...with Hillary Clinton as the presumptive nominee. An article that explained why and how a candidate could be preferable would be useful. Alas, Doug Henwood’s Harper‘s cover story is not that article. Some of the problems are conveyed even in the intro that isn’t behind the paywall:
‘How’s that hopey, changey stuff working out for you?’ Sarah Palin asked American voters in a taunting 2010 speech. The answer: Not so well. We avoided a full-blown depression, but the job market remains deeply sick, and it’s become quite mainstream to talk about the U.S. economy having fallen into structural stagnation (though the rich are thriving). Barack Obama has, if anything, seemed more secretive than George W. Bush. He kills alleged terrorists whom his predecessor would merely have tortured. The climate crisis gets worse, and the political capacity even to talk about it, much less do anything about it, is completely absent.
Of the last two assertions, the first (implying that while Bush supported torture he opposed targeted killings) is risible.
The argument that nothing has been done about climate change during the Obama administration is just demonstrably false. (Even Thomas Frank concedes that Obama has a good record on the environment, fer Chrissakes.)
The claim about secrecy is, I will grant, a judgment call on a small-potatoes issue.
And the first talks about structural trends divorced from policy changes and without any explanation of what more Obama could have done about unemployment. (And if you think that a large stimulus was just inevitable, cf. most of Europe.)
As the use of Dick Morris’s ‘expertise’ suggests, things don’t get much better when things get to Clinton.
While it was certainly not the diabolical conspiracy Republicans made it out to be during the fevered days of the Clinton impeachment, it was not nothing.
No, it really was, at least insofar as the Clintons were concerned. Gene Lyons explains:
Basically, the author has performed a simple trick: putting leftward spin on GOP talking points from the 1990s. Because everybody’s either forgotten the details or never knew them, it’s possible to make long discredited charges of corruption against both Clintons sound plausible again.
Whitewater, Henwood assures readers, definitely ‘was not nothing.’
What it may have been, however, he appears to have no clue. The most basic facts elude him. No, the late Jim McDougal’s doomed Madison Guaranty savings and loan did not finance the Clintons’ real estate investment. They were never ‘investors in McDougal’s [other] schemes.’
Maybe Henwood would better understand the Clintons’ surprising ‘escape from the Whitewater morass’ if he grasped that they were basically the victims, not the perps.
Here’s how Kenneth Starr’s prosecutor Ray Jahn put it in his closing argument at poor, mentally ill Jim McDougal’s trial:
Why isn’t the President of the United States on trial?…. Because he didn’t set up any phony corporations to get employees to sign for loans that were basically worthless…The president didn’t backdate any leases. He didn’t backdate any documents. He didn’t come up with any phony reasons not to repay the property. He didn’t lie to any examiners. He didn’t lie to any investors...
A lot of the rest of the analysis isn’t much better. He derides her legislative record, arguing that:
of all her senatorial accomplishments, the [Iraq War vote] arguably had the biggest impact. The rest were the legislative equivalent of being against breast cancer.
Certainly, Clinton deserves a great deal of criticism for supporting the Iraq War, but since this vote almost certainly cost her the Democratic nomination it’s not exactly news. But it’s also true that this was pretty much the only ‘impact’ the vote had--the war was happening however she voted. It’s fair game because it reflects a serious error in judgment, but its causal impact was on the war happening was nil.
The bigger problem, though, is criticizing her for not getting major legislation passed. (This deeply odd way of evaluating a senator’s record is reflected in his language: ‘Hillary passed a total of twenty bills during her first five years in the Senate.’ Individual senators don’t ‘pass’ anything.) The rather obvious problem here is that the entirety of her Senate tenure happened with George W. Bush in the White House, and 6 of those were with a Republican Congress. Of course the only legislation she supported that passed was trivial symbolic stuff. This really takes Green Lantenism to a whole other level; apparently, if Hillary Clinton was a good senator a Republican Congress and Republican president would have passed transformative progressive legislation. That seems plausible!
So while there’s a good Clinton critique waiting to be written, this ain’t it.
…Tom Till in comments:
There are plenty of issues where Hillary Clinton deserves close, even withering scrutiny and where reasonable people can and should debate. The grotesque and preposterous sham known as Whitewater is not one of them. That a number of prominent reporters, editorialists, members of the judiciary, and various elected politicians, operatives, lobbyists, committee staffers, and wingnut bottom-feeders conspired to hatch it, prolong it (in many instances blatantly disregarding the law or at least legal ethics), and infect the political bloodstream with it to such a degree that it ultimately resulted in a president’s impeachment is, well, neither forgivable nor forgettable.
FMguru says: Now that Christopher Hitchens is dead, I guess Herwood feels there’s an opening for the spot of aging lefty who comes at the Clintons with right-wing talking points.
Tom Till says: U.S. Senate history is, of course, replete with freshman senators who spend the majority of their first term in the minority repeatedly ramming legislation through committee and corralling the entire chamber to vote their way on every bill. In fact, committee chairman are almost too happy to turn over control of their signature issues (which some have spent at least a decade or two working on) to freshmen of the opposite party. Happens all the time. But I fear that Henwood’s article will, unfortunately, be seized on by wingnuts and centrist media types ad nauseam and achieve CW “the case against Hillary” status before too long.
...on the morning after the 2014 congressional elections--approximately 18 months before normal Americans want to hear about it. However, like the ‘countdown’ to major sporting events, it’s also a cable TV ratings booster. With politicians and pundits eager to score TV face time, it’s also cheap and easy to produce. So ready or not, here comes Campaign 2016.
For a monthly magazine like Harper’s to jump the gun by two weeks requires considerable enterprise. ‘STOP HILLARY,’ the magazine’s November 2014 cover insists. ‘Vote No to a Clinton Dynasty.’
First, a quibble about terminology. A dynasty, properly speaking, is a multi-generational, inherited thing. In an American context, it’s legitimate to speak of the Roosevelts, Kennedys and Bushes as dynastic families parlaying inherited wealth into political power. As author Doug Henwood sniffishly points out, however, Bill and Hillary Clinton are what French aristocrats call ‘arrivistes’—nobodies from nowhere who climbed the power ladder through what he calls the ‘neoliberal’ strategy of ‘nonstop self-promotion.’ That this cavil would apply to virtually all American politicians seems not to have occurred to Henwood, whose loathing of the couple transcends such mundane considerations.
To him, the whole case for Hillary Clinton’s candidacy ‘boils down to this: She has experience, she’s a woman, and it’s her turn. It’s hard to find any substantive political argument in her favor.’ Maybe so, maybe not. But then Henwood, writing from the left, seems not to have looked very hard. His essay begins and ends with the appraisals of Dick Morris, perhaps America’s least credible political prognosticator. Indeed, the author acknowledges in a footnote that Morris’s ‘pronouncements on both Bill and Hillary should be taken with a substantial grain of salt.’ Even Fox News let Morris go after his forecast of a Mitt Romney landslide went awry. So why feature the man at all?
For that matter, why am I bothering with Henwood ?
Two reasons. First, personal disappointment that such slipshod work could appear in Harper’s. Twenty years ago, the magazine stuck its journalistic neck out to publish my article and book Fools for Scandal: How the Media Invented Whitewater. Second, because Henwood’s piece signals the inevitable return of what I call the ‘Clinton Rules.’ Particularly when it comes to the couple’s background in darkest Arkansas, no allegation of wrongdoing, regardless of how conclusively disproved, has ever disappeared from the national news media.
That such shoddy standards have become well-nigh universal in American political journalism is no excuse. Because everybody involved back in 1996 understood that calling out The New York Times--which originated and sustained the Whitewater hoax--was a serious business, Harper’s actually dispatched a fact checker to Little Rock, where we spent several days bulletproofing the manuscript.
Clearly, no such effort went into Henwood’s essay.
Basically, the author has performed a simple trick: putting leftward spin on GOP talking points from the 1990s.
Because everybody’s either forgotten the details or never knew them, it’s possible to make long discredited charges of corruption against both Clintons sound plausible again.
Whitewater, Henwood assures readers, definitely ‘was not nothing.’
What it may have been, however, he appears to have no clue. The most basic facts elude him. No, the late Jim McDougal’s doomed Madison Guaranty savings and loan did not finance the Clintons’ real estate investment. They were never ‘investors in McDougal’s [other] schemes.’ Maybe Henwood would better understand the Clintons’ surprising ‘escape from the Whitewater morass’ if he grasped that they were basically the victims, not the perps. Here’s how Kenneth Starr’s prosecutor Ray Jahn put it in his closing argument at poor, mentally ill Jim McDougal’s trial:
Why isn’t the President of the United States on trial?…Because he didn’t set up any phony corporations to get employees to sign for loans that were basically worthless…The president didn’t backdate any leases. He didn’t backdate any documents. He didn’t come up with any phony reasons not to repay the property. He didn’t lie to any examiners. He didn’t lie to any investors.
As for Susan McDougal, yes, it’s true she served 18 months for civil contempt after refusing to testify to a Whitewater grand jury in what she saw as a partisan perjury trap. However, it’s also true--if seemingly unknown to Henwood--that after Starr’s prosecutors charged her with criminal contempt, she testified for several days in open court, and was acquitted. Ancient history, yes. But history. The Ray Jahn quote, for example, comes directly from Joe Conason’s and my book The Hunting of the President.
Regarding Henwood’s pronouncement that it’s ‘ideologically dubious’ of Hillary Clinton to ‘make friends with her Republican colleagues,’ readers can judge for themselves.
However, a journalist who chooses to question a presidential candidate’s character by dragging up 20-year-old controversies owes it to readers to know two or three things about them."