Friday, November 23, 2007

The Hillary Punching Bag Meme

It looks like the mainstream media game has switched to one-upping Tim Russert. Now that Russert has "gotten" to Hillary Clinton with his immigrant driver's license question in the Philadelphia debate, media figures are now rushing to figure out ways to "get" to Hillary Clinton.

It seems like the hot new strategy for tearing at Hillary Clinton is to portray her as a washed-up punching bag.

Here's Thomas Schaller of the Baltimore Sun:
So which political victories, exactly, is Hillary Clinton touting? Has 15 years of ending off Republican attacks made her a powerful, partisan heavyweight or a beleaguered punching bag? John Edwards and Sen. Barack Obama dare only to flirt with such questions.

Actually, Schaller's only flirting with the question as well. He certainly makes no argument concerning how Hillary has been "beleaguered" or how she's been a punching bag. Hillary's case for fighting the Republicans is that she was an integral part of the team that brought the Clinton administration back from the dead after the 1994 debacle and that she emerged as a stronger figure as a result of the impeachment controversy. Schaller's tries to deny Hillary any credit for the Clinton administration's defeat of Gingrich and the Republican revolutionaries by claiming that the Clinton's won as a result of Republican over-reaching than anything else. But that's absurd. Given that the Republicans over-reach as a matter of principle, every Democratic victory of the last 13 years has come against Republican over-reaching.

Schaller also has nothing to say about the unique alchemy by which Hillary became a more appealing figure as a result of the impeachment scandal. Not only did Hillary's approval numbers soar, but it was as a result of impeachment that she started to look like a possible presidential candidate. Far from being a punching bag, Hillary Clinton's combination of policy expertise, tenacity, determination, temper, and ability to both dish out and take a punch started to look "presidential" when people saw that she was a "stand-up woman."

But none of this is significant to Schaller. He doesn't care any more about whether Hillary actually is a punching bag than Russert cared about immigrant driver's licenses. The point is to find the theme around which the mainstream media can rally in their efforts to "get at" the Hillary Clinton candidacy.

John Ellis does another permutation of the Hillary as sad-sack by creating an analogy between Hillary and Richard Nixon.

Like Nixon, Senator Clinton is widely disliked. Like Nixon, she cannot be made warm, even by a modern-day Roger Ailes. Like Nixon, she is a politician whose resentments are always close to the surface. And like Nixon, she is a politician about whom her peers have real doubts. But also like Nixon, she is intelligent and diligent and determined and tough and she has been through hell and back . . . . She knows that it's like to get her head kicked in every day, day after day after day, for months and years on end. She endures.

That was the whole point of the 1968 Nixon campaign narrative. He wasn't perfect by any means, but he was formidable and he endured. It's a narrative that fits Senator Clinton's campaign like a glove. For reasons either right or wrong, Americans will elect their first female president only when they are convinced that she is the tougher of the two (or three) choices. She won't be inevitable until we believe she is as formidable as Tricky Dick.

Talk about terrible advice. Who would portray themselves or their candidate as someone who "knows what it's like to get her head kicked in every day, day after day after day, for months and years on end." But Hillary Clinton is smarter and better than that. If people attacked me like the right-wing attacked Hillary, my head might have gotten kicked in. In the final analysis, my skin isn't thick enough for politics. Hillary was more like the powerhouse tailback who is stronger in the fourth quarter after 25 or 30 carries. Despite taking a pounding, she's ready to overpower the opposition rather than cave in herself. This is what the debates have shown. Hillary Clinton has considerable personal warmth, lots of savvy, and an ability to take the heat and come out looking better as a result. That's why her lead was getting up to thirty points before she stumbled in Philadelphia.

The "Hillary as punching bag" idea is the latest in a long line of themes employed by the media to derail Hillary Clinton's candidacy. There was the Hillary and the baggage of "the Clinton era," Hillary as "unelectable," Hillary as "polarizing," Hillary as being "too unpopular on the left," and Hillary as overly "dynastic." Hillary Clinton has falsified these stereotypes by turning in solid performance after solid performance during the Democratic debates. My bet is that Hillary's performance will keep the "Hillary as punching bag" theme from gaining traction as well.

But that doesn't mean the MSM won't try again.

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