5 Ways Conservative Media Is Getting 'The Hillary Papers' All Wrong


Let's dispense with a necessary disclaimer: I believe Hillary Rodham Clinton is going to be the next President of the United States. The "Hillary Papers" that have been flying around the conservative blogosphere this week are just the latest effort by the right to do anything they can to prevent that from happening.

The GOP base can see the writing on the wall. With Chris Christie self-destructing and Tea Partyers grumbling at Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio (for their compromises on the budget and immigration reform, respectively), there are no viable moderates around to get reluctantly coronated à la Mitt Romney in 2012. Consequently, the likelihood has increased that the GOP will succumb to its basest instincts and nominate a full-blown ideologue like Rand Paul, Ted Cruz or Scott Walker. In which case, it will also be vulnerable to Clinton's impressive qualifications for the presidency, from her unprecedented policymaking clout as First Lady to her careers as United States Senator and Secretary of State.

That leaves some Republicans in the position of throwing mud at Clinton hoping it will stick. The latest so-called "revelations" uncovered in the papers of Diane Blair, a political science professor who Hillary Clinton described as her "closest friend," fall squarely into this category. They were originally "uncovered" by the Washington Free Beacon.

The Clinton Files

Let's take a closer look at their political implications and see how the conservative blogosphere is getting this wrong:

1. She actually had an insightful and sympathetic response to the Lewinsky scandal

Conservatives are currently jumping all over Clinton's reported reference in the papers to Lewinsky as a "narcissistic loony toon," but let's not forget the circumstances of the event. This response conveniently ignores Clinton's pained state of mind at the time, and divorces that sound byte from the complexity of her response to the scandal.

Based on Blair's diary passages, we see a woman torn between blaming herself and making sure her philandering hubby was held accountable. Ultimately, Blair wrote of a woman who condemned her husband's "gross, inappropriate behavior" while sympathetically attempting to come to personal terms with it.

2. From the very beginning, Hillary’s political aspirations were met with misogyny

According to a political memo from May 12, 1992, Hillary was aware from the beginning that her ambitiousness would be distorted by Americans who were threatened by intelligent and assertive women:

"What voters find slick in Bill Clinton, they find ruthless in Hillary," according to a confidential polling memo that surfaces in the papers.

There is little to say here that hasn't been observed before. Anyone who lived through or has studied the politics of the '90s knows that the "ruthless" label followed Hillary throughout her husband's presidency, usually based on little more than her outspoken persona and the fact that the president delegated policymaking responsibilities to his (undeniably qualified) wife. These same qualities, though admired in a man, are sadly criticized when present in a woman. It is a testament to Clinton's character that she never attempted to alter her public image to accommodate these perceptions, instead insisting that America's attitudes toward gender roles evolve. Nevertheless, her frustrations with these smears are evident in the Blair papers.

3. She was right on health care reform – at one point

Blair's account of a February 1993 dinner at the Clinton White House deserves to be quoted in full:

"At dinner, [Hillary] to [Bill] at length on the complexities of health care – thinks managed competition [e.g., Obamacare] a crock; single-payer necessary; maybe add to Medicare."

At first glance, this is problematic for Hillary because she told the New York Times during the 2008 presidential election that she had never seriously considered a single-payer system. A passage in Blair's diary from that same night, however, sheds valuable light on Hillary's subsequent flip-flop and denial:

"[Bill's] tenderly hugging and thanking [Hillary] for sucking up to all those ego's [sic] and taking all this shit. She's signaling him what a mess health care is, but also, sweetly, don't worry."

The venom directed at the Clintons by insurance corporations, their legislative lackeys and the red-baiting hysteria of the right-wing only got worse over time. Unlike Obama, the Clintons weren't even successful in their attempt to pass health care reform, despite moving to the right in a futile effort to appease their conservative adversaries. While liberals have good cause to regret Clinton's choice to abandon the ideal in the name of the practical, the real tragedy is not that she was dishonest, but that McCarthyist bullying made her feel compelled to dissemble.

4. She was a realist – sometimes uncomfortably so

Again, it is unlikely that Clinton's cutting realism would be viewed as detrimental in a male public figure. Even so, its presence in these letters is already garnering attention.

One memo from 1994 shows Clinton urging her husband to reject Arkansas Judge Richard Arnold for the Supreme Court in part because doing so would "send a message" to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which was clamoring for his nomination despite its publisher being at the vanguard of the anti-Clinton smear machine.

A year earlier, Blair wrote about Clinton comparing the president's involvement in Bosnia as a potential "Vietnam" that would compromise his legislative agenda similar to how that earlier war undermined Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. While such Machiavellian skullduggery may seem shocking to the naïve, it is difficult to imagine anyone with a modicum of Beltway knowledge being seriously taken aback by them.

5. None of this matters

What have we learned here today? The Hillary Clinton revealed in Diane Blair's letters is a woman tormented by revelations of her husband's infidelity, strong in the face of unrelenting sexism, and — like most politicians — willing to change her mind when exigencies demand it.

The portrait is not entirely flattering, of course, as one would expect of any personal letters regarding such a high-profile stateswoman. Then again, they reveal Hillary to be a nuanced and thoughtful figure. Her detractors will almost certainly seize on individual details, but after more than two decades of oversaturating the public with their revulsion for her, it's doubtful this will be viewed as anything more than white noise. For the rest of the public, Diane Blair's letters will only serve to humanize her.