Hillary's right turn | Comment is free: Twice this week now, Hillary Clinton has stood there smiling like the Cheshire Cat as the governor of North Carolina used the word "pansy" and then as a union leader in the same state, who more famously referred to her "testicular fortitude", went on to inveigh that Hillary was the only thing that stood between the good and God-fearing people of North Carolina and the "Gucci-wearing, latte-drinking, self-centred, egotistical people that have damaged our lifestyle." Clinton, according to the report linked to here, "smiled sheepishly before breaking into a nervous laugh."
As campaign moments go, these may not be up there with the Iraq-withdrawal debate or, Lord knows, truly important things like Barack Obama's failure to wear a flag lapel pin. But they're worth marking all the same.
These are explicitly right-wing tactics and talking points. Those of you across the pond may be unfamiliar with a very famous soundbite from the 2004 presidential campaign, which featured in a commercial that ran early that year in Iowa and was produced by the anti-tax group Club for Growth.
In the ad, a husband and wife discuss Howard Dean's plan to repeal the Bush tax cuts. The happy couple join forces to say the following: ''Howard Dean should take his tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading, body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show back to Vermont, where it belongs.''
It was garbage, but at least it stood to reason, under the logic of this country's political climate, that a ferociously right-wing group (Club for Growth is known for finding even many Republicans to be "soft" on the tax question, backing right-wing anti-tax acolytes against a few Republican congressional incumbents) would employ such rhetoric against a liberal, Democratic candidate.
And now we are greeted by the spectacle of one Democratic campaign - no, not directly using, but getting a nice little happy kick out of seeing almost exactly the same rhetoric, right down to the choice of beverage, used against a fellow Democrat.
For good measure, we get a bonus reference to pansies, who, if we take the word to refer broadly (and derogatorily) to homosexuals, support Clinton in far greater numbers than they support Obama, a fact that somehow did not inspire the candidate to admonish her endorser in any way.
Cards on table: my regular readers know that I back Obama. I continue to be amused by the commenters who think they're somehow outsmarting me by "exposing" my Obama bias, even though I am paid to write opinion pieces and I make no secret of it.
But what people may not know, because I haven't really gone into it, is that up until about the Nevada caucus, I was perfectly happy with all three leading Democratic candidates. I preferred Obama then, too, and I never really had much use for Edwards, but my attitude was that whichever of the three proved the most formidable would ultimately be fine with me.
I'd always liked Hillary. Those who know my work going back a few years know that I was based in New York when she first ran for the Senate, and that I gave her largely positive coverage then and wrote a book about her race that was certainly more sympathetic than not. (Here's the Amazon page; I tried, so as to make life easier on my merry detractors, to link to a mostly negative review from the New Republic, but their archives are broken. You might be able to find it elsewhere; it's by Michael Grunwald.)
But this latest episode frankly sickens me, and it really ought to sicken you, too, no matter which Democrat you support. Republicans and conservatives have for years used this kind of smear language against Democrats. It has perverted our political discourse for 30 years. It is not clever or tables-turning or ironic or anything of the sort for one Democratic campaign to be involved in sending these kinds of smoke signals about another. It is repulsive.
But it's been all too typical. Clinton had the opportunity to say, during that ABC debate, something like: "You know, I don't think the fact that Senator Obama served on a board will Bill Ayers some 25 years after the Weather Underground ceased to exist is relevant. Right-wing websites can traffic in that, and the mainstream media can if you want to. We Democrats don't do that sort of thing." But she piled on, even disingenuously implying that Ayers made comments "about" September 11 just because some remarks he'd made about his past happened to appear in the New York Times on September 11, 2001.
So, let Clinton revel in her incarnation as the sworn enemy of latte drinkers and Gucci wearers. If she somehow wins the nomination, it won't last long. I expect the American people will be reminded of various episodes from her past that I won't catalogue here because to do so would be to engage in the very kind of mud-slinging I'm rebuking.
And when they come up, those Gucci wearers and latte sippers will start looking better and better to Clinton and her backers. But don't come crying to me.