One of the things that perplexed me the most during the Democratic primaries was the portrayal of the Clintons as "divisive," a charge that made Hillary Clinton unfit for the presidency. Many of Obama's younger supporters, following his lead, said that Clinton represented "failed politics" of the past, that she would just bring "more of the same" and that all she knew how to do was fight. Obama, they said, offered a "fresh face" and practiced a new form of politics that would unify the country and the world. Recently, Obama himself said he would, in fact, change the world.
I absolutely agree that the Clintons incite rage among Republicans and that this probably means they are "divisive." But the notion that Obama could somehow escape Republican attacks and bring unity to the two parties seemed like a dubious claim. Some of my closest friends labeled me "too cynical" for making that argument, but in political analysis, I take the cynicism charge as a compliment rather than a slur. People who believed Obama would be immune from divisive partisan politics lacked an understanding of American politics or knowledge of American political history. I use the past tense because I cannot imagine rational people still holding the view that Obama can can seduce Republicans into nonpartisan bliss.
As the reality of a possible Obama victory sets in, conservatives are morphing into Paul Revere and warning all who will listen that the "Democrats are coming" to Washington with their leftist, socialist, and communist agenda (I devoted a previous blog entry to this issue). Furthermore, McCain, Palin, other GOP members, and conservative bloggers and commentators have turned up the heat and are making accusations about Obama that remind me of the almost psychotic conservative portrayals the Clintons during the 1990s. According to the lore, Barack Hussein Obama hangs with terrorists. Both Obamas are products of '60s radicalism. Obama is in bed with ACORN, which is a fraudulent, extremist and felonious entity. He has racist, American-hating friends and ministers. He is a socialist. He wants to take your money. He wants the government to run health care. He believes in infanticide. He tried to prevent troop reductions in Iraq. He is Muslim. He is not a U.S. citizen. He had an affair with a campaign staffer. He is a chronic smoker, who might have cancer. He hates the United States. He has engaged in campaign finance violations. He engaged in a shady land transaction with Rezko. Michelle hates the United States and is a black nationalist. Obama has ties to Kenya, Nigeria, and Indonesia (which presumably is wrong "just because"). Some of this stuff makes the whole flap over the flagpin look really tame.
Compare the growing list of charges against the Obamas with the Clinton-era smears, and you will find some interesting parallels. Here are some of the anti-Clinton zingers. Bill and/or Hillary murdered Vince Foster. Bill and/or Hillary murdered Ron Brown. Bill raped several women. Bill was a drug dealer. The Clintons were party to the shady Whitewater land transaction. Hillary Clinton wants socialized medicine. Hillary Clinton does not fit the image of a "First Lady" because she does not want to bake cookies. Hillary Rodam should be Hillary Clinton. Hillary Rodam Clinton will change her name to get her husband elected. Hillary Clinton committed a crime during "travelgate." Bill and Hillary are felons. Hillary Clinton does not deserve to be president because her husband cheated on her and she did not divorce him. Hillary Clinton is ambitious (I always want my presidents to aim low). The Clintons only lie. The Clintons represent all that is evil of the '60s.
Add to this of old dirt "the Clinton's are racist" and "Hillary wanted Obama assassinated" and you end up having the most despised political couple in American history. Well, a funny thing happened in Denver. "More of the Same" conceded to "Fresh Face." The Democratic Party offered political redemption to Bill and Hillary and possibly a bailout of Clinton's campaign debt (details forthcoming?). In exchange, the Clintons promised to campaign for Obama, deliver disgruntled Clinton supporters to party, and make unity speeches at the convention. Media now proudly report that the Clintons are campaigning for and with Biden and Obama and that they are headlining fundraisers for the ticket as well. Not too long ago, these same media compared Hillary with Tonya Harding and claimed that she she was a deranged pathological liar.
Many of Obama's supporters are voting and paying attention to politics for the very first time. This is a great advancement for the Democrats. But I wonder whether these young and excited O-voters are making the type of connections that this essay attempts to do. I wonder if they know that division is natural part of our two-party system? Have they come to grips with the reality that if Obama wins, the smearing will only get louder and the digging deeper? Do they now realize that political work is often messy -- even dirty -- and that meaningful, large scale change only comes through contestation and battle? If not, consider this a free introductory course.