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Scandal Loves a Clinton

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When you read all this stuff at a somewhat historical remove of 15-plus years, what emerges is how gratuitously Hillary Clinton is often dragged into charges leveled at her husband, the Clinton actually holding public office, and how frequently she’s the victim of drive-by character assassination. The Journal bizarrely faults her for wearing a “pink suit” when “defending her $100,000 commodities market killing” and holds her accountable for having “had a good deal to do with setting the legal and moral tone of her husband’s administration.” Such tortured logic reached its pinnacle in a sensational 11,000-word investigation of Troopergate in the right-wing rag The American Spectator. Troopergate—not to be confused with Travelgate, which the Spectator hawked with a cover drawing of Hillary on a broomstick—alleged that Bill Clinton, while Arkansas governor, used state troopers to procure women for sex. Yet Hillary is damned along the way on grounds like these: “She would phone the mansion from her law office and order troopers to fetch feminine napkins from her bedroom and deliver them to her at her law firm.” Besides being utterly implausible, this accusation is a non sequitur, and never would have been included if, say, Kleenex were being fetched instead of feminine napkins. But such reportage is in keeping with the misogyny that underlies much of the Clinton literature, including the epic report delivered to Congress and the public by the puritanical independent counsel Kenneth Starr. As the fierce Clinton aide and defender Sidney Blumenthal would later point out in a memoir, Starr kept interrupting his prurient through-the-keyhole account of Bill Clinton’s priapism with weird asides about the First Lady’s whereabouts: “Mrs. Clinton was in Africa … Mrs. Clinton was in Ireland.” The point, Blumenthal writes, is that Starr “wishes her to be stained as well,” for “there is no other reason for her inclusion.”

The Troopergate story was written by David Brock, a self-described right-wing hit man who made his bones by maligning Clarence Thomas’s accuser, Anita Hill, as a sex freak (“a little bit nutty … a little bit slutty”) in a best-selling book as the Clintons arrived at America’s center stage. Brock would later recant his entire canon, become persona non grata among his old circle, create the liberal media-watchdog operation Media Matters, and morph into the Clinton wingman he is today. He is a contradictory figure, to put it mildly, but his 2002 book about his political change of heart, Blinded by the Right, owns up unstintingly to his own misogyny and is specific and persuasive about its prevalence in the right’s ranks. He tells of both the Starr deputy Brett Kavanaugh (now a George W. Bush–appointed judge on the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit) and the literary agent Glen Hartley (still a prominent representative of conservative authors) calling Hillary Clinton a “bitch.” Ron Burr, the American Spectator publisher, implored him, “Can’t you find any more women to attack?”

In a telling moment of the 2008 campaign, John McCain didn’t object when a female supporter, referring to the still extant presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton, asked him, “How do we beat the bitch?” McCain’s silence may say less about his character than about the status quo of a party where such thinking and locutions are business as usual; Ted Nugent and Glenn Beck described Hillary as, respectively, a “worthless bitch” and a “stereotypical bitch” in that same election cycle. Sex-tinged Hillary hatred on the right has dimmed nary a bit since the Clintons left the White House. It’s almost impossible to keep up with all the book-length screeds. In American Evita (2004), by Christopher Andersen, there are three references over 23 pages to the young Hillary’s (purported) habit of not shaving her legs; her body odor and penchant for wearing no makeup also get pride of place in the narrative. In Edward Klein’s The Truth About Hillary (2005), the misogyny is laced with a heavy dose of homophobia. “There was a long tradition of lesbianism at Wellesley,” he writes about her alma mater, citing what he seems to think is a damning differential between the marital rates of the Wellesley student body and faculty and the national norm at the dawn of the 20th century. Hillary’s gay friends, “military-barracks vocabulary,” “neglect of personal grooming,” and reported disinclination to shave her underarms (as well as her legs) as an undergraduate are intrinsic to Klein’s weasel-worded indictment that she “was much more interested in lesbianism as a political statement than a sexual practice.” While this line of attack tells us absolutely nothing about Hillary Clinton, it is yet another reminder that the right still regards lesbianism as sinister in an era when most Americans have moved on, including the young voters who reject the GOP precisely because of such antediluvian bigotry.


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