Before there was what we now call "Obama Derangement Syndrome," there was the "Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy." This month seems to be now be marking a turning point, to perhaps what might be called a new and virulent "Clinton Derangement Syndrome." Or, more prosaically, what we're now seeing can be said to be the real start of the 2016 presidential election season.
Yes, I know. You don't want to hear that. I realize that we're not even halfway through the 2014 primary season. I'm aware that there's a midterm election this fall. And I know it's considered downright unseemly to speak of presidential campaigns before a certain point in the political calendar. Doing so is even seen as the mark of lazy political journalism, to some. But consider the increasing frequency of attention Republicans are now focusing on Hillary Clinton, and (conversely) the ebbing of attacks on Barack Obama. What else could explain such a major shift in focus?
To be fair, here are two ways of interpreting the shift. Number one: Republicans are so confident in their chances this November (of not only holding the House but also regaining control of the Senate) that they've shifted their attention away from what was supposed to be their signature issue this year -- Obamacare -- because they can comfortably afford to do so. They've already won, they figure, so they might as well get a jump on the 2016 cycle and attack Hillary Clinton instead. Scenario number two: Obamacare is not proving as effective an attack issue as Republicans had previously thought (and hoped), so they are now desperate for any issue to run on -- and they hope that repeating "Benghazi" over and over again right up to November will do the trick.
No matter which way you read the signs, the pivot itself seems to be real, backed up by the facts on the ground. Republicans in the House have not scheduled a single hearing on Obamacare for the upcoming months.That's an odd omission -- rather like Sherlock Holmes's "dog that didn't bark in the night." Republicans had planned on an all-out offensive on Obamacare, and the House is now going to just drop the ball? Maybe (to be charitable) further Obamacare hearings will be scheduled for later in the year, closer to the election. But when you add to this the fact that more and more Republican candidates are refusing to even take a stand on Obamacare's Medicaid expansion in their state (rather than denouncing any such thing as being tainted by Obamacare, the way they used to), it does seem they're backing off the issue.
Instead, what the House will be spending its time on is yet another Benghazi investigation (the ninth such investigation, I believe). The chairman of the new select committee was caught in a gaffe last week, but the most attention was paid to the wrong part of the gaffe. The new chairman is fond of identifying himself as a "former prosecutor" and he spoke of how he would run the committee as if it were a "trial." Democrats cried foul, but what was lost in the fray was another comment he made -- that the committee would exist for as long as he thought necessary, even if it ran all the way through the 2016 election. In other words, this is not just about winning in 2014, it is about hounding Hillary for the next two years.
Add to that the shot "Dr. Rove" just took across Hillary's bow (so to speak), that her health and age would be an issue in the campaign, should she run. Karl Rove made this point in classic Rovian style, which meant he got his facts wrong and made insinuations he simply could not back up, but still wildly succeeded in his messaging effort. Even when "correcting" the record the next day, he managed to casually toss all sorts of conspiracy theories out there (which, no doubt, will soon become Republican dogma). Again Democrats howled, but it didn't matter because the seeds of doubt had successfully been sown. "Hillary's got brain damage" is -- obviously -- going to be a big talking point for the next few years.
Think this is an exaggeration? If you do, then you may not have been of voting age in the 1990s. A quick quiz, to see if you remember the era: who were Richard Mellon Scaife, Ken Starr, and Vince Foster? If you remember all three, you'll also likely remember that Bill Clinton inspired quite a bit of lunacy, bizarre conspiracy theories, and outright hatred from his opponents. This consisted of organized and well-funded efforts by, notably, Richard Mellon Scaife (and a few others), which Bill Clinton had to deal with for his entire presidency. And this was largely without the benefit of Fox News, which was still in its infancy. For much of his two terms in office, Clinton had to deal with a special prosecutor who had a limitless budget to investigate every aspect of Bill Clinton's entire life, if he chose. Ken Starr did so choose, enthusiastically. He started with Whitewater, then decided to spend some time investigating the suicide of Vince Foster, and ended up rooting around in Clinton's sex life. Even a House select committee on Benghazi pales in comparison, really. After Starr was done, Bill Clinton became only the second American president to ever be impeached by the House (and then the second to not be convicted by the Senate, as well).
Republicans scoffed at the "Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy" label, at the time. But there was indeed a concerted effort to personally destroy Clinton which came both from private organizations trying to push the media into believing their conspiracy theories, and also from the highest levels of government. Maybe it wasn't as "vast" as Hillary claimed (she famously uttered the line in a 1998 interview with Matt Lauer), but it certainly did exist.
We now jump forward to Barack Obama's term in office. Well, to be fair, we have to mention George W. Bush in passing, since he was the originator of the next acronym, really. During Bush's tenure in office, Republicans complained that some Democrats had come down with a disease: "Bush Derangement Syndrome." BDS meant that Democrats simply could never see any good in anything Bush ever did, because they were so blinded by their hatred and disdain for the man. Since 2009, this term has been updated, however.
Barack Obama has certainly inspired an impressive amount of concerted hatred from his opponents. So much so that Democrats now cheerfully use the term "Obama Derangement Syndrome" to speak of the more unhinged elements of his opposition. Exhibit A would have to be "birtherism" -- claims that Barack Obama was secretly born in Kenya, and not Hawai'i, and is therefore not entitled to be president. The birthers were wrong on both counts, as a matter of fact (Obama was indeed born in Hawai'i, as contemporary newspapers proved quite adequately long ago; and the mere fact that Ted Cruz is now considered a legitimate presidential candidate proves that being born within the United States is not actually a requirement to become president). Beyond the birthers, there has been a constant stream of other stories offered up in the hopes of delegitimizing Obama in one way or another.
Some Democrats have been quick to cry "Racism!" in response to these attacks on Obama. While there certainly must be a slice of the public who is so incensed that a black man is president that they'll believe anything about him, though, such intense political opposition has really always been around to some degree -- as it certainly was in Bill Clinton's time. In 2009, Bill Clinton was asked (on Meet The Press) if the "Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy" could be considered to be part of the attacks on Obama. He responded: "Oh, you bet. Sure it is. It's not as strong as it was, because America's changed demographically, but it's as virulent as it was... when they accused me of murder and all that stuff."
This is what his wife is going to face, if Hillary does decide to run. President Obama has certainly faced the slings and arrows of opposition during his time in office, but he has yet to be accused of murder, he has had no Ken Starr peering into every aspect of his life (with full subpoena power), and he has not been impeached by a Republican House. Bill Clinton's right, in a way, that what he faced was worse. But he's also wrong, in a way, too. Because far from being "not as strong as it was," the Supreme Court has now opened the door for independent organizations to throw as much money as they want into elections. Scaife's group published a few books, got some stories in the media, and even got Ken Starr to look into some of their pet issues. But, again, they did so without even the benefit of Fox News, really. Since that time, the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy hasn't just grown, it has metastasized. It is now gleefully throwing hundreds of millions of dollars into campaigns, with little restriction. The growth of Fox News means the VRWC now has a "mainstream media" platform which is more than willing to air the craziest theories out there about pretty much any Democrat. And it now has political power -- the rise of the Tea Party has moved all congressional Republicans much further to the right.
What it all adds up to is that we are now seeing the earliest symptoms of a brand-new disease: "Clinton Derangement Syndrome." I won't go as far as calling it "brain damage," though, since I don't want to stoop to the level of Karl Rove. And we're lucky that the term originated in George W. Bush's time, in fact, because there's no need to even specify which Clinton we're now talking about. Which is why I can confidently say that "Hillary's got brain damage" is not an exaggeration of what will soon be said about her, and it is nowhere near the worst thing that will be said about her over the next two years. As Obamacare fades as a potent issue for Republicans, and as President Obama himself gets closer and closer to "lame duck" status, the Republican Party (and all their fellow travelers) will continue their pivot to attacking Hillary, in the hopes of stopping her 2016 run -- before it even begins.
The VRWC did all it could to destroy Bill Clinton. The birthers were merely the worst example of ODS, which has been on display since the day Barack Obama took office. Next up: CDS. The diagnosis is almost a certainty, at this point.
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