NYT - 1990s Redux?

One of my great fears about the 2016 election is that national media outlets like the New York Times decide to reprise their roles from the 1990s in terms of their coverage of the Clintons. Some of you out there in reader land aren’t old enough to remember Whitewater, and impeachment, and Lewinsky, and the role the Times and other “mainstream” media played in hyping up stories that turned out to be pretty well nothing.

It’s already happening again, as I see it. The Clinton Foundation stories, the email server, Benghazi!Benghazi!Benghazi! I’m not saying that there’s nothing to discuss, but those tut-tutting the most about “OMG what are those enormous fees for? Are they buying access to the White House?” have shown little interest in actual corruption on the GOP side, where even larger amounts of money change hands for actual influence in actual policy.

Today, I picked up the latest New York Review of Books, which arrived in my mailbox earlier this week. More evidence. Michael Tomasky, reviewing right wing ideologue Peter Schweizer’s book, Clinton Cash, toward the end makes an interesting detour into why the Times and others hate the Clintons. And it isn’t their politics. In fact, it isn’t even any facts at all. It’s snobbery, pure and simple.

But at bottom, there seems to be a feeling—and I am talking here about the mainstream, even “liberal,” media, not conservative outlets—that the Clintons play by their own rules and keep getting away with one thing or another. Washington is a city of custom, and the permanent class of insiders who live here have fashioned a certain set of rules for all who come here to live by, and the Clintons have never really lived by those rules. In 1998, after the Lewinsky story broke and polls showed majorities favoring resignation or impeachment if he lied under oath, Bill Clinton said, “Well, we’ll just have to win, then.” He was breaking the rules. And he did win, because the public didn’t find a sexual liaison to be an impeachable offense and because the economy was blazing. This outcome infuriated the keepers of the conventional wisdom.

The New York Times is worth keeping an eye on here. It will endorse Hillary Clinton when the time comes, but the far more important question is how it will use its news pages to write about her between now and then. It was shocking that the Times based a piece on Clinton Cash, a book with an obvious political motive that was written by a former adviser to Republican politicians, some very right-wing. The paper that pushed the Whitewater story hard in 1992 and in 1998 ran a series of editorials calumniating Bill Clinton and praising prosecutor Ken Starr is now apparently prepared to continue in that tradition. In recent weeks, the Times has published two more articles along these lines, one about Hillary’s brother Tony Rodham, and another about Clinton confidant Sidney Blumenthal. Whether it will devote similar resources to scrutinizing Jeb Bush or other prospective Republican nominees seems a fair question.

Keep this in mind as we go forward. Today brings yet more evidence, criticism that Hillary Clinton is going to run pretty much the Obama campaign, rallying the liberal base of the party, and focusing on those states that are needed to win. This apparently has raised the ire of red state Democrats, who feel left out. Plus, it gives the Times the ability to lament the lack of focus on the all purpose media straw man, the “undecided voter.” Translation: Hillary won’t appeal to conservative rural white voters, who are the “real Americans” that Democrats must have to win.

This early in the campaign, however, forgoing a determined outreach effort to all 50 states, or even most of them, could mean missing out on the kind of spirited conversation that can be a unifying feature of a presidential election. And it could leave Mrs. Clinton, if she wins, with the same difficulties Mr. Obama has faced in governing with a Republican-controlled Congress.

Apparently, “winning” the election isn’t enough anymore, it had to be done the way the guardians of our public morality want it done. And oh, by the way, does anyone think that if Hillary Clinton went to, say, North Dakota or West Virginia, that would actually make a difference to anything at all? Somehow this candidate is being burdened with the responsibility not just of winning, but of doing it in the approved manner.

But the nadir is reached here:

A larger risk of a tailored strategy is that by taking advantage of polarization, a candidate could lose some of the authority that comes from the civic exercise of appealing to much of the nation.

“The president is the one person who potentially could be the unifying figure in the country,” said H. W. Brands, a historian at the University of Texas at Austin. “And if the president or a presidential candidate basically writes off 40 states, then how in the world do the people in those 40 states feel like they have a stake in that person or that election?”

I wish this was the worst it was gonna get, but I’m pretty sure it’s not.

Gosh, I never felt like I had any stake in either Bush presidency, or Reagan’s. Wonder why that is? Oh, wait, because they ran and got elected and governed for the benefit of conservative voters! And I was told over and over again that “elections matter.” But somehow when Democrats win, there’s always an asterisk, a reason for Republicans to resist and fight and for Democrats to just accept it.

This blog post makes the point better and more calmly than I have. Alas, I didn’t see it until after I was just about done ranting. So read mine, then read Erik Loomis.

In the end, for all that Beltway pundits want to believe that Democrats convincing white conservatives to vote for them is the only strategy to victory because they are the real Americans, it’s just not the case. Hillary (or hey, maybe Bernie!) wins by motivating the base, focusing on winning necessary close states where they have inherent advantages, and maybe pressing to expand the map to North Carolina, Arizona, and Georgia while holding on to Wisconsin and Ohio and Virginia. If I thought Hillary campaigning in Louisiana would actually lead to Democratic downticket victories there, I’d support it. But I just don’t see it. Better to focus on high voter turnout among the base. 

Sing it, brother. Amen.

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