Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Remembering the Real Hillary Clinton

Often earlier this year, during the Democratic primaries, I would pinch myself and say, "what is it about Hillary Clinton that I now like so much?"

Indeed, I got so excited by her indelible fighting spirit, I got to calling her "
Hillary Clinton Maximus Decimus Meridius," for just like Russell Crowe's Roman general, she simply wouldn't die.

Hillary's in the news again, of course, with all the speculation on her potential appointment as secretary of state (which would be a disaster, in my opinion, not for U.S. foreign policy, but for Hillary's moral legacy).

Noemie Emery, in any case, zooms in on why we love her, why we love Hillary Clinton, even though her history indeed represents all that conservatives claim to loathe. The grudging respect emerged after Barack Obama had become the Democratic frontrunner, and Hillary's inevitability was long forgotten. That's when Americans saw Hillary as a gladiator refusing to go down:

After March 4, she suddenly seemed to look and sound different: She began to seem real. The shrillness was gone, and so was The Cackle, and so were the forced southern accents that once caused so many so much merriment. Hillary!--whoever that was--never really cohered as a character; her previous poses--the Perfect Wife, the Aggrieved Wife, the Empress-in-Waiting--were all unconvincing, but in her new role--the scrapper, forced to the wall, and hanging in there with ferocious and grim resolution--she is suddenly all of a piece. Along with her inner JFK, she has channeled her inner Robert F. Kennedy (going back to the days when he was still "ruthless"), along with her inner Margaret Thatcher--"No time to go wobbly"--along with echoes of the John McCain who clawed his way out of the grave only last winter, and the George W. Bush who just as tenaciously saved his Iraq policy--and maybe Iraq itself--from the Democrats in Congress last year.

It is no accident that it was just at this juncture that she began to rouse outrage in parts of what once was her base. It is a truism that liberals think people are formed by exterior forces around them and are helpless before them, while conservatives think individuals make their own destiny. Liberals love victims and want them to stay helpless, so they can help them, with government programs; while conservatives love those who refuse to be victims, and get up off the canvas and fight. Hillary may still be a nanny-state type in some of her policies, but in her own life she seems more and more of a Social Darwinian, refusing to lose, and insisting on shaping her destiny. If the fittest survive, she intends to be one of them. This takes her part of the way towards a private conversion. She is acting like one of our own.

If this weren't enough to make right-wing hearts flutter, Hillary has another brand-new advantage: She is hated on all the right fronts. The snots and the snark-mongers now all despise her, along with the trendies, the glitzies; the food, drama, and lifestyle critics, the beautiful people (and those who would join them), the Style sections of all the big papers; the slick magazines; the above-it-all pundits, who have looked down for years on the Republicans and on the poor fools who elect them, and now sneer even harder at her. The New York Times is having hysterics about her. At the New Republic, Jonathan Chait (who inspired the word "Chaitred" for his pioneer work on Bush hatred) has transferred his loathing of the 43rd president intact and still shining to her. "She should now go gentle into the political night," he advised in January. "Go Already!" he repeated in March, when she had failed to act on his suggestion. "No Really, You Should Go," he said in April after she won Pennsylvania, which made her even less likely to take his advice. "Now that loathing seems a lot less irrational," he wrote of the right wing's prior distaste for both the Clintons. "We just really wish they'd go away."

And what caused this display of intense irritation? She's running a right-wing campaign. She's running the classic Republican race against her opponent, running on toughness and use-of-force issues, the campaign that the elder George Bush ran against Michael Dukakis, that the younger George Bush waged in 2000 and then again against John Kerry, and that Ronald Reagan--"The Bear in the Forest"--ran against Jimmy Carter and Walter F. Mondale. And she's doing it with much the same symbols.

"Clinton became the first Democratic candidate to wave the bloody shirt of 9/11," the New York Times has been whining. "A Clinton television ad, torn right from Karl Rove's playbook, evoked the 1929 stock market crash, Pearl Harbor, the Cuban missile crisis, the cold war, and 9/11 attacks, complete with video of Osama bin Laden . . . declaring in an interview with ABC News that if Iran attacked Israel while she were president," she would wipe the aggressor off the face of the earth. "Clinton is saying almost exactly the same things about Obama that McCain is," Chait lamented: "He's inexperienced, lacking in substance," unprepared to stand up to the world. She has said her opponent is ill-prepared to answer the phone, should it ring in the White House at three in the morning. Her ads are like the ones McCain would be running in her place, and they'll doubtless show up in McCain's ads should Obama defeat her. She has said that while she and McCain are both prepared to be president, Obama is not. They act, he makes speeches. They take heat, while he tends to wilt or to faint in the kitchen. He may even throw like a girl.

And better--or worse--she is becoming a social conservative, a feminist form of George Bush. Against an opponent who shops for arugula, hangs out with ex-Weathermen, and says rural residents cling to guns and to God in unenlightened despair at their circumstances, she has rushed to the defense of religion and firearms, while knocking back shots of Crown Royal and beer. Her harsh, football-playing Republican father (the villain of the piece, against whom she rebelled in earlier takes on her story) has become a role model, a working class hero, whose name she evokes with great reverence. Any day now, she'll start talking Texan, and cutting the brush out in Chappaqua or at her posh mansion on Embassy Row.

In the right-wing conspiracy, this adaptation has not gone unobserved. "Hillary has shown a Nixonian resilience and she's morphing into Scoop Jackson," runs one post on National Review's blog, The Corner:

She's entering the culture war as a general. All of this has made her a far more formidable general election candidate. She's fighting the left and she's capturing the center. She's denounced She's become the Lieberman of the Democratic Party. The left hates her and treats her like Lieberman. . . . Obama is distancing himself from Wright and Hillary is getting in touch with O'Reilly. The culture war has come to the Democratic Party.

She might run to the right of McCain, if she makes it to the general election, and get the votes of rebellious conservatives. Or she, Lieberman, and McCain could form a pro-war coalition, with all of them running to pick up the phone when it rings in the small hours. The New York Times and the rest of the left would go crazy. Respect can't get stranger than that.

I can't add much to that, except to say, once again, Noemie Emery's shown herself to be among the very best of those writing on politics and culture today.


shoprat said...

They say that politics makes for strange bedfellows. How true it is.

Gayle said...

LOL! Hillary the warrior! But it's true. She never backs down. I also had more respect for her because of her fighting spirit. Go figure! I mean, I still detest her politics.

Average American said...

I still despise the Clintons, but I could stomach her in the White House before NObama. At least the fear factor wouldn't be so strong. NObama is one scary piece of garbage. We will be a long time repairing his damage.