Thursday, September 22, 2016

Hillary vs. the Hate Machine

[ed. See also: Austrailia, Go to Your Room.]

They were everywhere this summer, the wanna-be statesmen, the failed comedians, the conspiracy theorists and entrepreneurs with political convictions, or absolutely no convictions, selling the national id. In Cleveland, they trawled the streets outside the Republican National Convention, shouting, "Hillary's lies matter!" or "Hillary for prison!" – the slogans stamped on buttons, T-shirts, bumper stickers, decals, trucker hats, hoodies, onesies. At the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, diehards in Bernie 2016 shirts held signs reading "#NeverHillary" or "Shillary," or handed out posters renaming the Democratic nominee "War Hawk" or "Goldman Girl" or "Monsanto Mama." Everywhere the venom was carefully packaged and rigorously on-message. One button, plumbing the depths of the anti-politically correct, read "Life's a Bitch – Don't Vote for One." Another promoted a "KFC Hillary Special: 2 Fat Thighs, 2 Small Breasts...Left Wing." There were images of an angry Hillary giving America the finger and countless others of her yelling, scowling, looking mean. "Hillary sucks, but not like Monica!" yelled one T-shirt vendor, who told me he'd sold almost 500 shirts in Cleveland with that catchphrase. "Trump that bitch!"

A San Diego lawyer I met in July wore a lapel pin depicting Hillary Clinton as Lucifer. "She's an evil person," he told me. "Evil." He'd come to this conclusion, he said, after reading Armageddon: How Trump Can Beat Clinton, written by former-Bill-Clinton-adviser-turned-National-Enquirer hit-man Dick Morris, which shot to Number Three on The New York Times bestseller list. For much of the summer, three of the top five books on the list were direct attacks on Hillary Clinton (a fourth, Glenn Beck's Liars, is an attack on progressives more broadly). The lawyer admitted that he really had no idea if Clinton was actually evil – he didn't pay careful attention to her record – it was more of a feeling.

Feeling, for lack of a better word, is what drives most Americans' perceptions of Hillary Clinton, one of the most complex and resilient figures in U.S. politics, yet also, after decades of probing scrutiny, less a real person than a vessel for Americans to collectively project their anxieties, fears, frustrations and identity struggles. Across the country, people of every political persuasion – men, women, millennials, baby boomers – told me they were eager for a woman president, just not this woman. Clinton is "inauthentic," some say, as well as selfish – "Her eyes are on her own game," one Democrat noted – calculating and corrupt. Another told me, "She's a fucking liar."

The pervasiveness of these sorts of terms in the national conversation about Clinton tells us far less about her character than it does about the character called "Hillary Clinton," the construction of a sustained and well-funded strategy by the right to shape the way we talk about Clinton, what we believe we "know" about Clinton and also how we view her statements, gestures, actions, policies and, most crucially, her mistakes. "There's just a huge amount of bullshit, and it's been going on for decades," says Bobbie Greene McCarthy, Clinton's friend and former White House deputy chief of staff. "This is too important of an election to buy into a false narrative. But the noise just drowns out any sort of critical thinking."

In November, Americans face a historic choice: Vote for a man who is widely considered one of the most unqualified people to ever run for president, or cast a ballot for a woman whose qualifications for the job exceed those of just about any other candidate in the modern era. Electing the first woman president of the United States will be a revolutionary act, as terrifying to some as it is thrilling to others, but her victory is anything but inevitable. There's a very real chance the visceral hatred, or at minimum the visceral ambivalence, toward Hillary Clinton could hand the election to Donald Trump.

There are valid criticisms to be made about Clinton. She is one of the least transparent politicians in recent memory. Her 2002 vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq is seen by many, including Clinton herself, as a mistake. As an unapologetic capitalist, whose wealth, family philanthropic foundation and Wall Street ties speak to a cozy relationship with the political and financial elite, she is seen as emblematic of the "rigged" system Trump and Bernie Sanders have campaigned against. And, like many politicians, Clinton has bobbed and weaved over the course of her career, sometimes tacking to the right.

Still, she is fundamentally liberal, and running on a highly progressive platform that includes raising the minimum wage and passing gun-safety measures like universal background checks. Clinton has also been a tireless advocate for women and families since the 1970s and, unlike any secretary of state before her, made global women's issues a key point on her agenda. "She is somebody who wants to be president for all the right reasons," says Clinton's longtime aide Jennifer Klein, who is currently advising Clinton on women's and girls' issues. "I mean, that's the irony of all of these negative characterizations: You couldn't find a person who is more dedicated to improving people's lives than Hillary Clinton."

In an article in March for The Guardian, the former editor of The New York Times Jill Abramson analyzed the relationship between Clinton's fundraising and policy positions over the past few years and concluded that Clinton was "fundamentally honest and truthful." She noted that the same conclusion was drawn by PolitiFact, which after exhaustive analysis found Clinton to be the most honest of this year's presidential candidates. Yet Clinton received far more negative media coverage during the 2015 primary season than either Sanders or Trump, according to a study by Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

"It's almost like these journalists don't know how not to undermine her," one of Clinton's supporters lamented, noting Matt Lauer's widely panned September 7th national-security forum on NBC. Lauer devoted more than a quarter of his interview with Clinton to her private e-mail server, skipping right over most of her foreign-policy bona fides, and then without pushback let Trump express support for Vladimir Putin, make a thoroughly erroneous claim that he'd never supported the Iraq War and defend a tweet asserting that women who join the military somehow should "expect" to be sexually assaulted.

Several days later, while leaving a ceremony commemorating the victims of 9/11 in Lower Manhattan, Clinton visibly stumbled. Captured on video, it was reported as a "fainting spell" – even Tom Brokaw suggested that Clinton might want to consult a neurologist – thus giving further credence to Trump's assertion that she lacks the "stamina" to be president. When Clinton's campaign acknowledged that the candidate had been diagnosed with pneumonia two days earlier but had chosen to press on without informing anyone but her closest allies, the media responded by noting that her "penchant for privacy," as The New York Times put it, "threatens to make her look, again, as though she has something to hide."

Running for president is both exhausting and stressful; in 2004, John Kerry also came down with pneumonia during his presidential campaign. Though Clinton has been campaigning and fundraising relentlessly, so much so that her running mate, Tim Kaine, noted he had trouble keeping up with her, almost none of the media reports pointed out that ill or not, she nonetheless showed up to the 9/11 ceremony.

That Clinton has been held to a higher, and often altogether different, benchmark is both "shocking in 2016" and also not surprising, says Abramson, who, as the first female editor of the Times, was perceived as "pushy" and later fired in part over a pay dispute in which Abramson argued her compensation was less than that of her male predecessor. "When a woman achieves the top position in an important American institution, clich├ęs like 'too ambitious' and 'shrill' easily get applied," she says. "Where, when a man exhibits those traits, it's seen as a sign of leadership." With Clinton, she adds, it's very telling that when she left her job as secretary of state, 69 percent of Americans approved of her, the second-highest rating recorded in history. "She was an international and national icon," says Abramson. "But she was subordinate to Obama." Once Clinton announced her intention to run for president, her poll numbers took a dive of more than 10 points.

And therein lies the rub: Hillary Clinton, one could argue, is right on par with any number of male politicians who have made compromises and who, as human beings, are flawed, lose their tempers, occasionally drop the f-bomb and do many other things that Clinton, as a woman, has been excoriated for. "With Hillary, everything she does is either different from what men do and it's 'wrong,' or it's the same thing that men do and that's 'wrong,'" says Robin Lakoff, a professor emeritus of linguistics at U.C. Berkeley. "And that's because the underlying thing about Clinton and her candidacy is it's not normal. Normal is a male candidate, a male voice, a male tie."

The controversy regarding the 30,000 State Department e-mails that Clinton stored, wrongly, she acknowledges, on her private server in Chappaqua, New York, is typical of many attacks on Clinton – less about the substantive issues than it is about her character. That Clinton maintained a private e-mail server came to light during an investigation by the House Select Committee on Benghazi, whose chief purpose, Rep. Kevin McCarthy admitted in September 2015, was to bring down Clinton's poll numbers, part of what he called a "strategy to fight and win." Now in its 10th iteration since the Benghazi attack in 2012, the committee has failed to find the federal government, or Clinton herself, guilty of any criminal wrongdoing.

Most recently, its members alleged that Clinton lied to Congress during her 11-hour testimony in October 2015, based on supposed inconsistencies between Clinton's statements and those of FBI Director James Comey, who in July declared that his office, while finding no legal reason to recommend prosecution, nonetheless found that she and her staff had been "extremely careless" in handling possibly classified material.

Putting aside the propriety of Comey personally weighing in on the matter – something former Department of Justice spokesman Matthew Miller called a "gross abuse of his own power" – the entire controversy over e-mails that were, depending on the telling, either classified at the time or possibly not classified correctly or classified after the fact or not classified at all, but contained information that may or may not have been classified, has been covered in one or more major publications every single day (but four) for the past 562 days, according to the liberal digital-media company Shareblue. Clinton's e-mails now rival the Watergate scandal as one of the most reported stories in political history.

by Janet Reitman, Rolling Stone | Read more:
Image:Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/Zuma