The Clinton political culture

Peggy Noonan:

I will never forget that breathtaking moment when, in the CNN/YouTube debate earlier this fall, the woman from Ohio held up a picture and said, "Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Obama, Mr. Edwards, this is a human fetus. Given a few more months, it will be a baby you could hold in your arms. You all say you're 'for the children.' I would ask you to look America in the eye and tell us how you can support laws to end this life. Thank you."

They were momentarily nonplussed, then awkwardly struggled to answer, to regain lost high ground. One of them, John Edwards I think, finally criticizing the woman for being "manipulative," using "hot images" and indulging in "the politics of personal destruction." The woman then stood in the audience for her follow up. "I beg your pardon, but the literal politics of personal destruction--of destroying a person--is what you stand for."

Oh, I wish I weren't about to say, "Wait, that didn't happen." For of course it did not. Who of our media masters would allow a question so piercing on such a painful and politically incorrect subject?

I thought of this the other night when citizens who turned out to be partisans for Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Obama and Mr. Edwards asked the Republicans, in debate, would Jesus support the death penalty, do you believe every word of the Bible, and what does the Confederate flag mean to you?

It was a good debate, feisty and revealing. It's not bad that the questions had a certain spin, and played on stereotypes of the GOP. It's just bad that it doesn't quite happen at Democratic debates. Somehow, there, an obscure restraint sets in on the part of news producers. Too bad. Running for most powerful person in the world is, among other things, an act of startling presumption. They all should be grilled, everyone, both sides. Winter voting approaches; may many chestnuts be roasted on an open fire.

In New York I find more and more people who think this week's political scandal, Rudy Giuliani and the cost and means of payment of his visits to the Hamptons, following so closely the indictment of his former police commissioner, will fatally damage his candidacy. I don't know. The specifics on both stories aside, I'm not sure scandal is what it used to be.


Add to that the fact that in the past decade, concurrent with the rise of new media, the Clintons perfected a new method of scandal management that starts with "These are lies spread by a partisan conspiracy," proceeds to "That's old news," and ends a few years later, when detailed books come out, with "That's rehash for cash." This strategy is not a constructive contribution to our political culture, but it has worked in the new environment. They'll teach it in political science media management courses in the future.


Like debates, there is also a different standard for scandal in the media. Will a Rudy scandal get traction where the use of the Clinton campaign as a prop in more than one fraudulent scheme continues to be ignored? Based on history, the Clintons have the ability to practice the politics of personal destruction using their surrogates in the media in a way that Republicans just do not have. I am sure that CNN did not even comprehend the double standard it was imposing on Republican candidates by choosing Democrats posing as "undecided"to ask questions at the debate. Those were probably issues that the Democrats at CNN thought were the most interesting for Republicans.

It would never occur to those same Democrats at CNN to ask the abortion question posed by Noonan. That would, no doubt, seem unfair to them. Nor are they likely to ask the Democrats who are proposing to provide health care to the uninsured why they are willing to spend American tax payer dollars on the third of the uninsured who are illegal immigrants. Nor will there be a follow up on whether by doing so they will be giving an incentive for more people to come here illegally.

I have no problem with Republicans being asked the questions asked, but I do object to the dishonesty of having those asking pretending to be undecided voters, when they are already committed to Democrat candidates.

Then there is the ridiculousness of the questions.

What would Jesus think about the death penalty? Well, he was uniquely qualified to discuss it since he was executed and then lived again to talk about it, but instead had more important things to say and never mentioned it. You would think that if he really opposed it he would have said something upon his resurrection.

What about the Confederate Flag? It is the battle flag of a failed rebellion that some have allowed to become a symbol for something else and no one should give it any importance beyond being the battle flag of a failed rebellion. It should be remembered as a symbol of failure.

Gays in the military? Gays make up a small minority in this country. Gays who want to be in the military make up an even smaller minority of that minority. They can serve if they want to under rules set by Congress. Why are we wasting time asking Presidential candidates about this subject? And, what a poor choice for a person to ask it. His sexual orientation did not stop him from achieving the rank of Brigadier General. Only a small number of officers ever achieve that rank. His lifestyle did not impede his advancement in any material way.

Other lifestyles do impede advancement in the military. There may be more heterosexual swingers in this country than gays. But, swingers are not openly represented in the higher ranks of the military. When it is discovered that high ranking officers engage in that lifestyle it is usually a career killer. Will a presidential candidate ever be asked about the discrimination against swingers? Well, maybe Mitt Romney might, but it would be a not too subtle attack on his religion. BTW, the reasons swingers cannot openly practice their lifestyle in the military are the same as the reasons the don't ask don't tell policy was adopted.


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