Well, I loved them in spite of the stuttering insanity that gripped the mainstream media. This little reminder is courtesy of Joan Walsh’s recent review of Taylor Branch’s The Clinton Tapes:
It’s always seemed to me no accident that the mainstream media began to lose its market share, its revenues and its respect in those years, when they slighted an embattled president’s worthy if controversial initiatives on Middle East peace, Bosnia, welfare reform, making work pay and building a U.S. social democracy, in favor of gossip about his character, his marriage, his taste in women and even the distinguishing characteristics of the presidential penis.
Against this historical backdrop of childish media snickering, the sharp, accomplished Branch comes off as a naif and even a rube in some of his stories, consistently flummoxed by the enmity among Washington media players, some of them his friends, as they savaged Clinton beyond proportion. He writes, bewildered, about a spate of vicious headlines at the end of 1996: The Times’ Abe Rosenthal accused the Clintons of “giving militant Islam its first beachhead in Bosnia,” while Maureen Dowd dubbed Clinton the trivia-obsessed “President Pothole” and the “Limbo President,” sinking ever lower. For good measure she added: “We pretty much know the Clintons did something wrong in Whitewater,” when in fact, 12 years later, we know no such thing. Wen Ho Lee at least got an apology from the Times; the Clintons are still waiting. (Clark Hoyt, is it too late to take that factual error up with Dowd?)
But it wasn’t just the Times: Branch also lays out Washington Post embarrassments; an Op-Ed by Andrew Sullivan headlined “The Clintons: Not a Flicker of Moral Life”; a declaration by liberal book critic Jonathan Yardley — a friend and neighbor of Branch’s — that he wouldn’t vote for Clinton in 1996 because he was a “buffoon” with a monstrous fault “at the core of his being … He is a man who does not believe in anything.” One of my favorite sections of the book features Hillary Clinton sitting in her kitchen explaining why, no, thank you, she is never going to invite the vicious Sally Quinn into her house — and why should she, given Quinn’s multiple treacherous, class-based takedowns of the Clintons as neighbors, leaders, parents, Americans? (The scenes Branch catches of Hillary in the kitchen — not baking cookies, but having a glass of wine, helping Chelsea with homework and savaging their enemies with intelligence are among my favorite in this book.) You find yourself wishing and hoping Branch could find some Washington pooh-bahs who’d realize they’d been played by the Republicans. Nope. None at all.
Good times, good times. Yes, it’s that Andrew Sullivan, who as editor of The New Republic fluffed the patently racist The Bell Curve. What a kidder, to claim that the Clintons hadn’t a “flicker of moral life!” Hillarious!
What’s your diagnosis for the origins of Clinton Derangement Syndrome (CDS) that gripped the national news media in the 1990s? I’ve always chalked it up to a combination of envy of the Clintons’ real achievements combined with class-based ressentiment: that a kid with a working mother who didn’t know who his real daddy was could become president, and could despite their efforts become the only two-term Democrat since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Plus, let’s not forget, his shrill, unnatural, ambitious, monstrous wife–more evidence of his untrustworthiness and weakness, since he couldn’t discipline and control her the way a real man would have.
In spite of their anti-royalist and egalitarian rhetoric, Americans appear always to have been much more comfortable with presidents who came from the moneyed ruling class, and with First Ladies who stay happily in their Separate Spheres and who are advocates for uncontroversial good causes (against drugs, for literacy, or for proper nutrition and exercise for children, for example.) What happened–did the Pails Full of Kittens lobbyists sleep in on the day after the election last year?