Hillary Clinton will be the next president less because of her many positive attributes than because her perceived crimes, imaginary as they may be, will not be enough to derail her in the Year of Herr Donald. Talk about damning with faint praise.
When you unpack the Himalayan-sized mountain of criticism that has accumulated in Clinton's wake since she was First Lady of Arkansas in the 1980s, what are you left with? Let's see: There was Whitewater, a land deal in which the Clinton's had a modest investment that turned out to be no scandal at all. There was Travelgate. Ditto. Monicagate. Guilt by association. Her vote for the Iraq War. Which means that 373 other members of Congress should be similarly pilloried. The Clinton Foundation. Some smoke but no fire. Benghazi. Guilt by office. And finally Emailgate. If having a private email server and a reflexive lack of candor were indictable offenses, then Clinton should be doing time. Along with millions of other Americans.
Richard Cohen of the WaPo got it just about right when he wrote the other day:
"I am tempted to say that historians of the future will have to dope this all out. But they are not up to the job. It should go to shrinks and such, for Clinton has become a human Rorschach: Some people, particularly Republicans, look at her and see the Devil. Their denunciations of her are so at variance with even the contested facts that it suggests a psychosis -- congressional panel after congressional panel, investigation after investigation, all of them of the kind once familiar to the good people of Salem, Mass., who knew what it was like to have the purported criminal but not, alas, the crime."No, Clinton is not angelic, but the decades of right-wing driven blowback -- with a super-sized helping of misogyny slathered on for good measure -- have had the consequence of resulting in a couple of things this election season that piss me off even if I think our next president is a decent person.
First of all, there is so much unfounded criticism of Clinton that it's almost impossible to criticize her at all. Second, a cottage industry has grown up around the gauzy view that If You Knew The Hillary I Know You'd Just Love Her.
Ezra Klein is the unapologetic water carrier for the If You Knew Her crowd, writing in Vox that:
"Why is the Hillary Clinton described to me by her staff, her colleagues, and even her foes so different from that one I see on the campaign trail? Brilliant, funny, thoughtful, effective. She inspires a rare loyalty in ex-staff, and an unusual protectiveness even among her foes.
"The answers startled me in their consistency . . . Hillary Clinton, they said over and over again, listens.
"Modern presidential campaigns are built to reward people who are really, really good at talking. So imagine what a campaign feels like if you're not entirely natural in front of big crowds. Imagine that you are constantly compared to your husband, one of the greatest campaign orators of all time; that you've been burned again and again after saying the wrong thing in public; that you've been told for decades, that you come across as calculated and inauthentic on the stump. What would you do?"
Klein is as thoughtful as journalists get in our bam-bam world, and he happens to be right. The press just doesn't like listeners, and a writer for The New Yorker once criticized Clinton for "trying to elevate nodding into a kind of political philosophy."
The conventional wisdom of the moment -- reinforced by a new New York Times/CBS News poll out today that shows Clinton and Trump in a virtual tie -- is that with such high negatives, she is a seriously wounded candidate. I disagree, because while voters distrust her, they fear Trump.§
All is fair in love, war and politics. Or so I like to say. But it is galling that pundits like the NYT's Maureen Dowd in particular and Bernie Sanders supporters in general have drunk the right-wing Kool Aid so willingly when it comes to Clinton. There's gotta be something seriously wrong with her because so many people say there is, right?
If that's what passes for logic these days, then we're in bigger trouble than I've thought. This is because it may turn out that Hillary Clinton's greatest strengths -- an insuperable patience in riding out so many ginned-up, fact-free controversies and a willingness to listen when talk, talk, talk is expected -- have been framed as weaknesses. And that a woman so many pundits, foes and outright enemies believe to be so elusive may have been hiding in plain view all along.
POLITIX UPDATE IS WRITTEN BY SHAUN MULLEN, A VETERAN JOURNALIST AND BLOGGER FOR WHOM THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN IS HIS 12th SINCE 1968. CLICK HERE FOR AN INDEX OF PREVIOUS COLUMNS.© 2015-2016 SHAUN D. MULLEN.
PHOTOGRAPH BY KAINAZ AMARIA/VOX