I really want to be encouraged about 2016 after reading Jonah Goldberg’s latest. But I fear that we live in a make believe world that may undercut Goldberg’s assumption.
In the Hillary Fascination, Jonah Goldberg argues that the Republicans ought not worry about Hillary Clinton in 2016.
The simple fact, by my lights at least, is that Hillary Clinton is not a compelling personality in her own right. Even Bill Clinton’s harshest critics have to concede that he was a masterful politician, a jazz impresario mixing deep insights, policy minutiae, and folksy cornpone peppered with compelling half-truths and daring outright lies. Barack Obama isn’t nearly as gifted as Bill was on the stump or in the backrooms, but the man has political talent. Hillary’s a very solid policy wonk, but the only thing that makes her a rock star is that people keep calling her one.
The same goes for her career. Quick: What has the woman done? As a lawyer, what important cases did she win? As a first lady, her only major “accomplishment” was a failed health-care-reform scheme that didn’t even get a vote in the Senate. As a carpetbagging senator from New York, what historic legislation did she shepherd? Most of her party, including the president, repudiates her vote for the Iraq War. Pretty much the only thing her biggest supporters can tout about her tenure as secretary of state is that she “traveled a million miles,” which strikes me as the ultimate triumph of quantity over quality (particularly given the hot mess that is American foreign policy).
Goldberg sums up his argument: “Candidates matter,” and, indeed, they do.
Goldberg made me feel really good. He’s right on all counts. Hillary has no real accomplishments. Surely if substance means anything, Paul Ryan or Chris Christie would beat her handily in the general election.
But was Obama really a more compelling candidate? He was certainly a more compelling candidate to a certain subset of voters; that subset being overly represented in the mainstream media.
Matthew Continetti recently drew a picture of the man who defeated Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination and is the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, in The Court Reporters. (h/t Instapundit) The gist of Continetti’s portrait is that President Obama is devoid of any major accomplishments and that the media cocoon surrounding him doesn’t even care:
The Times has participated in an act of political evasion breathtaking in its shamelessness. One might object that the range of topics was limited to the subject of the president’s speaking tour on the economy. But if that were the case, why did the Times agree to such ground rules in the first place? Aren’t the readers of the New York Times interested in hearing President Obama’s answers to tough questions about the various controversies at home and crises abroad? Perhaps they are not. Perhaps they are far more interested in having their public morality, their view of the world, of who is bad and who is good, of what is important and what is not, confirmed for them in a series of advertisements for President Obama and the Democratic Party. Perhaps they are more interested in sitting back and watching, passively, as the president shifts the public’s attention away from scandal and turmoil, and defines his domestic opponents in preparation for budget and debt fights. Perhaps readers of the Times and writers of the Times and editors of the Times are not interested in information per se. What interests them is affirmation.
Granted, the image of Barack Obama that emerges here is through the prism of a deferential press corps that challenges him on nothing that matters. Rather the media acts a projector of the Great Obama, creating and inflating a legend in their own minds. But the legend of Obama didn’t just start, it’s been going on since the first term senator declared his interest in being president. He spoke well, or at least said the things that the opinion manufacturers wanted him to say, so that they could congratulate him on his insight and profundity.
In their initial endorsement of President Obama the editors of the Washington Post wrote:
But Mr. Obama’s temperament is unlike anything we’ve seen on the national stage in many years. He is deliberate but not indecisive; eloquent but a master of substance and detail; preternaturally confident but eager to hear opposing points of view.
For years later these same journalists wrote:
Mr. Obama alienated Congress and business leaders by isolating himself inside a tight White House circle that manages to be both arrogant and thin-skinned. Too often his administration treats business as an obstacle rather than a partner. He hardly tried to achieve the immigration reform and climate-change policy he promised.
After one term that unique “temperament” that they touted was reduced to “arrogant and thin-skinned.” Of course the earlier characterization was not based on any observable evidence. It was based on projection: this is what we want and, by God, Obama personifies it. It was a conjured image. The arrogance was already on display for anyone who cared to look.
What we are experiencing is celebrity politics. Much as Hollywood is, DC has become a land of illusions.
These are all myths supported and promoted by our opinion manufacturers.
But unlike the Hollywood dream merchants, Washington’s opinion manufacturers are not creating fantasies for entertainment and profit. They are creating their fantasies for self-aggrandizement, confirming their own superiority to the average American. And with that superiority comes their own (perceived) indispensability.
I thought that after Obama’s first term, their influence would wane, but I was sadly mistaken. Of course, as George W. Bush’s second term in office wound down, I assumed that he’d be succeeded by Rudy Giuliani. Of all the candidates from either party, Giuliani had a record of accomplishment unrivaled by anyone else running. But he ran an awful campaign and didn’t even make it out of the primaries.
When John McCain picked Sarah Palin there was someone in the race who had a compelling story that could compete with Obama’s. So the opinion manufacturers set out to destroy her politically. There mustn’t be any detours to the history they were creating.
When Mitt Romney had the temerity to question what happened in Benghazi the opinion manufacturers condemned him for politicizing the tragedy. But Romney was right to bring it up as we’re learning now there’s a lot more to the scandal that hasn’t yet come to light. The problem was that he was politicizing something that could have punctured the grand illusion of our political scene. He had to be stopped.
So yes, Jonah Goldberg is right, Hillary Clinton is terrible candidate. But as long as our opinion manufacturers significantly influence public opinion, she could very well be the next president. She didn’t beat Obama because his was a more compelling story for the mainstream media. But to them, the history making first lady will be more compelling than the white guys likely to throw their hats in the ring in three years.
Judging Hillary Clinton strictly on her political merits and accomplishments, Goldberg is absolutely right. But our Washington opinion manufacturers are imitating their fellow illusion makers in Hollywood. I have little doubt that they believe they have another blockbuster in the making.DONATE
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