Sunday, February 10, 2008

Stanley Fish on Hillary Hatred

Josh Marshall and the rest of the A-List Boyz need to hustle their butts over to Stanley Fish's latest opinion piece in the New York Times and understand he is talking about them.

Not long ago, Fish wrote a column about the deep, pathological hatred voiced at Hillary Clinton, the kind we see every day in blogs, opinion pieces, news reports, pundit talk shows, editorial cartoons and the like. Hatred that often takes the form of Dave Shuster's weird "You won't talk to me and let me trash you, so you're a whore and you mother's a pimp!" argument about Chelsea Clinton - if you won't do or be what I want, if you disappoint me, I will attack you, and what best pleases me is attacking you. Heads, I go after you, tails, I go after you.

Fish dryly opens his column, A Calumny a Day To Keep Hillary Away, with this:
The responses to my column on Hillary Clinton-hating have been both voluminous (the largest number in the brief history of “Think Again”) and fascinating. The majority of posters agreed with the characterization of the attacks on Senator Clinton as vicious and irrational, but in not a few posts the repudiation of Hillary-hatred is followed by more of the same. Lisa (No. 17) nicely exemplifies the pattern. She begins by saying “I agree that there is a rabid nature in the manner in which numerous conservative groups attack Hillary Clinton,”, but in the very next sentence she declares that “most of Hillary’s reputation is well earned” and then she spends nine paragraphs being rabid. A significant minority of posters skipped the ritual disavowal of hatred and went straight to the task of adding to it.
The key marker of a Hillary Hater is the willingness to state, in almost the same breath, that it is out of control and then to plunge in for a full-throated round of it. The calumny, of which the respondents, just like our own pitiful Josh Marshall, appear oblivious, is their own. They are engaged in a performative (hey, I did spend a lot of time in grad school learnin' the lingo...) of hatred. They are not describing something about Hillary (she, as a corporeal being, is negated) - they create "Hillary" with their assertions about what is or is not relevant to the construct. Indeed, the respondents sometimes do not appear to understand the effect they are having on the listener, the way in which they are exposing their own innner psyche:
Still, sexism doesn’t seem an adequate explanation of the Hillary-hating phenomenon if only because so much of the venom in the comments is directed at the Clintons as a team. The idea is that nothing but evil can emanate from them; they are a moral blot on the nation’s escutcheon, a canker-sore on the body politic, and they must be removed (perhaps by any means necessary). No doubt sexism is a component of such sentiments–a number of women respondents accused her of riding on her husband’s coat-tails and lambasted her for not leaving him–but sexism doesn’t really account for an anger that sometimes borders on the homicidal.
Fish then dives directly into the darkest heart of the revivified Clinton Derangement Syndrome and its powerful hold on the Left, the way in which it is used to rationalize support for Obama. As with Hillary, Obama himself is erased as a person and reappears as a screen upon which the lines of CDS are limned. It is almost an algebraic equation in this statement from one of his commenters: “The fact that Hillary Clinton is hated is true and real. Therefore if the Democrats want to recapture the Whitehouse, they better think long and hard about electability in their choice of a candidate.” Fish is relentless, however, and takes the speakers by the scruff of the neck, forcing them to look at the logical construct they have created (my emphasis):
Electability (a concept invoked often) is a code word that masks the fact that the result of such reasoning is to cede the political power to the ranters. Carolyn Kay (456) makes the point when she observes that if you vote against Clinton because you fear the virulence of her most vocal enemies, “you have allowed the right-wing hatemongers to decide who our candidate will be.” Underlying this surrender of the franchise to those least qualified to exercise it is the complaint (rarely overtly stated) that the Clintons have had the bad taste to undergo the assassination of their characters in public and have thereby made us its unwilling spectators. This is of course the old ploy of blaming the victim, and Ava Mae Lewis (16) is at least explicit about it. After deploring the “wild accusations” and “rabid hate”, she declares herself “disappointed that the Clintons force us to make this final and public rejection.”
They did it to us! They made us witnesses to their humiliation, those bad people! No, Fish, responds, you don't get off the hook that easily (my emphasis):
In other words, by being the targets of unwarranted attacks — that is their crime, being innocent–the Clintons are putting us in the uncomfortable position of voting against them for reasons we would rather not own up to. How dare they? Given the fierceness of the opposition to her candidacy, why doesn’t Hillary do the decent thing and withdraw? “What bothers me about Hillary is that she must know this, yet she apparently thinks so much of herself, or wants to be president so badly, that she’s willing to risk compromising the Democrats’ chances of winning in November to stay in the race” (Matthew, 440). How inconsiderate of her both to want to be president and to persist in her quest in the face of calumny.
How inconsiderate of her, indeed. How dare she force the political conditions which make us feel uncomfortable. This gets back to something I have been saying again and again in the last month, where I point out the deep discomfort that the wine-track left and especially the A-List Boyz have with political conflict. They somehow want to have victory without having anyone besmirch their candidate and without having that candidate taint his dainty hands with the crude weilding of power. What Krugman (here and here) and Perlstein both point out is that there are divisions in this nation that run so deep and are so powerful that we have no choice save to fight them tooth and nail, and to understand that we have only our mortal, flawed and always already compromised leaders to rally behind. What these respondents hate the most about Hillary (and also about Bubba) is that they are "unclean".

The greatest crime the Clintons have committed in the eyes of the Left is not being perfect. Not being white and liberal enough, not being a perfected version of the Kennedys, not being without stain or flaw, and thereby giving the Right something to slime. Except, of course, the insiders and punditocracy had already decided that they were class traitors who should have stayed among the East Coast establishment and not gone back to Little Rock and mixed with the lesser beings (you know, Southern white trash and poor Blacks). Hillary's current core constituency, blue collar workers, life-long rank-and-file Democrats, union members, ethnic minorities, women with less than upper-class education, they don't seem to have a problem with this. It is just the kind of people who sit around reading blogs and opinion columns in the NYT who are always posting comments before they are overcome with the vapors.

Fish raises an eyebrow and gives the respondents another thing to think about. The battering of the Clintons is not just more villification for them, it is at the same time a deliberate campaign strategy of Hillary's cheif rival. Fish examines the strategy, acknowledges the political savvy as something other than mere opportunism, but ends by pointing out the self-negating gotcha of this type of campaign, which is the gotcha of all such campaigns waged since Adlai Stevenson (my emphasis):

The beneficiary of this she’s-a-victim-so-we-must-expel-her logic is Barack Obama, and some respondents suspected him of fostering the divisiveness he rails against. “When Obama calls Hillary divisive he, of course, is pandering to these crazies Stanley Fish is describing” (dehud, 128). “Barack Obama is working hard to provide fuel to the Hillary haters” (Meryl B, 339). Actually, Obama doesn’t have to work hard at all. The media, as many who wrote in pointed out, are doing it for him. A number of commentators perceived an anti-Hillary bias at work in the op-ed pages of our major newspapers (including this one) and in the remarks made by radio and TV personalities. MSNBC was singled out as a network that has become an extension of the Obama campaign. Chris Matthews, a liberal warhorse, is obviously in love with him. But so is the entire editorial page of the New York Post. On Thursday, Dick Morris, Eileen McGann, and Kirsten Powers wrote mash notes to Obama in the disguise of columns, and the lead editorial warned Democrats not to miss out on the “excitement and promise” Obama brings. Today (Sunday) Peggy Noonan worried that the Democrats might fail to “recognize what they have in this guy.” With unpaid employees on both sides of the media aisle, Obama doesn’t have to do anything but be his usual inspirational self. Unencumbered by the record of achievements and missteps that comes along with political longevity, he can present a clean slate to the electorate. Nothing hazarded equals nothing to be criticized for.

Of course Obama has every right to take advantage of the enmity his opponent has garnered over the years. It is the politically savvy thing to do, just as it is politically savvy for him to insist that the superdelegates follow the voters in their districts, given that a majority of them is known to favor Senator Clinton. But political savvy is perhaps not what Obama wants to claim. His boast–problematic down the road–is that he is not a politician at all.

Obama would be a fool not to try to capitalize on this media and electoral windfall, but what kind of politics does it create in the end? Armando over at TalkLeft is explicit that it may be a tactic that will allow The Golden One to win a campaign, but it is not one that will allow him to govern effectively precisely because the marker of his administration is to be above politics and avoid those battles that must be engaged to turn back the tide of Movement Conservatism. Better to win than to succeed.

Fish leaves us with this thought, that CDS says far more about the respondents than it can ever say about Hillary Clinton (my emphasis):

Hillary Clinton is undoubtedly a politician, and experience — good and bad — is the trump card of her campaign rhetoric. It is a card some posters want to take away from her. OM (421) erases two years from her tenure. “You have had elected office for six years.” Syzito (134) observes that “Hillary has NEVER been elected to anything except as Senator from new York.” (Why being a two term senator from a major state is as small, inconsequential thing is not explained.) It is comments like these that lead Marsha (450) to say, “Many of the posters confirm your conclusions.”

Perhaps so, but these same posters vigorously deny that it is Clinton-hatred that moves them. They are pleading, with JF (566), “Please don’t lump us with the haters.” But if I may take some liberty with the words of an old song: You made me lump you; I didn’t wanna do it.
Here's looking at you, Josh.



Anonymous said...


I feel real uncomfortable sometimes because I pride myself on being too objective to make stuff like this personal.

I got preferences and I am pretty positive as to who I want to win and why.

I find that in the internet age, people in general, be they the hacks in the media, or the hacks behind the keyboards can never be satisfied with competition for its own sake. It appears it has to be personal in order to really motivate folk.

Toss in a little Race on this side, a little gender on that side and you got yourself a REAL party.

I must admit that I am a little disappointed in the insistence on having to lower the discourse on both sides.

It cheapens and demeans the process. In my frustration I have found myself dabbling in it as well.

I guess what I am really saying is that there is enough hate on both sides to really prompt anyone who gives a Shick razor pause.

We should probably all take about a week and really do something else.

Anonymous said...

I don't think there is moral any equivalence here between the actions of Hillary supporters and that of Obama supporters at elast on the web. Obama supporters have been far more vicious towards Hillary right from the beginning. Anglachel, thanks for being a voice of reason in the online wilderness faced by Hillary supporters. Please, keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anonymous. Good work Anglachel. People like you should have a blog for the NYTimes or Huffington Post.
the ink, I also agree that the internet has given many racists and misogynists a way to anonymously make the most ignorant comments on blogs and news sites. It also gives these elitists (mostly white) men a way to express their hatred and call it journalism.
I also agree that we all need to take a week a just calm down. I've stopped watching cable news since the beginning of this month and I'm a better person for it. I think I need to spend a week away from the internet as well but that probably won't happen anytime soon.

Anonymous said...

wow. well said. It gives me hope that there are still people out there that can see through the chaos and hype. Barack Obama is a great candidate and news story but Clinton would be a far better president.

i would also point out that that Hillary is a brain. And being a brain is usually perceived as "boring" or uninspiring. This is reflected in her coverage in the media and blogs. This is a hurdle she has to overcome by hitting back by being bigger than the 'politics' (like obama pretends to be)

Bluesborn said...

The "Hillary Hate" virus seems to have mutated over the years into a super bug that invades both Republican and Democratic hosts,not to mention Independent.The Obama Liberals have been the most striking and tragic example of this illness.That the virus has been so successful surely says something about the depth of pure loathing inhabiting the right wing minds from which it hatched...

Gary McGowan said...

Great that you are asking "WHY?" But Stanley Fish is part of the problem:

"Teachers should teach their subjects. They should not teach peace or war or freedom or diversity or uniformity or nationalism or anti-nationalism or any other agenda that might properly be taught by a political leader or a talk-show host." - David Horowitz, "Victory in Pennsylvania,", July 6, 2005.

Since the end of 2002, there has been a Nazi-Gestapo operation on campuses across America, which has been run by neo-conservatives like Lynne Cheney, Dave Horowitz, Stanley Kurtz, Martin Kramer, David French, and others. They say they want to ensure that there are no "political idealists" turning campuses into a place for attacking the "War on Terror," and thereby destroying our security.

Search some of the last parag to find more.