Chip, chip, chip. The de-consecration of Hillary Clinton—from untouchable, larger-than-life, ass-kicking icon back to polarizing, hyper-political lightning rod—continues apace.
Yes, there’s still the ongoing simmer of Benghazi, at least in some political precincts. But increasingly that maybe-scandal is being used as a springboard for launching back into a decades-long litany of Hillary controversies. Last week, in her Washington Post blog, former Romney fan girl Jennifer Rubin opened a January 8 post with the ringing assertion, “To a greater extent than any modern politician with the possible exception of her husband and the late Massachusetts senator Ted Kennedy, Hillary Clinton and scandal are inseparable.”
Clearly pleased with this line of attack, Rubin followed up two days later with the contention that, in fact, Hillary has so much baggage that she would have a tough time credibly criticizing pretty much any GOP presidential contender for anything ever. (Rubin starts with the beleaguered Chris Christie, observing cutely, “The woman who thinks politics, like love, is about never having to say you’re sorry and who collects scandals like little old ladies accumulate cats will find it dicey to go after Gov. Chris Christie on the bridge scandal.”)
On January 10, in a less partisan but more ominous warning shot, Politico magazine ran “Hillary’s Hit List,” a rollicking account of the Clintons’ meticulously maintained “favor file” on political “saints and sinners.” Excerpted from their upcoming book, HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Rodham Clinton, authors Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes acknowledge that keeping a favor file is standard operating procedure for savvy pols. Even so, the duo stresses the elaborateness of the Clintons’ score keeping and paints a portrait of Clintonites still seething at those seen as having wronged their gal in 2008. One gleefully harsh bit:
Still, Clinton aides exulted in schadenfreude when their enemies faltered. Years later, they would joke among themselves in harsh terms about the fates of folks they felt had betrayed them. “Bill Richardson: investigated; John Edwards: disgraced by scandal; Chris Dodd: stepped down,” one said to another. “Ted Kennedy,” the aide continued, lowering his voice to a whisper for the punch line, “dead.”
Talk about a flashback to the drama, pettiness, grudge holding, cronyism, and general ickiness that came to define the Clinton political brand and, along with scandals both real and manufactured, infected an entire nation with Clinton Fatigue.
There is one political factor that no amount of time nor mellowing can alter: the gut-level fear and loathing that Hillary provokes among conservatives.
Of course, many of the Clinton “scandals” proved to be nothing more than the sort of partisan insanity now taken with a grain of salt. (Hillary and Bill had Vince Foster killed? And then Ron Brown? Really?) The stench of other controversies faded—or at least wound up clinging mostly to Bill (Pardongate, that whole zipper problem …) As for Hillary’s bad old rep as a paranoid, secretive, ends-justify-the-means Machiavelli, her image has mellowed as she has matured, and her people insist that she has learned much from her mistakes.
That said, there is one political factor that no amount of time nor mellowing can alter: the gut-level fear and loathing that Hillary provokes among conservatives, for whom anecdotes like those in “Hillary’s Hit List” only fuel the angst and strengthen the conviction that a Hillary Clinton presidency would mean the end of civilization as we know it. How this Hillary Derangement Syndrome would ultimately play out in 2016 is anyone’s guess. (My colleague Michael Tomasky believes it will serve Clinton well.) But, win or lose, the mere assumption that Hillary will make another run at the White House should have all of us bracing for a long and bloody political assault that will make the last round of Clinton-hating look like a garden party at the Romneys’ lake house.
For current and aspiring Clinton critics, there is an abundance of material already out there just waiting to be revisited. While the Hillary Haters Book Club may not match Obama’s (yet) in volume, it is impressive nonetheless. Among the more resonant titles are Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House; Hillary’s Scheme: Inside the Next Clinton’s Ruthless Agenda to Take the White House; The Truth About Hillary: What She Knew, When She Knew It, and How Far She’ll Go to Become President; The Extreme Makeover of Hillary (Rodham) Clinton; Whitewash: What the Media Won’t Tell You About Hillary Clinton, but Conservatives Will; Hillary: The politics of Personal Destruction …
In the early going, anti-Hillary books mostly promised the untold, inside history of her shadowy misdeeds. (For instance, Barbara Olson’s Hell to Pay). Later, authors shrewdly merged outrage over Hillary’s past with fearmongering over her future. (Think John Podhoretz’s Can She Be Stopped?: Hillary Clinton Will Be the Next President of the United States Unless ….) Some books focused broadly on Hillary’s moral and political unfitness (See Noonan, Peggy, The Case Against Hillary). Others took aim at a particular, narrow affront (Richard Poe’s Hillary’s Secret War: The Clinton Conspiracy to Muzzle Internet Journalists). Still others went after her on personal terms. (In The Hillary Trap, Laura Ingraham contends that, despite her feminist rep, Hillary is actively bad for women.) Refusing to be outdone, disgraced Clinton strategist Dick Morris churned out two anti-Hillary offerings in as many years (the 2004 Rewriting History—titled to take a swing at Hillary’s autobiography, Living History—and the 2005 Condi vs. Hillary: The Next Great Presidential Race).
Now, take all that raw material and toss it into today’s media superconductor. Stir in recent vulnerabilities like Benghazi, give the new Super PACs a few hundred million bucks to play with, then stand back and watch the anti-Hillary mushroom cloud blot out the sun. We’re talking here about the political equivalent of that asteroid that killed off all the dinosaurs. Only worse. With apologies to Bergen Evans: Hillary may be through with the past, but the past is not through with Hillary. And if conservatives have any say, it never will be.
The publishing world, meanwhile, might want to start prepping for another golden era of Clinton hit jobs. Dick Morris alone probably has a few more volumes in him.