Monday, October 22, 2007

Will They Learn to Stop Worrying?

Will the hard Right learn to stop worrying and love Hillary? By all rights they should, given the affinities between their politics and the Clintons’. Why then, over the years, have they hated Hillary so much? Her social liberalism is certainly part of the answer. But most other Democrats are no different in that regard (in fact, many are more outspoken) and, in any case, the success of the Giuliani campaign shows that social conservatism isn’t as potent a force on the Right as everyone assumed. Could it just be that the Clintons wrote “the vast right-wing conspiracy” off, pandering instead to constituencies the Right despises? Or is it that people on the Right are better able than liberals to sniff out phonies? Those people do know how to hate (the wrong things) after all, and, as the Germans say, “hatred sees sharply.” In Hillary’s case, no doubt part of the problem too is plain old-fashioned male chauvinism. But then why do they hate her (official) better half just as much? There are reasons galore, but, in the end, the virulence of right-wing anti-Clintonism defies explanation.

However there are signs that it is breaking down. You wouldn’t know it, though, from the October 21 Republican debate, where the candidates spent as much time lambasting Hillary as each other. You wouldn’t know it either from the Giuliani campaign’s insistence that Rudy, and Rudy alone, can save the country from Hillary, a scourge almost as great as terrorism, which of course Rudy is also uniquely capable of quashing. But the Republican candidates, including Giuliani, are living in the past. The times they are a changin’ – not exactly in ways that stir hope, but nevertheless for the better (since, after Cheney and Bush, even the worst Democrat – even Hillary -- would be welcome news). The hard Right might not see it that way, but most voters do. Far-sighted people on the Right realize that they need to accommodate to that fact.

As long ago as when the Clintons first set their sights on New York, they began a charm offensive directed towards Rupert Murdoch, the arch-villain of media consolidation. Murdoch’s right-wing instincts are beyond dispute; he wears them on his sleeve. But he’s also a “pragmatist” (according to the punditocracy’s, not the philosopher’s, meaning of the term); in other words, he’s a rank opportunist, just as the Clintons are. He’s also adept at seeing which way the wind is blowing, and at attaching himself to present – and future -- power. Thus Murdoch played an important role in the ascension of Tony Blair in Great Britain. Thanks to the Iraq War, the world now thinks of Blair as the Bush boy’s poodle. But he’s actually more of a Clinton clone (or vice versa); a master at accelerating rightward (neo-liberal, imperialist) tendencies in political formations of the soft (in the American case, very soft) left. It would be an exaggeration to call Murdoch a Clinton booster. But neither has he lately been the hard line Clinton opponent one would have expected him to be. Media moguls gotta do what media moguls gotta do.

An article by Jim Rutenberg in the October 22 New York Times reports on how the Clinton charm offensive is expanding its focus: to the media’s favorite rumormonger, Matt Drudge. Drudge is also a man of the Right, and as shoddy a journalist as ever there was. But he has become a source for breaking (leaked) news and is therefore widely read by opinion-shapers in the media and government. For Hillary, getting on his good side is a good move. According to Rutenberg, that’s just what the Clinton campaign is now doing – in the usual way, by leaking profusely. There is a striking irony in this. In much the way that Ted Koppel became rich and famous off the Iranian hostage crisis of the Carter era, Drudge became a national figure in the Bill Clinton days thanks to “the Lewinsky affair” – in other words, by helping to make Hillary Clinton a subject of ridicule. One thing you have to say for her: when it comes to seizing opportunities, she won’t let silly little grudges get in the way. But, of course, we already knew that by the way she has repeatedly stood by her man. What the Clintons have is a power marriage – where doing what needs to be done to gain and hold on to power comes first, last and always. In this respect, they’re not very different from Rupert Murdoch; they’re cut from the same cloth.

Neutralizing Murdoch and getting Drudge on board will not suffice to do right-wing anti-Clintonism in. For whatever (inexplicable) reasons, it is too deeply entrenched. But not all the right-wing anti-Clintonites are so deeply dug in. From Hillary’s point of view, there’s no reason not to try to win them over, and not to chip away at the remaining entrenchments. It would be different if this latest species of pandering outraged the Democratic “base”; until her nomination is secure, Hillary needs to stay in their good graces. But for reasons almost as inexplicable as the right-wing hostility the Clintons elicit, the Democratic base has yet to reject Clintonism for the right reasons. Should the family find its way back into the White House, this will surely come to pass. But by then it will be too late.

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