I have to start by saying I fully expect Hillary Clinton (HRC) to win the Democratic nomination for president in 2016, and when she runs, I fully expect to vote for her. In spite of this, I would bet cash money that somebody reacting to this post will say, “Bleagh, you must want Ted Cruz to be president.”
The subject of this post is the futile attempted take-down of my friend Doug Henwood’s Harpers article (subscription required) by Gene Lyons, in The National Memo. I don’t know Lyons. I recommend his saucy web site, for which some friends write.
First some remarks about Henwood. If you’ve followed this site you know my “Anybody but Hillary” theme. My point in a nutshell is I want to see some competition for the nomination that includes meaningful conversation about the purpose of the Democratic Party. So anybody willing to challenge HRC and interrupt the coronation is welcome. HRC is politics as usual, and politics as usual is killing us. If you are a serious progressive you have to want to open up this process, and I don’t mean to provide some kind of toothless sparring partner.
The value of the article for me is to elaborate how completely ordinary a political hack HRC has become. Like her college boyfriend, she had some potential to turn out differently, acknowledged in the article, but here we are. The article is certainly polemical. It doesn’t pretend to be otherwise. It’s not scholarship, it doesn’t pretend to be dispassionate. Politics ain’t beanbag, as the cliché goes. I see no obligation on Henwood’s part to be fair. Are politicians fair to their adversaries? Of course they aren’t. Accuracy is another matter. We do like accuracy here.
I concur with the article’s premise, which I take to be not that HRC is some secret right-winger, but that she is an empty suit. Her currency is the hackneyed rhetoric of modern national politics. She has no vision. Obama has a poetic command of this rhetoric. HRC is less adept. In both cases the substance is either lacking, or what substance there is cannot be defended.
Two reservations about the piece. Dick Morris is overused, even as Henwood is explicit about his lack of credibility. I would have preferred to see less of such a congenitally dishonest person as a source. The article does not depend on Morris for facts crucial to the argument. He’s there as a kind of amusing gremlin. Second, the ending comes kind of abruptly. I was expecting more, along the lines of what stopping HRC means to Henwood. How does it unfold. I’ve said what it means for me.
The Lyons (GL) article begins with four paragraphs that attempt to trap Henwood in a context absent any references to his article. The context he attempts to erect is the banal one that we tend to be too focused on elections as horse races, and isn’t this going to be boring. Of course, Henwood’s whole purpose is to disrupt the horse race.
Then GL offers an inane objection to use of the word ‘dynasty’ in reference to the Clintons, since they are merely a dynasty in embryo. Though at this point there is nothing nascent about their money.
This from GL is crucial in a couple of ways:
That this cavil (that the Clintons are prolifically self-seeking — MBS) would apply to virtually all American politicians seems not to have occurred to Henwood, whose loathing of the couple transcends such mundane considerations. To him, the whole case for Hillary Clinton’s candidacy “boils down to this: She has experience, she’s a woman, and it’s her turn. It’s hard to find any substantive political argument in her favor.” (To which GL replies, “Maybe so, maybe not.” Well! Which side are you on, Gene?)
That the Clintons are ordinary and self-seeking is precisely one of my take-aways from the article. GL’s dismissal bespeaks cynicism about politics, which is another way of stating the case for the HRC candidacy. The cynicism of liberals is her banner.
So far we’re still batting opinions back and forth. GL wants to get into facts. He notes his own background covering Whitewater, for Harpers in fact, noting that his work was fully vetted for accuracy. Then some more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger regrets about the collapse of standards at that very same magazine. In the quest for accuracy, GL says “Clearly, no such effort (fact-checking — MBS) went into Henwood’s essay.” This is kind of delicious, if you think about it. Does GL have some information about how Harpers dealt with Henwood’s article? If he does, he doesn’t let on.
So what specifics are in question? This should be GL’s strongest suit, since he covered Whitewater in detail, wrote a book about it with Joe Conason, but his debunking of Henwood in this particular realm is strikingly weak. And I don’t know crap about Whitewater. I can barely remember last month. Henwood doesn’t spend much time on the affair himself.
After more throat-clearing about recycled Republican talking points and allusions to Henwood’s lack of fealty to the truth, GL points to purported errors about Whitewater, asserting Henwood is wrong but not saying why. There are some quotes from the McDougal trial with unfathomable relevance to what Henwood wrote. He asserts the Clintons were victims more than perps, but that is the sense I get in the Harpers article as well. The vast bulk of facts put forward by Henwood go unchallenged by GL.
For instance, and I am not going to rehash the crappy things Bill did as governor, and I am not going to blame HRC for adapting to the Arkansas political environment:
HRC, while working for the Rose law firm, argued a case opposing a populist measure to reduce electricity rates.
HRC served on the board of Walmart.
HRC utterly mismanaged the Clinton health care initiative, out of overweening arrogance and political immaturity.
HRC supported and later defended the atrocity that was the 1996 welfare reform bill.
So HRC, not very liberal, not very honorable, not very competent.
But: She has experience, she’s a woman, and it’s her turn. It’s hard to find any substantive political argument in her favor.” In response to which, quoting Gene Lyons of The National Memo, “Maybe so . . . “!!