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Ready For 2016? Too Bad

Memo Pad Politics

Ready For 2016? Too Bad

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By hard pundit law, nonstop media coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign begins on the morning after the 2014 congressional elections — approximately 18 months before normal Americans want to hear about it.

However, like the “countdown” to major sporting events, it’s also a cable TV ratings booster. With politicians and pundits eager to score TV face time, it’s also cheap and easy to produce.

So ready or not, here comes Campaign 2016.

For a monthly magazine like Harper’s to jump the gun by two weeks requires considerable enterprise. “STOP HILLARY,” the magazine’s November 2014 cover insists. “Vote No to a Clinton Dynasty.”

First, a quibble about terminology. A dynasty, properly speaking, is a multi-generational, inherited thing. In an American context, it’s legitimate to speak of the Roosevelts, Kennedys and Bushes as dynastic families parlaying inherited wealth into political power.

As author Doug Henwood sniffishly points out, however, Bill and Hillary Clinton are what French aristocrats call “arrivistes”—nobodies from nowhere who climbed the power ladder through what he calls the “neoliberal” strategy of “nonstop self-promotion.”

That this cavil would apply to virtually all American politicians seems not to have occurred to Henwood, whose loathing of the couple transcends such mundane considerations. To him, the whole case for Hillary Clinton’s candidacy “boils down to this: She has experience, she’s a woman, and it’s her turn. It’s hard to find any substantive political argument in her favor.”

Maybe so, maybe not. But then Henwood, writing from the left, seems not to have looked very hard. His essay begins and ends with the appraisals of Dick Morris, perhaps America’s least credible political prognosticator. Indeed, the author acknowledges in a footnote that Morris’s “pronouncements on both Bill and Hillary should be taken with a substantial grain of salt.”

Even Fox News let Morris go after his forecast of a Mitt Romney landslide went awry. So why feature the man at all?

For that matter, why am I bothering with Henwood ?

Two reasons. First, personal disappointment that such slipshod work could appear in Harper’s. Twenty years ago, the magazine stuck its journalistic neck out to publish my article and book Fools for Scandal: How the Media Invented Whitewater.

Second, because Henwood’s piece signals the inevitable return of what I call the “Clinton Rules.” Particularly when it comes to the couple’s background in darkest Arkansas, no allegation of wrongdoing, regardless of how conclusively disproved, has ever disappeared from the national news media.

That such shoddy standards have become well-nigh universal in American political journalism is no excuse. Because everybody involved back in 1996 understood that calling out The New York Times — which originated and sustained the Whitewater hoax — was a serious business, Harper’s actually dispatched a fact checker to Little Rock, where we spent several days bulletproofing the manuscript.

Clearly, no such effort went into Henwood’s essay.

Basically, the author has performed a simple trick: putting leftward spin on GOP talking points from the 1990s. Because everybody’s either forgotten the details or never knew them, it’s possible to make long discredited charges of corruption against both Clintons sound plausible again.

Whitewater, Henwood assures readers, definitely “was not nothing.”

What it may have been, however, he appears to have no clue. The most basic facts elude him. No, the late Jim McDougal’s doomed Madison Guaranty savings and loan did not finance the Clintons’ real estate investment. They were never “investors in McDougal’s [other] schemes.”

Maybe Henwood would better understand the Clintons’ surprising “escape from the Whitewater morass” if he grasped that they were basically the victims, not the perps.

Here’s how Kenneth Starr’s prosecutor Ray Jahn put it in his closing argument at poor, mentally ill Jim McDougal’s trial:

“Why isn’t the President of the United States on trial?…Because he didn’t set up any phony corporations to get employees to sign for loans that were basically worthless…The president didn’t backdate any leases. He didn’t backdate any documents. He didn’t come up with any phony reasons not to repay the property. He didn’t lie to any examiners. He didn’t lie to any investors.”

As for Susan McDougal, yes, it’s true she served 18 months for civil contempt after refusing to testify to a Whitewater grand jury in what she saw as a partisan perjury trap. However, it’s also true — if seemingly unknown to Henwood — that after Starr’s prosecutors charged her with criminal contempt, she testified for several days in open court, and was acquitted.

Ancient history, yes. But history. The Ray Jahn quote, for example, comes directly from Joe Conason’s and my book The Hunting of the President.

Regarding Henwood’s pronouncement that it’s “ideologically dubious” of Hillary Clinton to “make friends with her Republican colleagues,” readers can judge for themselves.

However, a journalist who chooses to question a presidential candidate’s character by dragging up 20-year-old controversies owes it to readers to know two or three things about them.

AFP Photo/Oliver Lang

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Gene Lyons

Gene Lyons is a political columnist and author. Lyons writes a column for the Arkansas Times that is nationally syndicated by United Media. He was previously a general editor at Newsweek as wells an associate editor at Texas Monthly where he won a National Magazine Award in 1980. He contributes to Salon.com and has written for such magazines as Harper's, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Review of Books, Entertainment Weekly, Washington Monthly, The Nation, Esquire, and Slate. A graduate of Rutgers University with a Ph.D. in English from the University of Virginia, Lyons taught at the Universities of Massachusetts, Arkansas and Texas before becoming a full-time writer in 1976. A native of New Jersey, Lyons has lived in Arkansas with his wife Diane since 1972. The Lyons live on a cattle farm near Houston, Ark., with a half-dozen dogs, several cats, three horses, and a growing herd of Fleckvieh Simmental cows. Lyons has written several books including The Higher Illiteracy (University of Arkansas, 1988), Widow's Web (Simon & Schuster, 1993), Fools for Scandal (Franklin Square, 1996) as well as The Hunting Of The President: The 10 Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton, which he co-authored with National Memo Editor-in-Chief Joe Conason.

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65 Comments

  1. Dominick Vila October 22, 2014

    An argument against the candidacy of Hillary Clinton based on dynastic concerns, while trying to convince Jeb Bush to run in 2016, highlights the hypocrisy of those who rely on facile excuses to deny women and ethnic minorities the same rights afforded to our ethnic majority, and to the dominant gender in American politics.
    Hillary Clinton has an excellent education, and has more than enough experience to qualify for the presidency. She has name recognition, is respected worldwide, and has the support of millions of Americans. Since when is coming from a traditional middle class family an impediment to the presidency? Who decided that only elitists can run for president of the United States? Her qualifications, and the support she enjoys, may be meaningless to some media outlets, and to the neanderthals that continue to resist change and equality, but it is not for those who base their opinions on facts and a sense of fairness rather than the demagoguery that seems to dominate the so-called “liberal” media and the most radical members of our society.

    Reply
    1. FireBaron October 22, 2014

      Dom, what is funnier is arguing against Hillary on dynastic concerns while encouraging Mitt Romney to run again (3rd time’s the charm?)!

      Reply
  2. Terry Allen October 22, 2014

    One thing was different with Harper’s 20 years ago: Lewis Lapham was the editor, and Thomas Frank wasn’t. I have to admit that Lewis Lapham isn’t really an option anymore, and I really liked What’s the Matter with Kansas, but….

    I have to admit, I thought the article was a rather silly prank on the readers of Harper’s (I mean, stop Hillary with what, exactly?) I’d like to have a Democrat in the White House as much as the next patriotic American. I might even even take the next patriotic American over Hillary, but I could never accept a Republican. They just have…other priorities. And they’re even pretty blatant about it these days.

    Reply
    1. kenndeb October 22, 2014

      It will be better or our country if we remove ALL liberals from government office, and ALL career politicians. Hopefully, there will never be another dem in office, EVER, after this next election. That is if there is an election.

      Reply
      1. Terry Allen October 22, 2014

        Just keep your powder dry and and an ear cocked for the sound of the black helicopters….

        Reply
        1. kenndeb October 22, 2014

          powder is always dry, and I’m not worried about helicopters, black or otherwise.

          Reply
          1. stcroixcarp October 22, 2014

            Just take your meds.

            Reply
          2. kenndeb October 22, 2014

            I do regularly. One for pain, one for inflammation, one for high BP, another for my joints, two different ones for acid reflux, and of course, a vitamin. I bet you have some really good psychotropics. Does the regime administer them to you daily, or do you take them yourself to control your rational thinking? The regime does not like rational thinking, so I would think they make sure you are taking them.

            Reply
          3. Terry Allen October 22, 2014

            That’s good….that’s very good….

            Reply
          4. kenndeb October 22, 2014

            I try to stay prepared. With this regime, I expect to see things get much worse. You may want to stock up on ammo before it’s all gone. We are going to need it from the looks of things.

            Reply
          5. Terry Allen October 23, 2014

            Good…yes…that’s very good…

            Reply
      2. brunssd October 22, 2014

        What is a liberal in your language?

        Reply
        1. kenndeb October 22, 2014

          A this time in history, under his regime, I equate liberals with communists. I’ m a registered democrat, but I’ll not vote for another dem until the party gets rid of the liberals and returns to what it once was.

          Reply
          1. brunssd October 22, 2014

            So I take it your language isn’t English?

            I don’t know how to break this to you but Barack Obama is anything but a liberal. Here’s from someone who should know in that hotbed of commies, The American Conservative -http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/obama-is-a-republican/

            Reply
          2. kenndeb October 23, 2014

            No, English is not my primary language. AMERICAN is.

            Reply
          3. brunssd October 24, 2014

            Oooh, aren’t we clever. North American or South American? African-American or Hispanic-American? Native American?

            Reply
          4. kenndeb October 24, 2014

            U.S. American.

            Reply
      3. Sand_Cat October 22, 2014

        In other words, turn our country into a Fascist dictatorship with most of the failings of Communism and some of its own, as I suspect a lot of “conservatives” secretly wish for.

        Reply
  3. jwveverka October 22, 2014

    About 2 months before the 2012 election I stopped watching cable news. Just atrocious nonsense! Soon after the election I cancelled it altogether. Good riddance. No 2016 bullshit for me!

    Reply
  4. cleos_mom October 22, 2014

    For our corporate marionettemedia, it’s never too early for either Clinton-bashing or “Hillary” bashing. Unfortunately, the left is showing signs of cheering it all on in 2016 — and then spending the next few years complaining when they get what they’re essentially asking for.

    Reply
  5. holyreality October 22, 2014

    Hillary is just too bloodthirsty for me. She will make previous POTUS’ look like pikers when it comes to foreign policy. We all know she is a neocon who offers a soft fascism compared to any GOPer’s outright fascism.

    Is it worth fighting to get someone unaffiliated with our war machine? Elizabeth Warren has work to do her arena, she would make a great candidate in the future just as Obama was too early for his time.

    Who else? Biden, Kerry, anyone else? Anyone else is desperation in a bad place to be desperate. They would pave the way for a GOP sweep. Is there any choice at all? Every candidate at this level is thoroughly vetted by the big money who pull the puppet strings anyway. We can choose a slower death that is about it.

    Reply
    1. alansnipes October 22, 2014

      I have a news flash for you: Elizabeth Warren has already endorsed Hillary Clinton if she runs.

      Reply
      1. holyreality October 22, 2014

        I trust her to be wise in strategic thinking though I’m disappointed in her neocon familiarity.(both Hillary and Elizabeth for that matter)

        Hillary is a knife fighter, politically she has the potential to become the most consequential POTUS since a LONG time. A Democratic Congress would go a long way to help, but she has seen the game and knows how it is played.

        Reply
      2. Sand_Cat October 22, 2014

        Fair enough, but who else is there?

        Reply
    2. donovan726 October 22, 2014

      Blood thirsty? Did you even read what Warren had to say about how to deal with ISIS? Sounded pretty hawkish to me.

      Reply
      1. holyreality October 22, 2014

        I know she is too close for comfort to the neocon-Israel Lobby for my taste. But her inequality lines make me smile.

        Reply
    3. kenndeb October 22, 2014

      Just as the Emperor was vetted? If he had been, he would not have been able to run for dog catcher. Really too bad the people voted for someone that didn’t exist.

      Reply
      1. JPHALL October 22, 2014

        More BS from the “Dictator” of BS.

        Reply
      2. holyreality October 22, 2014

        Obama was vetted alright. He jumped when his master told him to. Wall St scammers continue to rob billions from us openly. The Iraq war torture crew walk the streets. There are so many many ways he jumped for the oligarchs and warmakers.

        Reply
    4. Sand_Cat October 22, 2014

      Nice to see someone here with the same misgivings as I feel.

      Reply
  6. alansnipes October 22, 2014

    There you go again Gene talking about FACTS. The media has other ideas.

    Reply
  7. Whatmeworry October 22, 2014

    Stand history rewrite from the left wing nuts at the Memo. The original prosecutor in the case said that crimes were committed and that the Clintons are as dirty as they come

    Reply
    1. Whatmeworry is Dan M Ketter October 22, 2014

      Unlike the Clintons, Reagan was a traitor, faking his memory loss and such

      Reply
      1. Sand_Cat October 22, 2014

        Let’s not go too far the other way. Far be it from me to defend Reagan, but I think calling him a “traitor is going too far, besides being off-topic.

        Reply
        1. Allan Richardson October 23, 2014

          Bumbling and incompetent are enough. Some of the folks AROUND Reagan, on the other hand … interfering with hostage negotiations by promising the terrorists WEAPONS if our President loses the election because they won’t make a deal with HIM, comes pretty close to treason. And even if the arms sales were NOT promised to the Ayatollah before the election, in order to win it, that crowd DID sell the arms illegally to Iran anyway, and used that off the books cash to fund death squads to overturn the legally elected president of Nicaragua (didn’t work), in violation of a law passed by Congress.

          But don’t forget, Reagan’s political career started when he was still an actor, by turning over names of other Hollywood professionals to the HUAC (somehow that wasn’t mentioned in either of his campaigns or in his “Mourning in America” speech (sorry, I just HAD to correct the spelling)).

          Reply
          1. holyreality October 23, 2014

            OK Reagan wasn’t a traitor, he was a RAT!
            All kidding aside I kid you more.
            How DARE YOU bring facts into the meme?

            NOBODY wants to hear of the October surprise Carter had planned that was illegally quashed by GHWB interference of arms for hostages negotiations.
            NOBODY wants to hear of the Nixon treason when he did the same to LBJ regarding the Vietnam peace process, promising them a better deal if they stalled and he won the election.
            EVERYBODY wants to talk about how Obama is a wimp, for that matter; everybody talks within the GOP/Koch machine frame of reference.

            Reply
    2. Sand_Cat October 22, 2014

      No, it’s just lies and right-wing BS from you. Speaking of dirty, you’re almost as dishonest as Mitt Romney, but -try as you might – you’ll never match W Bush.

      Reply
      1. Whatmeworry is Dan M Ketter October 22, 2014

        They don’t call dannyboy the white trash of Williamsburg VA for nutting

        Reply
      2. Whatmeworry October 22, 2014

        sorry Clinton X 2 were the worst law breakers in our history.
        As for dishonesty if it was easier to tell the truth Barak would still lie

        Reply
        1. Sand_Cat October 23, 2014

          Keep lying to yourself if you like, but stop insulting the intelligence of everyone else.
          You’re nothing but an ignorant and bigoted political hack, unfit to criticize anyone else’s character.

          Reply
          1. Whatmeworry October 23, 2014

            Its a shame that your so immature and mentally lazy to ever do any research and just provide the party line

            Reply
          2. Whatmeworry is Dan M Ketter October 24, 2014

            I would say dannyboy here is the fatt and lazy one

            Reply
          3. Whatmeworry is Dan M Ketter October 24, 2014

            danielle just like to prove he’s a horses arse, but he is still a coward to debate me on issues

            Reply
    3. holyreality October 22, 2014

      And yet the Grand Jury never had enough for charges.

      Reply
      1. Whatmeworry October 22, 2014

        No the original prosecutor never had the opportunity to make the case to the grand jury

        Reply
        1. holyreality October 23, 2014

          IOW the prosecutor did not have a case.

          Reply
          1. Whatmeworry October 23, 2014

            No newspapers where you live I take it

            Reply
          2. Whatmeworry is Dan M Ketter October 24, 2014

            Ole daniel always read his local Williamsburg VA newspaper

            Reply
          3. holyreality October 24, 2014

            I must ask, are there any real newspapers anymore?
            They are all owned by the same crooks who own everything else.

            Reply
          4. Daniel Max Ketter October 8, 2015

            I don’t read newspapers, but use them to cover my ugly hag linda rae.

            Reply
          5. Daniel Max Ketter October 24, 2015

            My lovey dovey dear linda rae is ugly enuff to stop a clock

            Reply
          6. Daniel Max Ketter October 25, 2015

            LINDA RAE IS A UGLY COW!

            MOOO MOOO

            Reply
        2. Jake Hawkes March 14, 2015

          The original prosecutor Robert Fiske was replaced by the disgraced lawyer Ken Star because Fiske was appointed by Janet Reno. Star subsequently tried every dirty trick in the book but was unable to find any wrongdoing by the Clintons.

          Reply
        3. Daniel Max Ketter October 7, 2015

          My sweet lovey Linda Rae is sooo ugly…farmers use her picture as
          a scarecrow

          Reply
    4. Daniel Max Ketter April 5, 2015

      Weren’t you a fellow steward with the United Auto Workers? Can I contact you offline for some private business?

      Reply
      1. jlynn1960 August 22, 2015

        Talking to yourself?

        Reply
  8. Sand_Cat October 22, 2014

    Hillary is just too conservative. I’m sure she’s capable and conscientious and fit for the office; I just happen to think the nation is like a runaway train headed for right-wing disaster, and neither she – nor it seems, Obama – is the person who will apply the brakes as vigorously as needed.
    I do object to right-wing hatchet jobs, and find it disappointing that all too many perceived as being on the left are willing to join in against the Clintons.

    Reply
    1. holyreality October 22, 2014

      Sad but true, Hillary was on the board of Wal-Mart for a time. Previous to that she was a Goldwater girl.

      Reply
      1. Sand_Cat October 22, 2014

        Well, in my foolish and misspent youth, I was a Goldwater boy, and I still think he was a man of courage, honor, and integrity who voted what I now consider the wrong way on many issues out of honest and carefully considered convictions, unlike opportunist weasels like Cruz and Rand Paul. I also think that if he were alive today, it would be interesting to see if the GOP could drum him out as a “liberal” faster than he would leave out of disgust with the Tea Party and the rest of the lunatics.

        Reply
        1. holyreality October 23, 2014

          They would drive everyone short of the saint of selfishness Ayn Rand out.
          Now think about that, Ms Rand was a sociopath, outright, her narcissism and cruel look at other people put her somewhere below Ted Bundy but above Atilla the Hun. And GOP stars worship this bitch’s legacy.

          Reply
  9. Richard Holmes October 22, 2014

    Any democrat is a terrible choice for any office (including street sweeper) in this country. Vote out ALL democrats.

    Reply
    1. ralphkr October 23, 2014

      I agree, Richard, but only after we have disposed of ALL Fascists who are known as Republicans in the USA.

      Reply
      1. Allan Richardson October 23, 2014

        Touche! You will know the pirates because they have an AARRGHHHH after their names.

        Reply
  10. MJErickson October 23, 2014

    Thanks for writing this, Gene Lyons. I’m disappointed and angry with Harper’s for running a weak article with the bold cover headline “Stop Hillary!” There are dozens of current important issues that belong on the cover before this. But Hillary-bashing is entertaining for many, gets people talking and probably sells more magazines. It’s much easier to spout an opinion on her than to discuss more weighty current events and issues.

    Reply
  11. Allan Richardson October 23, 2014

    Unless there is someone BETTER AND WILLING to run in 2016, I would be OK with Hillary. However, she has hurt the Democratic candidates this year by prematurely starting her fundraising. Since middle class and lower income Democrats have limited funds, unlike the Koch brothers, Adelson and other right wingers, money given to Hillary’s FUTURE campaign is money NOT given to the CURRENT Democratic campaigns. She should have announced that she is NOT soliciting funds until January 1015.

    Reply

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