There is nothing in the political acts or policies of either of these people sufficient to explain this reaction. If the segment of the Left assaulting the Clintons was merely the disaffected and inchoate fringes, people with a single issue that no one except their own preferred candidate can satisfy, or obsessed with ethical purity to such a degree that they will not accept that politics are necessary and every political act is looked at as an example of corruption, then there would be an explanation. Cranks tend to glom onto celebrities as objects of adoration or hatred. But the people objecting most strenuously to the Clintons are politically indistinguishable from them. The alleged political sins of Bill and Hillary are shared by other politicians who are not subject to the scorched earth assaults the Clintons endure. Among the power brokers, the attackers are often colleagues, appointees and protégés. At a policy or philosophical level, these are differences of degree, not of kind.
It is a phenomenon uniquely demarcated by class. Upper-middle and upper class professionals with significant amounts of college education are the overwhelming majority of the people launching broadsides against the Clintons. It has a distinct geographical structure as well, being more likely to appear north of the Mason-Dixon than south of it.
It differs this election cycle than when Bill ran for President in that it is voiced more openly and because the vitriol is being poured onto Hillary Clinton voters as well as on the candidate herself. The attack upon rank and file supporters is, I think, the major way in which CDS on the Left differs from that on the Right. I cannot name a time in all the past presidential elections I can remember (1976 being the oldest) that entire blocks of voters were so thoroughly condemned for their candidate choice. It is a battle within the party, not against external foes, and it is about class. Or, rather, it is about a fantasy of class and culpability.
It is not a mistake that racism is the charge being thrown at Hillary, despite the utter insanity of the claim, despite Obama admitting in the Nevada debate that, yes, his campaign was deliberately spreading the lie that she and her campaign were engaging in racist attacks. In the liberal imagination, racism is the marker of “white trash”, itself shorthand for the organization of the white world into the superior educated class and the inferior hicks. All southerners are hicks, even the educated ones. All southerners are simply Trent Lott, George Wallace and Strom Thurmond rolled into one. All “uneducated” (i.e., lacking at least a BA or BS from a notable school) white northerners are “Bunkers”. Anyone appealing to such people is a not-so-closeted racist, and their entire agenda is to reinstitute Jim Crow, if not return to slavery.
Why this psychotic and self-defeating projection onto the working class? It is the deep guilt of the liberal upper class that we know, every last miserable one of us, that our privilege is due to centuries of white supremacy and to the informal, unspoken, but pervasive advantage our skin color and behavioral patterns gives us in this society. It is our Moby Dick, the whale we pursue obsessively through political seas, frantic to have material proof that we are innocent of the crimes of our nation.
The Democratic Party was the party of slavery and civil war in the 19th century. It was the party of Jim Crow in the early 20th century. The New Deal set it on the path to renouncing that legacy through the mid-part of the last century, and it was a brutal passage. Instead of reimagining the South and what it could become, the Northeast elite who had taken over the leadership simply renounced it – you will be like us or you can get out. When desegregation came to the Northeast and the Midwest, the contempt for “The South” was transferred easily to the working class ethnic whites who resisted this change. Archie Bunker became an eternal truth rather than a thought exercise, a denunciation of the unchangeable cretin in front of the TV instead of a call to reflect on how we become what we are and how, despite ourselves, we can find our common humanity. Most of all, the determined demonization of working class whites, especially those with Southern connections, allows the upper class elites to turn a blind eye to the way in which they are the biggest beneficiaries of the centuries of racism in the nation. There is a growing group within the liberal elite who wishes to jettison “The South” entirely, leaving the working class immiserated and isolated, rather than face up to the obligation of the party to complete the task before it. That task is to create the conditions under which racism is no longer something that can be exploited for electoral gain or needed as a survival tactic in deteriorating and demeaning socio-economic conditions.
The violent rejection of the Clintons on the Left is a rejection of “The South” and the working class by the Stevensonian elite, who see the success of Bill the “Bubba” as both a threat to their power and a repudiation of their policies and actions since 1968. They want to see themselves as simultaneously co-victims with AAs of white supremacy and also as the moral(istic) saviors of the oppressed, redeeming their part of the white population from the sin of racism. (Read the incomparable Bob Somerby’s write up of this phenomenon in his latest post.) Bill Clinton provided a different vision of how to move the party and nation forward, one that refused demonization, and this shook them to their ineffective foundations. The Clintons unsettle the comfortable arrangement between the northeastern elite and the southern revanchists (the Democrats and the Republicans having exchanged those roles since the New Deal), insisting on the need to materially improve the lives of the bulk of the nation and not sit around waving a moralistic finger at people who like to shoot guns and go to church every Sunday.
The assault on the Clintons has no basis in policy or political philosophy. It is an attack on uppity white trash who dares to succeed in the world without assimilating into the ruling elite, and for the added insult of being adored by the nation precisely for their common connections. The only thing I can compare to the single-minded determination of the liberal elite to destroy the Clintons regardless of the collateral damage to party and nation is George W. Bush’s obsession with talking out Saddam Hussein, though lacking even the level of justification collected for that vendetta.
Reading the increasingly unhinged and incoherent ravings of the elite against Hillary Clinton, the calls for her murder, the fabricated videos “proving” the racism of her campaign and associates, the hysterical screams that she must get out now before she inflicts more damage on the party, and the assertions that anyone who votes for this candidate is nothing but a racist, I am reminded of one of the great descriptions of obsession ever set down:
And we all remember how that story ended.
I, Ishmael, was one of that crew; my shouts had gone up with the rest; my oath had been welded with theirs; and stronger I shouted, and more did I hammer and clinch my oath, because of the dread in my soul. A wild, mystical, sympathetical feeling was in me; Ahab's quenchless feud seemed mine. With greedy ears I learned the history of that murderous monster against whom I and all the others had taken our oaths of violence and revenge. …
Small reason was there to doubt, then, that ever since that almost fatal encounter, Ahab had cherished a wild vindictiveness against the whale, all the more fell for that in his frantic morbidness he at last came to identify with him, not only all his bodily woes, but all his intellectual and spiritual exasperations. The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on with half a heart and half a lung. That intangible malignity which has been from the beginning; to whose dominion even the modern Christians ascribe one-half of the worlds; which the ancient Ophites of the east reverenced in their statue devil;- Ahab did not fall down and worship it like them; but deliriously transferring its idea to the abhorred white whale, he pitted himself, all mutilated, against it. All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it. …
How it was that they so aboundingly responded to the old man's ire- by what evil magic their souls were possessed, that at times his hate seemed almost theirs; the White Whale as much their insufferable foe as his; how all this came to be- what the White Whale was to them, or how to their unconscious understandings, also, in some dim, unsuspected way, he might have seemed the gliding great demon of the seas of life,- all this to explain, would be to dive deeper than Ishmael can go. The subterranean miner that works in us all, how can one tell whither leads his shaft by the ever shifting, muffled sound of his pick? Who does not feel the irresistible arm drag? What skiff in tow of a seventy-four can stand still? For one, I gave myself up to the abandonment of the time and the place; but while yet all a-rush to encounter the whale, could see naught in that brute but the deadliest ill.