mutilated, and murdered while sports games induce a more passionate response.
You can add to the above list equating building a place of worship with burning a religious book.
Imam Rauf, the man behind Park 51, appeared on Larry King Live and spoke about his objectives and the controversy around the “Ground Zero mosque.”
Contrast Imam Rauf’s appearance with Pastor Jones’ CNN interview:
Palin and Boehner don’t see the difference?
America, a deeply religious nation, is becoming unhinged from reality. There are numerous indications: the success of climate deniers is a glaring example. An increasing percentage of the population is willing to risk the future of humanity for no good reason other than to spite environmentalists.
The Republican Party, marching in lock step with the radical right, embraces illogic, courts cognitive dissonance, defies common sense. Unfettered, they’d return America to the 19th century. Democrats, mortified of appearing weak, more often than not refuse to resist, refuse to seize the moral high ground, refuse to fight for rationality.
How else to explain this:
Among other policies, the Obama national security team has authorized the C.I.A. to try to kill a United States citizen suspected of terrorism ties, blocked efforts by detainees in Afghanistan to bring habeas corpus lawsuits challenging the basis for their imprisonment without trial, and continued the C.I.A.’s so-called extraordinary rendition program of prisoner transfers — though the administration has forbidden torture and says it seeks assurances from other countries that detainees will not be mistreated.
I shudder to think of where things are headed with this leadership void.
As a lifelong Democrat and progressive activist, I’ve spent years going after Republicans and conservatives. I worked for John Kerry and went head to head with my counterparts on the Bush team. I marched in countless anti-war protests and incurred the wrath of the 101st Fighting Keyboarders. I’ve canvassed door to door for environmental groups and had doors slammed in my treehugging face. I’ve engaged in flame wars in conservative forums. I’ve blogged since the beginning of blogs, attacking Hannity, Coulter, Limbaugh, Savage, O’Reilly.
But never have I seen a more fierce reaction than from fellow Democrats when I criticize President Obama. It is a visceral anger, deeply personal, and sadly, it is directed at progressives who set party aside and critique the White House on principle.
I’ve finally realized the crux of the problem: it’s that many of Obama’s defenders are ignoring the difference between campaign mode and governance mode. In campaign mode, my job as a Democrat is to cheer my candidate on, to work overtime to get them elected. That’s exactly what I did when my former employer, Hillary Clinton, dropped out of the race and endorsed Obama. I was in constant contact with my friends on Obama’s campaign, helping (informally) with blog outreach and strategy. I did everything I could to help elect him and when all was said and done, here’s what I wrote:
As a Democrat who left one career behind in 2001 and made politics my new one after Bush was elected, who vowed to fight every wrong-headed policy foisted on America by the Bush administration, I feel a profound debt of gratitude to Sen. Obama and his family, his campaign, his tireless and devoted staff, and his volunteers and supporters across the country. As well to Hillary Clinton – who was true to those who respect and love her, proving the detractors wrong and crisscrossing the country on behalf of the Obama-Biden ticket – and to her supporters, volunteers and staffers who joined hands with their primary opponents and worked around the clock to arrive at this amazing day.
…What I didn’t yet know was how centered, thoughtful and disciplined Sen. Obama would prove to be in the fierce storm of a presidential election, competing with two formidable opponents. As others have noted, it augurs well for his presidency (should tonight’s results turn out as anticipated). Most importantly, I couldn’t possibly know the stamina and dedication of his strategists, staff, volunteers, donors and supporters, who are poised to finally slay the dragons that defeated Gore and Kerry.
So today, as I vote for President Obama, with history at my fingertips, I want to say THANK YOU to everyone who worked so damn hard to elect him and Democrats across the nation.
On the day he took office, I switched from campaign cheering mode to fulfilling Obama’s request that we “hold him accountable.” I take those words and that duty seriously. It’s my job as a citizen. Since 2008, I’ve used the written word to tug at the administration from the left.
I truly respect and admire Obama. I’ve worked in past campaigns with a number of his staffers. I know they are good and decent people trying to improve their country and working tirelessly under extreme stress. There’s no denying that they’ve racked up an impressive list of accomplishments and they deserve credit for it. But that doesn’t mean I should set aside the things I’ve fought for my entire adult life. It doesn’t mean I should stay silent if I think the White House could do a better job promoting a progressive vision. And it doesn’t mean I should stand aside if I think mistakes are being made. Sure, I’m just one individual with an opinion, but why the fierce urgency of defending Obama whenever I express it?