You can feel it setting in. There’s a level of comfort regarding the next presidential election that’s not without basis. The GOP is in disarray, the big Republicans (if there is such a thing right now) are struggling to distance themselves from Bush-Cheney, and the war creates an aching need for change. All that would appear to signal a cake walk for the Democratic candidate… just as running an intelligent candidate with a distinguished war record appeared to signal certain victory in 2004.
Then the organized, well-funded lying and smearing began.
I don’t believe Hillary Clinton is any less viable as a candidate because she is a woman, but I am concerned that this particular woman is especially threatening to the unofficial dark forces of the right. And by unofficial, I mean that the initial funding for the disgusting TV ads produced by the “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” and broadcast in 2004 that came from Houston home builder Bob R. Perry, who has given millions over time to the Republican Party, never, ever contained the word “Republican.” That’s the template, and it works.
Having nothing positive that they can hold up as an accomplishment, and burdened with the two-headed albatross of Bush and Iraq, one senses that the Republicans – the official and the unofficial ones – will be forced to punt with attack ads. Hillary Clinton, having the audacity over the entire course of her career to be a powerful and effective woman, will be ground zero for the retro sensibilities and dumbing-down of attack ads most likely never directly attributed to the Republicans. If you want a preview of how nauseating it could get, imagine hearing again about Whitewater at the very moment Americans are continuing to die in Iraq.
That last example would seem to indicate that voters sobered by a horrible war would never again let themselves become distracted by two cents worth of mud, no matter how dramatically that mud is served up. But as Al Gore points out in his most recent book, we’re not very good at context right now. If we’re unable to make a distinction between Paris Hilton and news, should we feel comfortable that in 2008 American voters will make a determination between Swift Boat-delivered garbage bombs and facts?
Far from fearing this scenario, I would hope that the mentality of Clinton and her campaign is something akin to that of our gutsy, draft-dodging president: “Bring them on.”
Despite a career forged in the fires of attack and trumped-up “scandal,” it’s not a given that attack ads would simply roll off Clinton’s back as she continued to discuss the real issues. Still, it’s my guess that her campaign has already steeled itself for a Swift Boat-type assault. Are we prepared to disregard that kind of campaign in 2008?
One very troubling aspect of Internet information dissemination is that, to borrow from The X Files, people now believe that “the truth is out there” rather than it being right in front of them. Witness the Swift Boat attack on Kerry. Because it came out of nowhere, or from “out there” if you will, it took on weight with those who chose not to see Kerry as he was: A courageous war veteran who made important moral choices in his life and followed up on them as a politician. Add to that the run-on sentences of a deep thinker compared to the simple phrase-mangling of a dolt… and “Mission Accomplished.”
Having just returned from three days in Colorado, I can tell you that simplistic versions of what America should be doing right now are alive and well. If you don’t believe it’s possible to have your head grabbed from behind and shoved into a dark tunnel, consider that other news happened during the three days preceding the release of the new Harry Potter book. But did we see and hear of it? In 2008 everyone will need to keep their ears open, since that low hum in the distance might be boat engines.