Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Clinton rules: getting ready to live with them


A week or so ago, Ezra Klein of Vox offered a thoughtful aside on his excellent podcast to the effect that liberals have worked so hard on imagining the horrors that a Trump presidency would bring that we haven't put enough thought into imagining what a Hillary Clinton presidency would be like.

I won't entirely cop to Klein's critique: I've been calling out Clinton's enthusiasm for imperial war making since October 2013. Here's a completely plausible current campaign on that front.

But it would be accurate to say that I've put little energy into thinking about what, unless something changes drastically, will be one of the core consequences: we'll be living in a national media environment in which Clinton Rules rule. And we better start thinking about how to keep from drowning in this swamp of dubious muck.

What are Clinton Rules? Jonathan Allen has outlined how journalists routinely frame every story which includes the Clintons.

  • Everything, no matter how ludicrous-sounding, is worthy of a full investigation by federal agencies, Congress, the "vast right-wing conspiracy," and mainstream media outlets.
  • Every allegation, no matter how ludicrous, is believable until it can be proven completely and utterly false. And even then, it keeps a life of its own in the conservative media world.
  • The media assumes that Clinton is acting in bad faith until there's hard evidence otherwise.
  • Everything is newsworthy because the Clintons are the equivalent of America's royal family.
  • Everything she does is fake and calculated for maximum political benefit.

Why does the press adopt this posture? According to Allen,

... I've done a lot of research about the Clintons' relationship with the media, and experienced it firsthand. As an author, I felt that I owed it to myself and the reader to report, investigate, and write with the same mix of curiosity, skepticism, rigor, and compassion that I would use with any other subject. I wanted to sell books, of course. But the easier way to do that — proven over time — is to write as though the Clintons are the purest form of evil. The same holds for daily reporting. Want to drive traffic to a website? Write something nasty about a Clinton, particularly Hillary.

Republicans and their compatriots on the far right can be counted on to amplify Clinton Rules journalism -- and the Clintons usually react defensively which doesn't help.

And, as Bill demonstrated throughout his Presidency, both Clintons are given to parsing, speaking with overanalyzed specificity in a way that obscures the plain meaning of words. No, Bill "didn't have sex with that woman" -- if by "sex" you mean intercourse rather than receiving a blow job. Maybe whatever conduct or inaction being questioned by the usual obnoxious subjects -- Republicans and media -- wasn't illegal. But all too often, Clintons do seem to think they can risk staying right at the edge of legality.

Neither Clinton seems to have an inner instinct that flashes a warning signal when they might give the appearance of impropriety, even if their conduct includes no substantial wrongdoing. And their enemies, and a giddy, frustrated press, will stand ready to jump them.

We haven't had this kind of atmosphere of late. The Obama administration has been close to scandal free. Republicans have tried -- you probably blinked and missed it, but there was the Solyndra. But this sort of stupid stuff has only stuck in far right circles.

With Hillary Clinton, the muck will be back. The New York Times seems particularly addicted to the narrative of the always dirty Clintons -- odd since they are also touting her as a necessary President. Guess a smeared Clinton is good for business.

Clinton herself tried to talk with reporters on her plane in the last few days. The hungry scandal beast is unlikely to be appeased.

So how should the rest of us ordinary, progressive citizens approach the atmosphere of all-the-time-all-Clinton-muck we might expect to live in? I for one intend to tune Clinton Rules reporting out. In fact, I already do. I don't click on articles about putative Clinton scandals unless I know enough about the topic to think I can evaluate them. Something will have to be pretty darn large and enduring to break through my screen. This worked in her husband's time: I never bothered to clutter my brain with Travelgate, Filegate, Whitewater, etc. And I don't have any reason to think I missed anything substantive.

Now if she goes and does "stupid shit," if/when she bombs someone ... that would be scandalous and worth attending to.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

good summary of the issues, and very close to my own (somewhat) mixed feelings.

a pity that the Clintons are so not-forthcoming. I've never pulled on the thread of a Clinton scandal and found any "there" there ... but their behavior is rarely trust-inducing.

OTOH as best I can tell, the media - especially The New Pravda on the Hudson - seem to be suckers for "Hillary scandal" stories. It's Whitewater and Iraqi mobile weapons labs all over again. That Trump is a walking personality disorder with ADHD - with all that implies for a Trump presidency - never seems to get traction.

I've seen arguments that HRC's hegemonistic tendencies (whatever they might be) will be constrained by circumstances should she win in November.

I hope she wins, and I hope her tendencies are well-constrained... but I won't bet the farm on either.

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