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If You're Liberal and You Think Hillary Clinton Is Corrupt and Untrustworthy, You're Rewarding 25 Years of GOP Smears

Hillary Clinton's reputation is largely the result of a quarter century of visceral GOP hatred.
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Update 9-27-16: When you're writing a column, you really have no idea whether it will be seen by a hundred people or a hundred-thousand, whether it will land with a huge splash or a dull thud. If you had told me back in January, when this was originally published, that by the time we reached a month or so before the election it would have built up a viewership of nearly two-million, I'd have laughed at you. But somehow this is the little piece that could and that continues to. I'm glad that's the case because now more than ever I think it's important for people to understand that while Hillary Clinton is not a perfect person by any means, she's actually a candidate that smart Americans should not simply "tolerate" but should fully embrace -- because she's sincerely the single most qualified presidential candidate most of us have seen in our lifetimes. At this moment, she's the only thing standing between us and an honest-to-god existential threat to the United States and the world. That alone would make her worth voting for without hesitation. The fact that she also happens to be, despite everything that's been thrown at her for a quarter-century, such an extraordinary woman makes her worth voting for with passion.  

Bernie Sanders will never be president. Let's just get that out of the way right now. He stands very little chance of pulling down the Democratic nomination and no chance at all of winning a general election. His rabid acolytes can argue with this all they want but they'll be wrong for several inarguable reasons: because the "political revolution" Bernie Sanders needs to advance his campaign and agenda is pie-in-the-sky thinking that simply doesn't occur in representative democracies like ours, where change always comes incrementally and our entire system is designed so it can't be remade in one fell swoop; because he's a one-note candidate who concerns himself with nothing other than his admittedly noble lifelong obsession with wealth inequality; because America isn't evolved enough to elect an avowed socialist, democratic or otherwise, and it unfortunately won't get near someone who openly eschews religion; and maybe most importantly because once the GOP considered Bernie a sworn enemy rather than the perfect foil it can use to destroy Hillary Clinton, it would eat him alive. Eat. Him. Alive.

There's one more reason Bernie won't succeed -- a very big one -- and it has to do with something I just mentioned. The fact is, he's up against a very formidable candidate for the nomination in Hillary Clinton. Now maybe you doubt this is an insurmountable obstacle because you've seen a flurry of reports over the past couple of weeks of Clinton struggling while Bernie is surging. And you almost certainly have friends clogging up your Facebook feed with impassioned screeds about how Clinton just can't be trusted, how she's an establishment shill with too little integrity and too much scandal and baggage attached to her, how she might even be the embodiment of pure political evil. Obviously, Clinton carries with her more than 25 years in the white-hot public spotlight that Sanders doesn't -- despite his career in the Senate -- and over that length of time people have been able to form opinions of her and they're ones not likely to change at this point. What you know about Hillary is what you know about Hillary. There aren't a lot of surprises. Maybe you figure this is bad for her, but in truth it can be argued that this is a positive rather than a negative because there's nothing the Republicans can throw at her that we haven't already been fed to death.

And when you take a step back and look at Clinton objectively -- which is admittedly difficult for many, even, or maybe particularly, on the left -- that's exactly the point. Hillary Clinton's reputation is largely the result of a quarter century of visceral GOP hatred.

With the exception of maybe Barack Obama, whom they've irrationally loathed with the fire of a thousands suns, it's tough to name anyone conservatives have more vigorously derided throughout the years than Hillary Clinton. Even her husband, as much as they tried to take him down at every turn, earned a begrudging respect from many in the Republican party. Beating him up for, say, his sexual proclivities was the height of Beltway hypocrisy and they knew it, but politics demanded they grab onto any potential scandal they could with both hands and ride it as far as it would take them. While it's true many were bitterly jealous of Clinton's seemingly depthless charisma and sorcerer's way with voters, for the GOP leadership at the time it wasn't personal -- just really dirty business. Hillary on the other hand has always been cast as an arrogant bitch, a soulless bête noire, an irredeemably corrupt and fundamentally dishonest political hustler. From the very beginning of her time in the national political limelight, she was vilified for refusing to simply sit back and be an ornament on the White House Christmas tree, as she was apparently supposed to. And when she ventured out into her own separate political career, what was considered calculating but somehow forgivable from her husband became merely calculating -- and nefariously so -- from her. Bill was allowed to be Slick Willy. Hillary was just a rotten to the core.

The Clintons' political enemies were never shy about manufacturing every kind of conspiratorial scandal under the sun to attempt to hang around the couple's necks. As The Atlantic wrote just a few days ago, no other political figures in American history have spawned "the creation of a permanent multimillion-dollar cottage industry devoted to attacking them." (And this is noteworthy in and of itself when we consider the viciousness with which the right despises any Clinton.) But Hillary always got the worst of it, because, again, she lacked the boyish, "aw-shucks"  charm of her husband and because she was seen as the nakedly ambitious one in the Clintons' rocket ride to political stardom, someone who engineered her own political climb through her merely practical marriage to Bill. Whereas we normally think of presidential political scandals as involving the person in office and no one else, Clinton-haters made sure that Hillary was not only lumped in with the president but that she was part of whatever "scheme" they had seized upon and inflated -- so Whitewater and Bill's wandering eye during those early years weren't simply a crisis of character within Bill himself but were also Hillary's problem. They made sure to highlight her involvement in the land deal the GOP attempted to turn into a high crime within the White House and it was her fault her husband was a serial philanderer, as she either caused her husband's infidelity or was corrupt enough to stick by her man amidst the allegations (always cynically and only for the sake of her own political gain).

The list goes on and on: Vince Foster was Hillary Clinton's personal friend, so of course the truth about his suicide in 1993 has given way to myth and conspiracy theory from those who believe Hillary was somehow involved in the death. The more unscrupulous on the right have always peddled that nonsense as proof Hillary has a "body count" attached to her (of which Foster was only one). There was the haranguing over Hillary's "missing law firm records," which was a lot of nothing piled on top of even more nothing. There was "Travelgate," in which routine staff changes in the White House were transformed into accusations of cronyism and in which Hillary was lambasted by Republicans for allegedly using the FBI and IRS to harass the former head of the White House travel office. (Comparable to the modern right's obsession with a phony story about "Obama's IRS" auditing conservative groups.)  There was "Filegate," which saw Republicans pillory the Clintons, Hillary in particular, over a minor bureaucratic mix-up in which a Hillary hire at the Office of White House Counsel accessed files he didn't have the authority to. And of course, at the tail end of their time in the White House, Hillary was accused of helping to "loot" the White House on her way out, supposedly shipping materials to the Clintons' new home in Upstate New York.

All of this was investigated and all of it was found to be crap. But Hillary Clinton's ongoing political career only gave her GOP adversaries more alleged controversies to gin-up. She engaged in dirty dealings and then covered them up. She sold secrets to China. Her long-time adviser Huma Abedin was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and her parents had ties to al-Qaeda. She was involved in the Watergate scandal, for Christ's sake, and had ties to right-wing boogeyman Saul Alinsky. And of course, she personally got four Americans killed in Benghazi and endangered the safety and security of the United States by way of her personal server and e-mail account. She's a lying liar and a cheating cheat. She's a political Cthulu who drives men to madness by sheer force of her inhuman will and absolute malevolence. This is the caricature version of Hillary Clinton the right has carefully cultivated and hammered into the national consciousness for decades now. And if you're a liberal who believes these things about Clinton -- if you see her as anything other than a liberal Democrat who's guilty of nothing more than being a politician with faults and with a plethora of enemies like every other on this planet, including Bernie Sanders -- you've proven that the protracted smear campaign against this woman has worked. You prove that the GOP won a long time ago.

There are reasons you may choose not to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016, but one would hope they're policy issues rather than problems with her personality -- because the "personality" that's been sold to the American electorate is largely manufactured, and not by Clinton herself (another facet of the smear: that she's a phony). The reality is that Clinton was one of the most liberal members of the Senate during her time there, ranking within ten points of progressive messiah Bernie Sanders and her history as a crusader for progressive causes is precisely what so motivated the GOP to destroy her in the first place. As far as the right was concerned, Clinton stepped far over the line when she pushed for healthcare reform way back in 1993 and her activist past informed a future as a "difficult woman." By the way, it hardly needs to be said but many of the conservative attacks on Clinton throughout the decades have been the product of rank sexism. Men rarely get labeled difficult or abrasive and their general likability isn't often called into question. Those are all buzzwords employed specifically to knock empowered women down a peg. And Hillary Clinton has been subjected to them -- and so much worse -- her entire political career.

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders share a lot of the same basic policy prescriptions. The difference is one of method. Sanders makes sweeping pronouncements and talks of a revolution that will be so undeniable that it will upend the American political system as it's been for decades and silence all who oppose. Clinton, on the other hand, promises that she'll continue to fight tirelessly for liberal causes and concedes that at times that fight won't yield perfection but it will yield results that benefit people's lives. She promises to build on the legacy of one of the most effective liberal presidents this country has ever seen. Sanders says it all needs to be torn down and started from scratch because too many compromises have already been made. Sanders wants to fundamentally change American hearts and minds. Clinton wants to formulate a plan of action that gets things done. Sanders sells idealism. Clinton sells pragmatism. And the problem is that pragmatism isn't a sexy sell, even though it's an essential quality in an effective leader.

The thing is, both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are good people, though -- and that's what some seem to be forgetting. Hillary is no more an establishment shill than any other American politician, if by establishment you mean that she works within the U.S. government and is therefore subject to its bottom line. Even Sanders, for all his beatified status on the left, has to adhere to political reality if he wants to get anything at all accomplished. He can't simply wave a magic wand and get what he wants, not even if he has the political capital provided by the support of a large part of the electorate. What Hillary Clinton isn't is this grotesque self-parody that a quarter-century of Republican "vetting" has reduced her to for far too many. An overwhelming number of the so-called controversies that have dogged Clinton's career are either whole-cloth creations or convenient manipulations by the GOP.

You can say you don't want to vote for Hillary Clinton because she's scandal-prone and who wants to go through another four or eight years of that. But remember two things: One, no matter what Democratic candidate gets elected, he or she will face a daily trial by fire from irrationally outraged conservatives. Seven years of Barack Obama-fueled insanity proves that. Two, the supposed scandals that Clinton's been enduring for the past 25 years are mostly nonsense. The GOP wouldn't have it any other way. And they couldn't be happier that right now so many liberals have turned against the woman they utterly despise in favor of someone they're fully aware they can beat. Because they understand she's the only thing standing in their way in 2016. They can't beat her. And they know it.

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