For just over fifteen years now — since sometime in the spring or summer of 1992 — large chunks of the American right, including not only Rush Limbaugh’s mouth-breathers but also the folks with clean fingernails and expensive neckties who read the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, have been consumed by insane Clinton-hatred: for example, believing that the Clintons were responsible for the death of Vince Foster and supporting Slobodan Milosevic’s genocide (in practice, if not in theory) merely because Clinton opposed it.
That makes it natural for liberals and Democrats to dismiss all criticism of anyone named Clinton as evidence of “Clinton Derangement Syndrome.” Natural, but not logical. The capacity to inspire in hatred in one’s opponents is no proof of wickedness, but it’s hardly a guarantee of virtue. That Bill and Hillary Clinton are not over-scrupulous about where they acquire money either for personal consumption or for campaigning and that they and their political operatives have a tendency to be economical with the truth are no less accurate observations because Paul Gigot has also made them. Consider the stopped clock and the blind squirrel.
Whether the Clinton’s cynical attitude toward the press is the product or the cause of the bad press they often get is too hard for me to decide. No doubt both are partly true. Up until now, HRC has benefited from her handlers’ capacity to “work the refs” and their willingness to do so. Contrast the media attention focused on John Edwards’s haircut to that devoted to Mark Penn’s complicity in union-busting and lobbying for Blackwater or to the Norman Hsu affair.
Now reporters and editors may be looking for chances to even the score, and of course the Republican smear machine is working overtime to gin up anti-Clinton stories. But it’s unwise to attribute all negative press about the Clintons to the VWRC. Sometimes they get their bad press the old-fashioned way, by earning it.
Two recent stories, one entirely trivial and one somewhat less so, illustrate.
The trivial one is the now-infamous waitress-stiffing incident. Apparently the candidate’s entourage stopped for lunch at a greasy spoon and someone forgot to leave a tip, which is pretty embarrassing if you’ve been talking about how otherwise invisible people are visible to you. The right thing to do would be for the campaign to point out that the candidate doesn’t handle money and to bring forward the staffer who goofed to make an apology, while the candidate sends a nice handwritten note to every member of the wait-staff, enclosing a $10 bill. End of story.
Instead, the campaign went into full defensive mode, asserting that a tip was left, trying to muscle people either not to talk to the press or (in the case of the manager) to claim that a tip had, in fact, been left, and sending a staffer back to the restaurant with a $20 bill. Unfortunately, the waitress who served the candidate is stubbornly sticking with her story: she didn’t get any tip, and neither did any of her co-workers. That makes the campaign look like a bunch of clumsy liars. [Wrong! See update below.]
The less-trivial one is the question-planting story. Of course this isn’t the first time that’s happened — the Bushoids have turned it into an art-form, planting questions not only at phony “town halls” but also at White House press conferences — but it’s not an entirely trivial problem if people watching what seem to be unscripted candidate-voter interactions on TV can’t be sure whether the whole thing is fixed.
And — here I disagree with Kevin Drum — saying that something has been done before is not the same as saying that everyone does it. Kevin writes of question-planting “There hasn’t even been a suggestion that Hillary does it more than anyone else, let alone that she’s doing anything unusual.” But wait a minute. As far as I know there’s no evidence that Barack Obama has done it at all. So it seems to me we have good reason to believe that she does it more than someone else.
As I said, though, planting a question isn’t the worst offense a campaign can commit. But the Clintonites couldn’t see their way clear to coming clean about it, perhaps because the candidate herself was complicit.
Both incidents left a very sour taste. After the last seven years, wanting to have a President who isn’t surrounded by the morally blind doesn’t strike me as a deranged desire.
Update Which is not, of course, to excusethis sort of stupid crap. Mike Allen ought to know better; if someone called Giuliani a lunatic, would Allen say “What voter hasn’t thought that?” No, I don’t think so either. So CDS is certainly a genuine diagnosis. But merely saying something mean about someone named “Clinton” isn’t an adequate basis for making that diagnosis.
Update Well, perhaps not deranged, but certainly wrong in at least one particular. I’m authoritatively informed that a tip was in fact left; how the waitress failed to get her share seems to be an open question.