Bad things tend to happen to those who oppose the Clintons.
It’s now known that many of the vilest slurs hurled against Barack Obama during his first presidential run — including crazed allegations he was born in Kenya or a closet Muslim who secretly wore weird Muslim clothes — had their origins in the Hillary 2008 campaign. Neither Senator Clinton nor her immediate proxies cast such aspersions directly, of course — that would be unbecoming of a leader of such imperious airs. No, the rumors began, as rumors often do, via the chain letters, blog comments, and idle gossip of free-agent “supporters,” who were just innocuously repeating second-hand truths as they understood them. The technique was what political scientists call the “whisper campaign;” nasty underground innuendo against a candidate that mysteriously emerges at precisely the time her opponent needs it most.
Today Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont, who promises to bring Scandinavian-style “democratic socialism” to America, seeks to replay the role of 2008 Obama and offer a more aggressively “left” alternative to Hillary Clinton, reputed centrist. But leftism is a vast bundle of priorities, and few politicians can effectively embody them all. Because Sanders’ focus has always been primarily economic — his crowd-pleasing speeches mostly center around corporate greed and income inequality — he’s left himself vulnerable on the front becoming steadily more dominant in America’s left-wing conversation — social justice and identity group sensitivity.
On July 18 Senator Sanders was interrupted during a speech by self-appointed representatives of the Black Lives Matter set, and his irritated, slightly befuddled reaction — which included tone-deaf bragging about spending “50 years of my life fighting for civil rights and dignity” — exposed unfamiliarity with the rituals of humble privilege-checking now expected of white progressives. Columns in progressive outlets were written about his campaign’s “race problem,” and memes began to sprout about his suspiciously “all-white” audiences and supporters. And didn’t he come from Vermont, the whitest state in the country?
Similar suspicions have been conspicuously whipped up over Sander’s supposed closet life as a “gun nut,” in the words of one Slate columnist, a reputation that helps solidify his caricature as a hickish creature from the backwoods of lily-white New England. Sanders, of course, can barely even be called a gun moderate by any standard beyond the far left’s; there are numerous rural-state Democrats to his right on this issue, and he’s received a D- from the NRA and an F from Gun Owners of America for consistently backing the vast majority of firearm control bills brought before Congress. Yet what Sanders calls the “mythology” of his Second Amendment record has managed to become a settled piece of online conventional wisdom just the same.
Other slurs have been darker still. Mother Jones somehow stumbled across a cringeworthy 43-year old essay Sanders wrote in his hippie days in which he mused about what he assumed were typical female sexual fantasies (“being raped by 3 men simultaneously”) in order to make some dated and obscure point about gender relations. This, said his enemies, was proof the old geezer was on the wrong side of “Rape Culture.” Then there was the truly bizarre rumor that the Jewish senator was some manner of secret Israeli double-agent, an allegation infamously flouted on NPR by a host who claimed to just be repeating something she’d heard online.
Hillary has reason to fear Sanders; initially assumed to be little more than a Kucinich-like fringe figure providing token opposition to her coronation, his poll numbers have now risen to the point where victories in a couple of early primary states seem plausible, if not likely. As Clinton’s press becomes near-uniformly negative thanks to ongoing troubles with her ominously missing emails, which beg questions of credibility on everything from the business ethics of her family’s charity to Benghazi to who is or isn’t in her inner court of advisors, the case for a “cleaner” Democratic candidate in 2016 gets ever stronger.
What Bernie (and for that matter, O’Malley, Chaffee, or Biden) will never have, however, is an appeal that can be couched in the trendy narratives of identity group victimization and triumph. Hillary’s importance as a glass-ceiling breaker must never be forgotten, and if that requires a nasty underground campaign pushing slanderous stereotypes of of her white male opponents, so be it.
For want of the First Woman President, much can be lost.3 Comments; - Discuss on Facebook - Discuss on the Forums (1)
Several years ago I wrote about a phenomena I dubbed “douchebag conservatives” — young men who self identify as members of the right not out of positive regard for conservative philosophy or politics, but because the right offers greater tolerance for their retrograde, politically-incorrect lifestyles. Read the rest of this entry »7 Comments; - Discuss on Facebook
Everything we think we know about Donald Trump’s presidential campaign flows from a single word: “rapists.”
In making his infamous off-the-cuff remarks (not that he makes any other kind) at his campaign kick-off that the Mexicans “are bringing drugs and they are bringing crime and their rapists” into the United States, Trump offered a political Rorschach test that has been chronically misinterpreted ever since. Like so much about Trump, there is significantly less here than meets the eye.
Was it a racist comment? On this, social justice warriors, the Republican establishment, and white nationalists all seem to agree, which should perhaps indicate his remarks were a tad lacking in clarity.
Was Trump implying all Mexicans are rapists — or at the very least, significantly more likely to be? That’s a interpretation that satisfies many, be they liberals desperate to believe the Republican base is a gaggle of bigots, backers of primary rivals desperate to dismiss Trump as unhinged, or genuine racists desperate to have one of their own on the center stage.
Or perhaps Trump was merely expressing deep reservations of immigration in general?
Ann Coulter, who coincidentally has an anti-immigration book out right now, has been promoting this theory of Trump quite strenuously, and it’s certainly a valid explanation for his current bump in the polls. Immigration is a great deal less popular in the United States than is fashionable to acknowledge, with large reason for the distaste being an assumed correlation between immigration and criminality.
Trump, for his part, has sought to clarify. “We’re talking about illegal immigration, and everyone understands that,” he barked at a Telemundo reporter the other day. “That’s a typical case of the press with misinterpretation.”
In other recent interviews, Trump has thrown his support behind increasing immigration overall — so long as the immigrants come legally — and has more or less taken it for granted that there should be some “path to citizenship” for non-felonious illegals already here (“I’m going to formulate a plan I think people will be happy with”). Other Trump critics on the right have dug up fairly recent examples of Trump spouting deeply establishmentarian immigration talking-points, including a 2012 interview with NewsMax in which he uses words like “mean-spirited” and “maniacal” to describe Governor Romney’s immigration rhetoric.
His prescriptions for America’s leaky southern border, meanwhile, have been preposterous — “I would do something very severe unless [Mexico] contributed or gave us the money to build the wall,” he told CNN, helpfully adding “I’m very good at building things.” (In Trump’s version of the world there are very few problems that can’t be solved with bullying.) Genuine racists may be similarly discouraged to hear Trump’s endless damage-control assertions of how much he “loves” the Latino people and braggy confidence that he’ll “win the Hispinic [sic] vote.”
At present, Donald Trump’s image seems to have congealed at “Fifth Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” a characterization deserving of suspicion given the vast ideological diversity of people who share it. Everyone presumes that beneath that hair and that bravado there must be an inner core that is either supremely vile or supremely heroic. His wealth, fame, and fearlessness is assumed to liberate him from the self-censorship and political correctness of other Republicans, exposing a creature of pure right-wing id.
Tragically discarded is our conventional understanding of celebrities who “get political” late in life — they know a great deal less than they think. Those who have lived most of their adulthood knowing only privilege and power are less likely to have had the sort of diverse life experiences and interactions necessary to breed sophisticated political opinions; they are less likely to be pressured by life’s complexities to formulate viable solutions to properly understood problems. They are, in short, likely to be buffoons.
Trump’s talent has been the conversion of his buffoonery into the persona of a populist demagogue, the sort of politician upon whom voters project beliefs he has never specifically articulated, but we assume a man like him would hold. In that sense, he is nothing revolutionary or unprecedented, but a stock character of American presidential politics that runs in continuum from William Jennings Bryan to Huey Long to Jesse Jackson and Pat Robertson to Ross Perot and even the current president.
What we feel we deserve is not always what we are given.1 Comment - Discuss on Facebook - Discuss on the Forums (1)
I really cannot for the life of me figure out a way to do my own website properly. I like having this main page up-to-date with my latest content, but I also want to keep attention focused on certain high-profile content like videos or cartoons, rather than articles. Anyway, here are some of my most recent articles, which I have chosen to post in the form of “pages” rather than “posts” to keep them off the main page. Unfortunately this means you can’t comment on them. I am not sure how to fix that.
July 21, A voter needs a home (overseas voting)
June 13, A problem that does not need solving (campaign finance)
June 26, Marriage’s political end (about the US Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling)
June, Difficult truths (about residential schools)1 Comment - Discuss on Facebook
Really excited about this new project, I’ve been working on it for years and finally decided to launch it this July 4th. It’s called Americans That Matter and features condensed biographies of dozens of famous Americans who have had some lasting cultural influence on the United States. Check it out, and be sure to share suggestions for new biographies you’d like to see! I’m hoping to keep this updated.3 Comments; - Discuss on Facebook