(originally posted 2/12/2008)
David Shuster and Katie Couric have opened windows on Hillary Clinton's character and the view is not pretty.
By speaking on cable television in the way that everyone regularly speaks on the Internet, Shuster gave us a preview of speech control in Hillaryland, where no one can take a joke and everyone is supposed to speak as if they were writing a politically correct official report.
The Clinton campaign could have laughed or brushed aside the comment as being incomprehensible. Instead they reacted by first calling it "beneath contempt," and then by a prissy, censorious letter from Clinton worthy of school head Joan Cusack in School of Rock:"
I know that I am a public figure and that my daughter is playing a public role in my campaign," she wrote. "I am accustomed to criticism, certainly from MSNBC. I know that it goes with the territory.
"However, I became Chelsea's mother long before I ran for any office and I will always be a mom first and a public official second.
"Nothing justifies the kind of debasing language that David Shuster used and no temporary suspension or half-hearted apology is sufficient.
"I would urge you to look at the pattern of behavior on your network that seems to repeatedly lead to this sort of degrading language.
"There's a lot at stake for our country in this election. Surely, you can do your jobs as journalists and commentators and still keep the discourse civil and appropriate."
Can Captain Renault be far behind? What exactly was Shuster's offense? Using the word "pimp" in a non-sexual connotation? Criticizing the Clinton campaign's use of Chelsea? I realize the language is unusual for television, but it is mild for the Internet and certainly far milder than a lot of what Chelsea Clinton has heard, probably at home. I'm thinking this also has something to do with the hard time Chris Matthews gave Bill over Monica.
And who appointed Clinton language czar? Does she plan to police cable television language from the White House, sort of like Harry Truman threatening accurate reviewers of his daughter's singing?
By asking Hillary on 60 Minutes about being known as Miss Frigidaire in high school, Couric brought out more of the real Hillary:
COURIC: Someone told me your nickname in school was Miss Frigidaire. Is that true?"
CLINTON: Only with some boys," Clinton said, laughing.
COURIC: I don't know if I want to hear the back story on that!
CLINTON: Well, you wouldn't want to know the boys either.
(Apparently, the real story, as reported by Carl Bernstein, is that Hillary's high school yearbook predicted she would become a nun, and would be known as Sister Frigidaire.)
I am guessing the "some boys" that Clinton thinks Couric would not want to know were normal intelligent people who had a sense of humor and had spotted someone who did not. I don't remember too many low-lifes working for our high school yearbook.
Which is more scary: Clinton attacking Shuster as a cynical political move, sort of David Shuster as Sister Souljah, or Clinton thinking that Chelsea really needed protection? If it is the latter, we need an intervention. This is a 28 year old graduate of Stanford and Oxford who works for a hedge fund. "Pimp" is mild.
Either Chelsea is a political actor or she is not. If she can give speeches on her own and can call superdelegates, she is fair game, period.
This controlling humorlessness is nothing new. In 1996, Don Imus made a speech to the Radio and Television Correspondents' Dinner that started out with a joke about the unlikely saga of Hillary's newly found billing records ("This is kind of interesting, these don't appear to be my notes") and proceeded to make fun of Whitewater and Bill's philandering.
The Clintons, who were in the dais, could have laughed and no one would have known about the speech except the three shut-ins watching CSPAN. Instead they sat there stony-faced and then asked CSPAN not to repeat the speech as scheduled.
Of course, they got the last laugh as Media Matters, the paramilitary arm of the Clinton family, broke the story of Imus' Rutgers remarks and eliminated another Hillary critic. As others warned, Imus' firing, although certainly justified by his incredibly racist and sexist comments, opened the sluice gates for the thought and language police to demand the head of anyone whose comments had not been properly filtered by their brain.
Hillary's propensity to seek control over everyone else is plain scary. Who could want to live in the nanny state she obviously relishes? Better she should worry about what made her vote for the Iraq war.
We need robustly free speech, not cowed speakers. This means that people, even good people, sometimes will say offensive things. Instead of those with every ability to answer back being offended by language and trying to silence others, we would be a lot better off if they would debate the underlying ideas.
If you scroll down, I guarantee you will find me, and probably my mother (who came up with the Harry Truman reference), being called much worse than a pimp. "No half hearted apology is sufficient." How insufferable.
Note: the last two lines from the Couric interview are not in the official CBS transcript. Preemptive editing?