There is an odd debate going on among the chattering class as to whether it is “fair” to go after Hillary Clinton for events decades ago and whether Republicans have the “right” to do so since Democrats have played biographical archaeology with many GOP presidential candidates. Byron York, for example, writes, “Of course Clinton’s recent experiences are relevant to a presidential run. But so are her actions in the 90s, the 80s and even the 70s. It’s not ancient history; it reveals something about who Clinton was and still is. And re-examining her past is entirely consistent with practices in recent campaigns.”
Others in the blogosphere, talk radio and among the far-right candidate pool are forever in outrage that the mainstream media isn’t even-handed with Republicans (say it isn’t so!). They whine that Mitt Romney’s prep school and George W. Bush’s reserve service were plowed over again and again, but Hillaryland is indignant and the mainstream media critical when less ancient episodes in Clinton’s history are raised.
This is a case where both sides are wrong.
First, it is hardly unusual that Hillary Clinton’s backers are indignant that anyone should question the grand dame of the Democratic Party. Nevertheless, it’s totally unjustified. Just as the cry of racism went up (and still does) on MSNBC when criticism is hurled at the president, there is the constant refrain that bringing up Hillary Clinton’s past is a sexist endeavor. Puh–leez. When Donna Brazile chides the Republicans for being “obsessed” with Hillary Clinton, you do wonder if they expect news consumers to buy their spin. (Yes, and the mainstream media are “obsessed” with New Jersey Gov. Christie and anyone else with a real shot at the presidency.)
But the bigger political mistake is on the GOP side. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and many others echoing his indictment of Bill Clinton’s escapades don’t seem to distinguish between the right to raise anything about a presidential candidate and the wisdom of doing so. Is bringing up the Bill Clinton presidency the most viable or even a viable line of attack or will voters think this is bizarre and somewhat irrelevant? The GOP gets little or no mileage out of reminding the country that even as First Lady Hillary Clinton was tough as nails; the real point that is that her health-care gambit and her tenure at the State Department show that, despite the hype, she has been wrong on policy and incompetent in executing it. Rand Paul and other Republicans intent on waging a war against the media want to grab Clinton’s pant(suit) leg and yelp. In doing so they look petty and unpresidential, giving her an easy way of discrediting them.
Certainly there can be multiple lines of attack against a candidate, but a weak argument shouldn’t blur the more effective ones. I will go out on a limb and say no one outside the not-Hillary-ever camp is going to have the time, patience or interest in the Rose Law firm billing records. Sorry, Republicans, but it’s water under the bridge. Moreover, the most debilitating argument against Hillary Clinton is not that she is a conniving and “ruthless” pol but that she is an incompetent leader and a washed-up liberal, peddling old ideas. The image of a razor-sharp schemer is at odds, or at least detracts from, her more recent and damning behavior.
Now I realize Rand Paul’s problem. Her foreign policy, including opposition to sanctions, isn’t all that different from his. So he grasps at straws, oblivious to the fact that his own character — e.g. plagiarism, hiring an defending a neo-Confederate, playing fast and loose with his “board certification” — is problematic to say the least.
But the rest of the party need not follow him down the rabbit hole. Hillary Clinton’s State Department cavalcade of disasters, her critical support for Obamacare and her lack of any new or intriguing policy agenda are where the focus should be. Moreover, if we want to get to character and personal judgment, her current conduct — in raking in money from Saudi royal family members, hedge fund tycoons and other decidedly anti-left groups ( the automobile dealers? Oh, mon dieu!) shouldn’t be slighted in favor of events that are far less indicative of her current liabilities.
It doesn’t surprise me that many who pushed the shutdown now pursue the Clinton family foibles. It comes as no shock that many Republicans are tone deaf to the implications of attacking the wronged spouse because of her husband’s antics. They seem to think that fighting dumb is a badge of honor. And boy is this gambit dumb.