The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

Hillary, the Issue of Bill, Our Role as the National Older Brother, and Chris Matthews


So I caught Chris Matthews’ weekend show yesterday.


(By the way, a thought on The Chris Matthews Show: It featured Elizabeth Busmiller of the New York Times, of the Washington Post Writers Group, David Gregory of NBC News, and Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune. You look at Matthew’s usual guest panels, and you’ll see it ranges from inside-the-beltway liberals who are critical of the Iraq war, to inside-the-beltway conservatives who are critical of the Iraq war. Does the guest selection process consist of picking the first four people to get on the elevator in the National Press Building? I realize that political discussion shows can get equally dull when it’s the righty screaming lunatic vs. the lefty screaming lunatic, but doesn’t Matthews’ weekend show usually amount to five moderate lefty Washingtonians all agreeing with each other? Wouldn’t we love to see the buttoned-down Page blow up one day and say, “Oh, for Pete’s sake, Gregory, you’re so full of it!”)


Anyway, the first discussion was about Hillary vs. Obama, with a lot of discussion of that Washington Post poll showing a shift to Obama among blacks (and no mention of the question of the sample size and margin of error). Unsurprisingly, the group was unanimous that Obama would or could catch Hillary by Memorial Day. (They were also unanimous that John McCain’s age would not be an issue.)


The most interesting thing I read during the past few days was a month-old Mother Jones in the Munich Airport, in a long story on Hillary and the emotions she stirs:

The flip side to Hillary’s ambition evokes every career woman’s greatest fear. How fragile is marriage? It can come apart as quickly as that girl delivering the pizza can snap her thong. And there is no amount of superachieving or hard work that can prevent this lurking humiliation. Just ask the other Hillary: As Martha Stewart ascended to the heights of fame, her husband, Andy, pulled a Bill and started screwing one of the young office assistants. It’s absurd, sure. It’s clichéd and pathetic. But, for the working wife, trying to build a career off the foundation of her marriage to even the nicest (smartest, richest, handsomest) man, her worst fear is that he’ll stray in this, the most debasing of ways. It’s a complete denial of her womanhood, an essential insult. It’s why the kind of anger liberal women feel toward Hillary always circles back around to the issue of why she stayed in the marriage. Why didn’t she take a stand against male grossness? [Comment by Jim: On behalf of those of us with a Y chromosome, let’s emphasize that that was Bill Clinton’s grossness, not a grossness that deserves to be applied to all men.] Instead, she toughed it out. And she gets no love from any side for it. To the right, she stayed not for any principle or for Chelsea but because she’s a clawing shrew who will suffer any ignominy to attain power. To the left, she had a chance to take a stand for all the women who’ve been humiliated, and she didn’t. (Bill, it should be noted, is largely forgiven, even revered, by left-leaning women.)

I realize one never really knows what goes on behind closed doors and what another person’s marriage is really like. But let’s face it – if your sister married a guy like Bill Clinton, and she suspected him of cheating, and he humiliated her by lying to her, sending her out to lie to other people, and then admitted doing it with an underling, in his office, on the job, while discussing deployments of troops to Bosnia… (Okay, maybe this metaphor can’t be completely extended), you would have taken after your brother-in-law and registered your displeasure across the bridge of his nose, right?


But Hillary didn’t leave him, and didn’t want us, the national older brother, intervening. In fact, she insisted that there be no public retribution for his wrongdoing; that any action on our part (impeachment) would amount to a great injustice. It seemed like Stockholm Syndrome; nevermind leaving him, she seemed incapable of saying to Bill, “okay, wise guy, you’re on your own. Let’s see you get out of this one by yourself.” Instead, she fought, shoulder to shoulder to keep him unscathed. And I think to a great many people across the political spectrum, that just doesn’t make sense. We just can’t understand her thinking.


So how much of the current anxiety among Democrats toward Hillary is this fear of being drawn into all of that again? From Dick Polman’s column in Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer:

And the cable TV shout-fests are thirsting for raw meat; witness this series of questions and comments from Chris Matthews a few weeks ago, as he queried Hillary aide Ann Lewis: “Is Bill Clinton going to be a problem in this campaign?… . Is he going to behave himself?… Is he going to behave himself?… Is he going to behave himself, not cause a publicity that gets her embarrassed?… So he’s going to behave himself… . I think it’d be great for the country if we were not once again distracted… . “

It’s not just the adultery itself; it’s that Bill, with his history, lied to her as if he thought she was stupid. And then he turned around and lied to us like he thought we were stupid. And then he got caught, and then when many people said that’s unacceptable behavior in a president, he convinced himself, and her, and so many people around him, that we were the problem.


It’s a heck of a lot of baggage to bring to the presidency, and with the Geffen statement, it’s out there. Hillary’s insistence that this discussion is/was off-limits is only going to reinforce the tightly-controlled, arrogant persona. Democrats will ask themselves – is she worth all the trouble, or is there a better option out there?

Tags: Barack Obama , Bill Richardson , Chris Dodd , Fred Thompson , Hillary Clinton , Horserace , Joe Biden , John Edwards , John McCain , Mike Huckabee , Mitt Romney , Newt Gingrich , Rudy Giuliani , Sarah Palin , Something Lighter , Tommy Thompson


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