Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Hillary-Haters And The Racial Insult That Wasn't

The Hillary-haters have found their latest outrage to froth about. This one is the supposedly vicious attacks being launched by the Clinton campaign against Barack Obama. If the latest claims of the Hillary-haters are to be believed, what makes these attacks so unconscionable is the near-racist motivation behind them: The Clinton camp doesn't just regard Obama as a dangerous rival for the White House, but as an "uppity" Black man who is being "presumptuous" for daring to challenge Hillary's right to waltz to the nomination.

Wow--if true, this is nasty stuff. (Calling Black men "uppity" sounds more like Bull Connor or the unreconstructed George Wallace than Hillary Clinton.) No wonder concern trolls like Slate's Mickey Kaus and the Obama-infatuated Andrew Sullivan have been eagerly blogging about this latest evidence of Hillary's arrogance.

But then you click through the links and devote thirty seconds of scrutiny to the actual source of these accusations, and you discover it is this post by David Corn:
When talking to Clintonites in recent days, I've noticed that they've come to despise Obama. I suppose that may be natural in the final weeks of a competitive campaign when much is at stake. But these people don't need any prompting in private conversations to decry Obama as a dishonest poser. They're not spinning for strategic purposes. They truly believe it. And other Democrats in Washington report encountering the same when speaking with Clinton campaign people. "They really, really hate Obama," one Democratic operative unaffiliated with any campaign, tells me. "They can't stand him. They talk about him as if he's worse than Bush." What do they hate about him? After all, there aren't a lot of deep policy differences between the two, and he hasn't gone for the jugular during the campaign. "It's his presumptuousness," this operative says. "That he thinks he can deny her the nomination. Who is he to try to do that?" You mean, he's, uh, uppity? "Yes."
So the idea that Hillary's people "hate" Obama for being "presumptuous" comes not from one of her spokespeople or even one of her supporters but from a journalist's conversation with an anonymous "Democratic operative" who has no link to Hillary or her campaign. In other words, David Corn was swapping opinions with somone in a coffee shop somewhere, and the two of them decided they had a shared impression of the Clintonites--which thus becomes "news" to be breathlessly reported.

And notice where the word "uppity" comes into the picture: It wasn't uttered by anyone associated with Hillary. It wasn't even suggested by Corn's "source," the anonymous Democrat. It arose in the conversation through prompting by Corn himself: "You mean, he's, uh, uppity? 'Yes.'"

In other words, there's nothing there.

But given the sloppy way in which people like Kaus and Sullivan have passed this meme along--and the eager way in which people tend to latch onto, over-simplify, and magnify ideas that fit their pre-conceived narratives--it's easy to picture how people who hate Hillary will remember, and repeat, this story: "Did you hear the latest? Hillary has been going around calling Obama 'uppity'! What a bitch!"

This latest example of how the haters have been demonizing Hillary illustrates why I agree with Ezra Klein's take on the theme of the "polarizing candidate." Klein points out that, in fact, candidates deemed "polarizing" are simply those who have long been politically prominent and therefore subject to partisan attacks for a long time. He shows, for example, how John Kerry magically became "polarizing" after the Swift Boaters and the Republican spin machine did its work on him.

If Hillary is currently considered "polarizing," that is simply because the Republicans have been attacking her, using some ammunition based on fact and some that is utterly dishonest, since the early 1990s.

The obvious corollary: If either Obama or Edwards gets the Democratic nomination instead of Hillary, he will experience the same miraculous transformation from unifying figure to "polarizing" one. Just as, somehow, the Republicans managed to transform moderate, religious Southern Democrats like Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Al Gore into weak, corrupt, ultra-liberal threats to the republic.

If you believe that nominating yet another conciliatory, centrist, "non-polarizing" Democrat will inspire the Republicans to mount a clean, civil, honest, respectful election campaign, I have some beautiful beachfront property in southwest Bangladesh to sell you. Instead, let's stop wasting our time trying to identify the "least polarizing" Democratic candidate and instead nominate the one who will fight hardest and most effectively for our values and policies.

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