—An essay by our member, William:
If you have followed national politics for any reasonable period of time, you know that the Republicans have an essential gameplan which they bring out for every election. It is to attack the character of the Democratic nominee, on as personal grounds as they can get away with. Note that they rarely want to engage on issues. This is because, 1) they sense that the voters favor the Democratic positions on major issues; and, 2) their own candidates are not very well versed in facts, or the intricacies of complex matters. So, figuring that enough of the populace also doesn’t know or care much about real issues, they try to turn elections into some kind of personal popularity contest. Like, who would you rather have a beer with? Or who do you prefer to come into your living room and talk? Whom would you most want to be friends with?
Let’s look back some other recent campaigns. We all know that the attacks on Bill Clinton started very early. All about personal matters, of course. There were of course the attacks on any sexual peccadilloes he might have had. But the Republicans went on and on about Clinton’s draft status; how did he manage to not get drafted? The fact that virtually every single Republican officeholder pulled just the same strings to avoid being drafted, seemed not to matter. No one ever questioned them about it. But we had week after week of this microscopic analysis of whom Clinton went to in Arkansas; when did he send this or that letter, or stamp something in? Of course it was truly much ado about nothing, but it was all in service of the character assassination which the GOP relies on to win elections.
There was more. The “did he inhale?” nonsense. We heard about this on a daily basis. When a later Republican candidate had a rather clear history of cocaine and alcohol abuse, their people told us that this was off limits, and how dare anybody bring it up. And then there was this non-story about Clinton’s protesting against the war in Vietnam while in England. A non-story, but one which filled the airwaves. And then there were even worse attacks: right-wing tabloids writing that Clinton was running drugs over the Arkansas border; that he murdered people. You have never in your life seen any Democrat make such allegations about any Republican candidate, but it is almost par for the course for the Republican side. Do you remember the Republicans discussing actual policy issues during that campaign? No, with them it is always strictly personal.
Let’s move on to Al Gore, someone who had a reputation at that point of squeaky cleanness in private matters. Well, first they started with this idiocy about Gore not being able to choose the right suit color; vacillating; as if this were a metaphor for how he would serve as president. Then of course their main line of attack: that Gore was a fabulist at best, or a pathological liar at worst. “He said he invented the internet!! Ha! Ha! What an idiot!” Of course Gore never really claimed to have “invented” the internet; just that he had championed the idea. This line of attack then morphed into the, “He said he went many times to stricken areas with the head of FEMA. But did he really, or was he lying???” Well, the truth was that Gore had indeed made such trips, but sometimes with the assistant head of FEMA, so a distinction without a meaningful difference. But if one has a good memory for such things, you will recall that this took at least two weeks of the media’s time to gnaw on.
Then John Kerry. A bona fide war hero who actually chose to fight in a war he could have easily avoided. So the Republicans dredged up the “Swift Boat Group,” to completely lie about his war record. They made it the lead story for about six weeks, doing inestimable damage to Kerry’s campaign. People said, well, Kerry should have dealt with it head-on, and that probably is true. But that really obscures the point that people were blatantly lying about something that was very personal and even psychologically painful to him: his war experiences. And then in a more minor key, there was all this about Kerry being a “Frenchified sissy,” or something to that effect. And then who can forget his somewhat ill-chosen bur actually legitimate statement about “I voted for it before I voted against it.” That of course had to do with political tactics, changing a position on a bill which now had a pernicious rider attached to it. But this of course became another campaign diversion; once again the theme that you could not believe Kerry, that he could not be trusted, that he was a dreaded flip-flopper.
In every case, you can clearly see the Republican tactics at work. Make the public think that the Democratic nominee is a prevaricator, a liar, someone you cannot trust. Do this by dealing with personal issues and then trying to make them a metaphor for how they would act as president. Make the only issue of the campaign, “Our candidate is a good guy; while the Democratic candidate is a liar whom you cannot believe on anything.” In one sentence, this is essentially the only play in the Karl Rove Playbook.
With Obama, this line of attack was more difficult because of the racial aspects of his candidacy. Republicans feared being called racists if they were too blatant in their attacks. And John McCain, who has many negative aspects in his politics and approach, was laudably decent enough to discourage it. Karl Rove did not run McCain’s campaign. And the economy collapsed in September of the election year, so that it was virtually impossible to avoid talking about it.
But now we have Hillary Clinton as the very likely Democratic nominee. And we are clearly going to see the most vicious and personal campaign of all. The Republicans hate and fear the Clintons, because they have been, and still are, the greatest threat to their dream of taking over all three branches of government, plus the media, and thus creating a literal oligopoly in which billion dollar corporations tell everyone else what to do.
The Republicans have so far not even talked about one legitimate domestic or international issue in their attacks on Hillary. It is all about “her character.” And once again, it is the same dreary but unfortunately dangerously effective tactic: desperately try to convince people that they can’t trust her, just like they tried to convince the electorate that Bill Clinton and Gore and Kerry and Obama could not be trusted. “They are not one of us,” goes along with that theme, of course.
Now, I have followed Hillary Clinton’s career pretty closely. I don’t believe that she had one even minor allegation of questionable actions, or having been influenced by outside lobbyists, or any of that, as an eight-year senator from New York. Had there been any of that, the New York media would certainly have uncovered it. Actually, she was a very popular Senator, with about a 70% popularity rating, including support from many Republicans, who grudgingly had to admit that she worked very hard, and was very effective.
As Secretary of State, she was again drawing raves, even across the aisle. Until Benghazi, in which she was completely absolved of any responsibility by an FBI investigation. Loyal trooper that she is, she verbally took responsibility; but if any American bore any responsibility for that tragedy, it was certainly not Secretary Clinton. And she was not a Secretary of State who helped lie us into war, or whose silence was tantamount to going along with those who did lie; or who helped conspire to violate the Constitution, and ignore a Congressional Act, as everyone should know was done by Cabinet members in past Republican administrations.
But even with all this negatve history on their own side, the Republicans move ahead with their very obvious tactic, the only real one they have. Impugn the credibility, trustworthiness and honesty of Hillary Clinton; so that if you cannot possibly beat her on issues, you can try to make her unelectable. In this sleazy effort, they are of course abetted by their tools and dupes in the media. The “email scandal,” also undoubtedly termed, “emailgate” (ever since Watergate, Republicans who insisted that was about nothing, and that Nixon was unfairly pushed out of office, have appended a “gate” to everything, thinking that this would prove that Watergate was unimportant), is of course a completely trumped-up faux scandal. The New York Times, in their eagerness to push a story; and also to satisfy the NYT’s rather weird and obsessive hatred of Hillary, wrote a completely false story, for which they were excoriated by other media, including Newsweek. The Times never saw fit to retract their story on the same front page which had carried it in the first place. This utterly false story about “criminal investigation” has caused damage, because as every sleazeball journalist knows, you can get a lot of traction out of a lie, even when it is later clearly shown to be one.
But what the Republicans are trying to do is to simply keep throwing up these things, and hoping that voters will give enough countenance to them to cause them to vote against Hillary, even though they might agree with her on 90% of the issues. I can virtually see the Republican ads now. A screen upon which is superimposed black letters, which scroll along. “Benghazi. Mailgate. Whitewater. Vince Foster. Travelgate. How can you trust Hillary Clinton to be President?” Of course, the Republicans invented all of these “scandals.” After spending about $80 million of taxpayer money, Kenneth Starr had to admit that there was no Whitewater story or scandal. “Travelgate” was Hillary replacing the members of the White House travel staff, completely within the purview of any White House occupant. Vince Foster’s tragic death was seized upon by vicious crackpots to claim that the Clintons were murdering people and hiding their bodies. The point is that none of these show any lack of honesty or trustworthiness whatsoever, and in fact were invented as fake scandals by Republicans; but the Republican strategists think that mentioning these names over and over again will sink into the popular consciousness, as a kind of shorthand.
Believe me, this is all that the Republicans have got. This is really all that they ever have. They will not dare to run on issues, even if the media occasionally tries to get them to actually come up with some specifics. They will run against Hillary on personality; and the only way they think they can succeed there is by trying to create a narrative that she, an eight-year senator with an unblemished record; and a very effective Secretary of State, respected and admired by most world leaders, is somehow untrustworthy and dishonest. The fact that there is no evidence whatsoever of this has never bothered them before. That’s how they go about trying to win elections, like the misdirection and sleight-of-hand of a magician. But this is not a magic show, it is about the country, and about the dreams and aspirations of hundreds of millions of people. For the Republicans, though, it is just about winning by any means possible. So watch Hillary continue to talk about issues in depth, while the Republicans engage in their customary attempts at character assassination. Let us see which the voting public ultimately prefers.