I find it endlessly amusing to watch Republicans all but swoon these days when they hear the names of former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as if to say “now THOSE are Democrats we could work with… if only we had reasonable Democratic leaders like THAT.”
Because as anyone with memories that stretch back to the ’90s can tell you, that is decidedly not how the Clintons were treated at the time.
The president was reviled and attacked bitterly, for failures both real but mainly imagined, and was granted not a scintilla of respect for the office that he held. In fact, the extremist hatred of all things Clinton became downright surreal, to the point that the president and his wife were investigated by the House Government Oversight Committee for involvement in the “murder” of aide Vince Foster. The committee chairman even took a pistol to a watermelon in his backyard to demonstrate how the vile deed was done.
Republican congressional leaders shut down the government repeatedly in their effort to bring Clinton down, and he was publicly accused of everything from rape — yes, “legitimate rape” — to running a major cocaine ring. Hillary Clinton in particular was turned into an object of misogynistic hate and ridicule, under attack for everything from her cookie-baking skills to her gender preference. Republicans at the time could not bring themselves to even utter her first name without spitting it out as a venom-inflected invective.
In other words, the Republicans tried to do to the Clintons precisely what they have since tried so gleefully to do to Barack Obama. And while Obama and the Clintons have a competitive history of their own, tracing back to the 2008 Democratic primaries in which Obama defeated the former First Lady, I suspect their shared experience as targets of “the vast right-wing conspiracy,” as Hillary put it, forms a bond between them. Surely, neither of the Clintons harbors the slightest doubt that if Hillary had become the nominee, they once again would have become the targets of blind rage and anger.
On Wednesday, Bill Clinton will perform an unusual role for a former president, officially putting the name of Barack Obama before the Democratic National Convention for confirmation as its 2012 nominee for president. It will be a closely watched speech, delivered by one president who has been through the fire on behalf of a second who still finds himself engulfed in it.
– Jay Bookman