Back in 2005, Peggy Noonan wrote about the increasingly public friendship between George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton:
What bothers me about the fervid friendship of the Bushes and Mr. Clinton — and the media celebration of it — is the faint whiff of superiority, a sense they radiate that all those slightly icky little people running around wailing about issues — tax reform, the relation of the individual to the state, the necessary character of a president — and working the precincts are somehow . . . a little below them. There is an air of condescension toward that grubby thing, belief. Those who hold it are not elevated, don’t quite fit into the high-minded nonpartisan brotherhood. When in fact the people doing the day-to-day work of democracy, and who are in it because they are impelled by deep belief and philosophy, are actually not below them at all, and perhaps above them. Not that they’re on the cover of People hugging, but at least they’re serious.
It is the suggestion, or the suspicion, that these men have grown close because they are not serious, were never quite serious, that grates. That makes one wonder. That leaves some Republicans, and I have to assume more than a few Democrats, scratching their heads when they see Newt smiling with Hillary, and John McCain giggling with Hillary. It leaves you wondering: Why are these people laughing?
Much more recently, former president George W. Bush has referred to Bill Clinton as “my brother from another mother” and to Hillary Clinton as his “sister-in-law.” On September 11, 2013, Jeb Bush, chair of the National Constitution Center, honored the former secretary of state with the organization’s Liberty Medal, marking Clinton’s “lifelong career in public service.” At a March conference on education, Hillary Clinton praised Jeb Bush as someone “who really focused on education during his time as governor in Florida, and who has continued that work with passion and dedication in the years since.”
Insert all the standard boilerplate about the joy of friendship and personal relationships, and how political opponents don’t need to be lifelong enemies. Yes, it’s nice that the 1992 election results didn’t cause these two families to hate each other forever. Yes, it’s nice that the former presidents have come together to help noble causes and can unite to help charities and the vulnerable when they need it.
But come on, man.
The base of the Republican party strongly dislikes Hillary Clinton. Some might use the term “hate”; others would object to that term because it suggests an irrational, unthinking rage.
We’ve got good reasons for our antipathy. Benghazi. “At this point, what difference does it make?” The “reset button.” “The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy.” “Dead broke when we left the White House.” The shamelessly phony photo ops like the fake grilling. The $225,000 speeches to public universities, discussing the high cost of tuition. Her whining about allegedly unfair media scrutiny, while enjoying coverage that would represents a triumphant day for the average Republican. Her opportunistic, only-in-hindsight, only-when-politically-convenient criticism of her former boss. Her disingenuous complaints about Obama’s foreign policy as if she had nothing to do with that policy. Her no-holds-barred tactics against her critics. Her operation’s ruthless efforts to control media coverage of her. Her hypocritical criticism of other people’s wealth and greed. Her claim of coming under “sniper fire” in Bosnia and her willingness to lie, quite dramatically, boldly, and shamelessly, even in ways that can be easily checked and refuted, when her political aspirations are at stake. Her denunciation of carbon emissions while living a luxurious, carbon-spewing lifestyle. The media coverage that insists her daughter is a figure of admiration and significant accomplishment separate from her family name. The hallucinogenic claim that she’s the figure who will reform Washington’s tainted ethics and culture. The allegations of influence-peddling at the Clinton Foundation. Her arrogant insistence, to this day, that her approach to foreign policy, with its results ranging from meager to disastrous, constitutes “smart power.” The scandals in State Department discipline during her tenure. The State Department’s wasteful spending on her “exit interview.”
And that’s just recently.
Hillary’s philosophy of government, approach to public power, foreign-policy vision, vindictiveness to critics, and record of leadership matter, and the Republican party’s grassroots voters have good reason to require a nominee who doesn’t think of his Democratic rival as part of his family.
Yes, sometimes you’ll see political junkies insisting that a nomination fight or legislative amendment on a spending bill is the moral equivalent of war. But the extraordinary passion that people bring to political debates isn’t always silly or a sign of unthinking partisanship, ill-temperedness, or obstinacy. Democrats and Republicans — and particularly liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans — have diametrically opposed ideas about what policies to enact and how to make America a better place. We don’t just think that their ideas won’t work; we think their ideas will make the problems worse. They are not keeping the country stuck in neutral; they’re driving it in the wrong direction. Our liberal counterparts combine a limitless hostility toward those in the private sector who don’t donate to their campaigns with an endless faith in an incompetent, wasteful, fumbling government bureaucracy to work miracles. They would run on the slogan “immanentize the eschaton” if they hadn’t skipped theology class for gender studies or to join the protest du jour.
Their idea of a heavenly America — who are we kidding, half their ranks would object to such an implicitly non-secular concept — is our version of Hell, and vice versa.
Earlier this month, Hillary Clinton talked about the need for “empathy” in our foreign policy, even with our enemies — indicating she’s learned nothing of significance from the global wreckage of her alleged “smart power.”
Over the past six years, we on the right — and in particular, the previous Republican nominee — have been proven right time and again. Russia is indeed behaving like our preeminent geopolitical foe. Negotiating with the Taliban was a stupid idea. We knew leaving absolutely no U.S. military presence in Iraq was a formula for trouble. We never dismissed ISIS as a “jayvee team.” Democrats didn’t need to pass Obamacare for us to know what was in it. The Obama team scoffed at Romney’s idea of giving veterans vouchers for care at private hospitals, assuring us that the Department of Veterans Affairs was reducing the backlog and giving our veterans the care they deserved. We talked about the need for a secure border decades before Central America decided to turn our border into a giant open-air day-care center.
We do not like Hillary Clinton. We do not like her philosophies, her decisionmaking, or the weapons-grade pabulum that she stuffs in her books and offers for six figures per speech. Perhaps in person she is warm and funny and all of those things her hagiographic media fans insist. But her record in public life — and that of her allies, and her party — has been an absolute disaster for the country for the past six years, and the 2016 Republican nominee needs to be able to make that case and win that argument six days a week and twice on Sundays.
Perhaps Jeb Bush can be that man. But to do so, he’ll have to bring his A-game to the task of thoroughly defeating his metaphorical sister-in-law.
— Jim Geraghty writes the Campaign Spot on NRO.