Hating Hilary


Senior Member
Jan 20, 2006
New Orleans, LA/Cambridge, MA
HILLARY CLINTON'S announcement that she is running for president (“I'm in, I'm in to win”) is manna from heaven for two groups of people: Clinton family retainers and professional Clinton-haters. The latter have already built a huge industry. You can buy “I hate Hillary” T-shirts, mugs, mouse-mats and even jock-straps. You can sound off in websites such as BlogsAgainstHillary.com. You can peruse a library of Clinton-hating books that accuse her of everything from lesbianism to murder. That industry is about to get a lot bigger.

Mrs Clinton has worked hard to defuse Hillary-hatred over the past six years. She has remodelled herself as an impeccably centrist senator, co-sponsoring bills with prominent conservatives. She has made the right noises about abortion and flag-burning. Above all, she has supported the Iraq war. This rebranding has had some effect in her adopted state: she won 61% of the (generally conservative) vote in upstate New York in 2006. It has also had some effect in the capital: Senator Sam Brownback is just one of a number of high-profile conservatives who have apologised for harbouring hostile thoughts about her.

Yet it would be naive to expect Hillary-hatred to go away. The condition springs from deep emotions on the cultural right. Fears of successful professional women who look down their snooty noses at rednecks and stay-at-home mothers. Hatred of bossy liberals who want to impose a National Health Service and other bureaucratic monstrosities. Disdain for holier-than-thou lefties who ride their husbands' coat-tails to power and wealth.

Add to this the fact that her husband is the most hated person of all to the right—a self-indulgent baby-boomer who nevertheless outran the right-wing lynch mob time and time again—and you hardly have a formula for a ceasefire in the culture wars. “I hate Hillary Clinton because she's Hillary Clinton,” writes one blogger, “and I know that my readers can understand that.”

Mrs Clinton's support for the Iraq war has also earned her a new set of enemies—on the left. She was roundly booed when she addressed the left-wing Campaign for America's Future last June and rejected immediate withdrawal from Iraq. The left-wing blogosphere regularly berates her for destroying true Democratic values. Cindy Sheehan, an anti-war activist, has even compared her to talk-radio's Rush Limbaugh.

The saner American left is at last waking up to the fact that Hillary was never the radical firebrand of conservative caricature. She has always been pro-business (her much demonised health-care reforms rejected the Canadian single-payer model and enjoyed the support of many businesses that were worried about escalating health-care costs). She has always been deeply religious, and even contemplated becoming a Methodist minister. She supported welfare reform. If the right regards her as a Trojan horse for left-wing liberalism, the left regards her as a Trojan horse for corporate Clintonism.

How much does Clinton-hatred matter in the race for the White House? Mrs Clinton starts off with unusually high positives: she is beating potential Republican rivals such as John McCain and Rudy Giuliani in head-to-head polls. But she also starts off with worryingly high negatives: in a recent poll her “unfavourables” were as high as her favourables, at 36%. But none of this is insuperable. To become president, Mrs Clinton needs to win only one big state that John Kerry lost in 2004—and Ohio is currently leaning strongly Democratic.

The not-so-lonely middle
Hillary-hatred is a double problem for the Republicans. It blinds them to Mrs Clinton's strengths: many Republicans live in such a conservative cocoon that they think no sensible American will ever vote for the she-devil. And it brings out everything that is most noxious and misogynistic about the right. Hillary-haters may look forward to reading Jonah Goldberg's forthcoming book, “Liberal Fascism: the Totalitarian Temptation from Mussolini to Hillary Clinton”, but most people just laugh. Hillary-haters may applaud when Jerry Falwell says that a Hillary candidacy would motivate his constituency more than Satan himself. Most people take it as a sign of derangement.

George Bush did strikingly well among white female voters in 2000 (when he got 49% of their vote) and 2004 (when he got 55%, thanks to “security moms”). Fully 2.5% of his 3.5% margin over Mr Kerry was accounted for by his increased vote among white women. A misogyny-fuelled campaign against Mrs Clinton could send women back to the Democrats in their millions.

Mrs Clinton is also well equipped to deal with conservative attacks. She is a veteran of the Clinton wars of the 1990s (her chief pollster estimates Republicans have spent $135m campaigning against her). She is a savvy street fighter who invented the term “war room” and can call on the help of some of the dirtiest bruisers in the business.

Mrs Clinton may also be able to use left-wing anti-Clintonism to her advantage—triangulating between the crazed left and the foaming right. Her recent manoeuvring on the Iraq war—she is talking of a bill to cap the number of troops in Iraq but continues to oppose withdrawal—has led to accusations that she is too cautious and calculating for her own good.

But Mrs Clinton remains relatively hawkish on foreign policy for a Democrat. She continues to argue that the most important problem facing the world is not global warming (the default position on the left) but weapons of mass destruction and borderless terrorists. And her coolness and calculation may not go down so badly after the impetuousness of the Bush years. Mrs Clinton recently told the New Yorker, with a touch of the self-righteousness that so infuriates her critics, that on Iraq “I find myself, as I often do, in the somewhat lonely middle.” That middle may not prove so lonely come 2008.

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