Co-written with James Boyce
A little over 48 hours ago, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton made history when she announced that she had formed an exploratory committee for 2008. She is the first woman to have a legitimate chance to become President of the United States. In fact, she is clearly the front runner, not a long shot.
“I’m in. And I’m in to win.” She declared. It was a historic moment.
It is an extraordinary feat by an extraordinary woman. Of course, to win The White House, Senator Clinton will face many challenges and hurdles. But the first may end up being perhaps the most significant. For Senator Clinton and her advisers must find a strategy that makes every voter look at her clearly. Senator Clinton and her advisors must shatter the public’s habit of viewing her and her record through the prism of right wing distortions and smears.
This is not a conspiracy theory nor is it an endorsement of Senator Clinton.
But this simply is a fact of modern politics in America. For the past three decades, the right wing has employed a powerful strategy of “$ell and $mear.” They insist on being the gatekeepers to public opinion and have developed a powerful machine that tells us who to like – and who to hate.
They $ell their heroes, turning a B-movie actor into the Marlboro Man and President.
They $mear Democratic and Progressive heroes, reducing American success stories such as George McGovern, Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis into humiliated historical footnotes. They destroy our leaders. They destroy those that might become our leaders. There is no Democratic or Progressive leader of any note of the last twenty years that has not been attacked.
One of our core motivations in writing this post is to continue to showcase how this is done, who does it and why. We have written on it here, here and here.
Senator Clinton is unique in this discussion because unlike John Kerry, who had to be turned from war hero into fraud in sixty days, she has been both a past and historical target of the machine on the right and will be its primary target in the month’s going forward. Of course, we should expect Senator Obama to face more than his fair share of slurs and attacks as well. As well as any other leader who dares challenge the right-wing $mear machine.
Even now, many Democrats state they “just don’t like Hillary.” Much like they “just don’t like John Kerry.” She has “baggage.” Or there is something about her “that just bothers me.” This is the result of the campaign against her. Just as these people like Coca-Cola or Nike products but can’t tell you why, they don’t like Hillary. Without conscious reason or explanation.
This is Senator Clinton’s primary challenge. Because since this strategy has been deployed, no one, not one single politician has been in the eye of the machine longer than Senator Clinton. For almost fifteen years, Americans have been bombarded with smears and negative commentary about her. Virtually every aspect of her life, personal and political, from her hairstyle to private decisions she made within her marriage, has been criticized.
This will be a longer discussion. This effort will be part of our dialogue for at least the next year. But let’s start with two simple questions.
HILLARY CLINTON IS JUST TOO POLARIZING – RIGHT? WRONG.
This might seem jarring, moronic or just plain wrong, but the facts are clear. Hillary Clinton is called polarizing as a matter of course, but there really is no basis for the claim.
First, you must realize that any leader of one of the two major parties will have split public opinion because we live in a two party system. By definition any leader will be polarizing. So just as John Kerry, Al Gore and Bill Clinton, recent Democratic nominees for President, have high negatives from the other side of the aisle, so too will whomever is the Democratic nominee in 2008.
Of course, George Bush, Mitt Romney, and John McCain will also all have high negatives from the Democratic side. That’s part of the process.
Hillary Clinton is no more polarizing than George Bush – a quick Google search shows that just as many references of George Bush as “too polarizing” as there are for Hillary.
So why do we think Hillary is polarizing? Because we are constantly told so. Again, and again.
They called her … well, everything a person can be called. They accused her of … well, every crime a person can be accused of, up to and including murder. A Google search of the words “Hillary” and “murder” yields 1,500,000 results – and be sure to take a look at some of them.
Take a moment and pause. A respected leader of our country is accused of murder by the right, time and time again, and it no longer shocks us. Just as having John Kerry, an authentic American war hero who earned three Purple Hearts, just as having him portrayed as a fraud no longer shocks us. This is what this machine has done to our leaders, and to our country.
“HILLARY CAN WIN THE NOMINATION BUT NOT THE GENERAL ELECTION.”
This one is another myth made in right wing heaven, but they will repeat it, and smile when Democrats repeat it over the next few months.
First of all, let’s judge Mrs. Clinton by her performance as an elected official. She won her Senate easily in 2000 and in 2006 coasted to an absolutely dominating re-election, winning almost every single county in New York State.
Then yesterday, the Washington Post released this poll.
In this poll, Senator Clinton gets 41% of Democrats support. Senator Obama is second at 17%. Some would say this isn’t a race yet.
Second, let’s look at a state by state map of the blue states that John Kerry won. Is there one that Senator Clinton can not win? Of course not.
Are there other states where she can win that John Kerry didn’t and therefore be the President? Absolutely. There are at least five potentially more, depending on her Vice President selection.
Again the Washington Post poll.
In it, Senator Clinton beats the Republican front runners.
The only reason we think Hillary is less electable than the others is that we are conditioned to think that the right’s smear machine is unstoppable. (And of course plenty of us will do almost anything just to get them to stop screeching.)
IT WON’T JUST BE SENATOR CLINTON WHO WILL BE SMEARED.
A few weeks ago, we asked “How Long Will The Right Let Us Love Obama?” We, sadly, have started to see the answer. (More on this later.)
The $mear machine will take aim at any Democrat who starts to gain traction. Look back over the years – every single Democratic Presidential candidate has faced the machine, and is now perceived negatively by the public. Again: they destroy our leaders.
Remember that in the 2004 election primaries people supported John Kerry because he was a war hero and therefore “electable?” Remember how the term “swiftboating” then entered the lexicon? John Edwards? Destroying our country with frivolous lawsuits. Bill Richardson? There are plenty of openings – or they’ll just make something up. And so on.
It’s not that they think each and every one of these Democrats are potential Presidents.
It’s just that they want to destroy each and every Democrat. And they’re going to start with a remarkable woman who just might be the next President of the United States.
It’s up to each and every one of us to stop it.
And it’s up to each and everyone of us to look at Senator Clinton without the right telling us what we’re looking at.