NFL Players Getting Fined for Racial Slurs Exposes a Massive Oversight

Published: mic (February 28, 2014)

It’s the NFL off-season and while players are on vacation and there’s no good excuse to get debauched on a Sunday any longer, something else is afoot — NFL rule changes.

On Feb. 22, news broke that the NFL’s Competition Committee is considering an automatic 15-yard penalty for use of the “n-word” on the field and presumably other racial slurs. This opens up a glaring hole: What about the Redskins? The name of an entire football team is considered by many to be a racial slur with no good arguments against changing it. Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, and Daniel Snyder, Washington Redskins owner, need to wake up.

Roger Goodell and Dan Snyder, image credit AP

As the rule change regarding certain racial slurs is being reviewed this week, Simon Moya-Smith, a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation took to the ‘net to take this “noble” but “clueless” gesture to task:

“As a Native American, a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation and someone who participates in the Native American community and doesn’t just claim to be Native American because I have a picture somewhere of a great-grandma who had high cheekbones, I wonder: Hey NFL, why aren’t you just as pissed about the R-word?”

Now normally I don’t read message board comments, since for every observation worth contemplating there are always ten others utterly devoid of intelligent content. But I made the mistake of glancing at the posts under Moya-Smith’s CNN editorial. I’ll spare you the garbage, but want to highlight three comments that are actually quite common counter-arguments to a name change.

1. “This is America. Here we do not outlaw words. True, the NFL is a private business and can do as it pleases for penalties and punishments, but even ugly words have their place.”

2. “There is nothing ugly about ‘Redskin.’ It is only the professional outrage mongers who are making it an issue.”

3. “You need to rename the Vikings. It’s offensive to swedish people. Oh wait, no one cares. It’s a team, not a racial-hate group. Get over it. It’s 2014.”

Since these three embody the gamut of pro-Washington Redskin apologetics, it’s worthwhile to deconstruct them.

The “America is the land of the free,” argument. First of all, it’s a dumb thing to say to a Native American. But notice that Moya-Smith and many other advocates do not argue that the “redskin” slur should be legally banned, because a private business has every right to proscribe hateful rhetoric, and the NFL is a private organization. Therefore, the First Amendment-based outrage is irrelevant to this discussion and a logical trap.

We’re left with the logically limp insistence that “even ugly words have their place,” which ignores the glaring fact that it probably shouldn’t be the title of a multimillion dollar sports franchise.

The argument that, “There’s nothing wrong with it.” The history of the term “redskin” is complex and goes back hundreds of years. But we’re not talking about hundreds of years ago. We’re talking about how people feel about it right now and the idea that the substance of a person could be described by the color of their skin.

Moya-Smith recounts a story of stepping onto the D train in New York City and seeing a man across from him wearing a Washington Redskins hat. He stared him down, so the man asked if he had a problem. Moya-Smith said he did:

“‘What a privilege,’ I told him, ‘to be able to walk into a subway and not have to see someone wearing a hat with the stereotypical likeness of your people on it and a racist pejorative to accompany the image.'”

The argument to “Leave it alone, it’s 2014.” The final remark here similarly wreaks of privilege. For one thing, the term “viking” is purely historical, referring to the ancestors of modern Scandinavians, who include Norwegians, Danes, and Icelanders as well as Swedes. More importantly, Scandinavians never experienced anything like the persecution endured by Native Americans throughout American history. Secondly, the fact that it’s 2014 can’t wipe away the terrible history of what American immigrants (“settlers”) did to the indigenous Americans.

This brings us to the nut of the issue: The Washington Redskins need to change their name because the experience of Native Americans morally compels them to change it.

As we wait to see what the rules committee comes up with, we should be prepared to pounce on any shift. Racial slurs cannot have a home in the NFL. The best thing that Roger Goodell and Daniel Snyder could do is start with the one plastered all over our nation’s capital.

What The Research Really Says About Gay Parents and Kids

Published: mic (February 25, 2014)

To determine the fate of Michigan’s constitutional ban on gay marriage, a federal court in Detroit is holding hearings on whether having same-sex parents is harmful to children.

It’s a tricky question (for some), but here’s the truth.

The Heritage Foundation held meetings to discuss “the need for new studies and research to back up claims that same-sex marriage is actually bad for the family.” Because the vast majority of social scientists do not share this view, the foundation fought fact with financing. They gave a grant of $785,000 to anti-LGBT sociologist Dr. Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas, who two years later produced a paper arguing that same-sex marriage was harmful to children. This study, along with others financed by conservative and/or religious think tanks, is the foundation of Michigan’s case against the parenting abilities of homosexual couples.

Not surprisingly, most scholars with expertise in this subject strongly disagree with Regnerus’ assertions. Andrew J. Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University, has openly discussed how “the overwhelming evidence so far is that there’s not much difference between children raised by heterosexual or same-sex parents.”

This year, Australian researchers reviewed multiple studies conducted in their country and found that being raised by homosexual parents does not harm children’s social development, education or emotional health. The same conclusion was reached in 2010 in a review of virtually every available social scientific study on gay parenting by sociologists Judith Stacey of NYU and Tim Bilbarz of the USC. As Karen L. Fingerman of Purdue University’s Child Development & Family Studies explained, “Humans have evolved to be malleable and adjustable, and a variety of models can meet children’s social needs adequately.”

Indeed, as psychologist Abbie Goldberg of Clark University pointed out, gay parents “tend to be more motivated, more committed than heterosexual parents on average, because they chose to be parents [emphasis added],” while heterosexual parents have an accidental pregnancy rate of nearly 50%. Gay couples are also more likely to adopt at-risk children. A 2007 report by the Williams Institute and the Urban Institute found that 65,000 adopted children and 14,000 foster children were living with same-sex parents. At a time when it is increasingly difficult to find families for the 114,000 foster children who are freed for adoption, it is hard to ignore the implications of studies that find roughly 2 million gay people are interested in adopting.

Conservatives have a long history of using bad science to support their less-than-savory causes. For instance, although 97% of peer-reviewed climate science papers agree that global warming is man made, these conservatives cite fringe scholars (many of them secretly funded by right-wing “dark money”) to dispute the overwhelming consensus. Similarly, while 99% of scientists support evolution, many conservatives find religious and/or politically-motivated pseudoscientists to support the teaching of creationism in science classrooms.

This same approach is now being used to perpetuate anti-LGBT discrimination.

In short, gay rights advocates have science on their side … but opponents of gay adoption are backed up by a dwindling-but-not-inconsequential amount of popular prejudice (36% of Americans opposed gay adoption as of 2012, compared to 44% in 2009). Because some conservatives have made it a political habit to ignore evidence that contradicts their ideology, it is unlikely that they will be swayed by any quantity of well-supported research. The habit, it seems, is to instead denounce the messengers, accusing them of the dreaded “liberal bias.”

As such, the best hope for the LGBT movement is that science will prevail over prejudice, not only in the federal courthouse in Detroit, but also in the larger courtroom of public opinion. After all, one of America’s founding ideals was the predominance of truth over all other considerations. As John Adams so aptly put it:

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

May the Michigan ban on gay marriage go down in flames.

The Pentagon Just Announced Something No Millennial Has Ever Experienced

Published: mic (February 24, 2014), Appearance on Channel 69 – WFMZ (February 25, 2014)

The news: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel plans to announce billions of dollars in military spending cuts, reducing our armed forces to troop levels unseen since 1940— before America entered World War II. In addition to reducing the size of our standing army, he will also propose limiting pay raises, increasing health care premiums, reducing benefits like housing allowances, and eliminating the use of A-10 “tank killer” aircraft and the U-2 spy plane. That said, current pay scales and previously earned and/or promised soldiers’ benefits will not be impacted.

Image Credit: AP

What this means historically: Before World War II, America would develop large military forces during significant wars (the War of 1812, the Civil War, World War I, etc.) and then return to a small standing army after the major armed conflicts had ended. This was entirely consistent with the intent of our founding fathers who believed, as George Washington summarized, that “altho’ a large standing Army in time of Peace hath ever been considered dangerous to the liberties of a Country, yet a few Troops, under certain circumstances, are not only safe, but indispensably necessary.”

Unfortunately, World War II was immediately followed by the Cold War, during which both sides united to create a permanently sizeable military establishment in our country. Although the national threat had changed from Nazi Germany to Soviet Russia, and the ideological one from fascism to communism, the result was a half-century of America devoting more of its budget to military spending than any other single program. Idealists on the left and right may have opposed this, but mainstream Democrats and Republicans overwhelmed them.

Then, 23 years ago, the Cold War ended. The first president to inherit a post-Cold War America, Bill Clinton, implemented some military spending cuts, but nowhere near pre-Cold War levels.

Image Credit: War History Online

What this means for millennials: There are three noteworthy features of the world millennials have known:

1. Unlike with the Greatest Generation or Baby Boomers, no single nation or group of nations have posed an existential threat to our security. The closest equivalent has been the threat of terrorism, which as we have seen…

2. … knows no country. What’s more, as liberal and libertarian think tanks both agree, terrorism can only effectively be fought with strong intelligence gathering, not old-fashioned military might. Indeed, the attempts to treat terrorism as comparable to the major armed conflicts of World War II and the Cold War — i.e., to act as if it involved the kind of traditional on-the-ground military campaigns that justify a massive standing army — have been humiliating failures, from Afghanistan to Iraq.

3. Consequently, Millennials have grown up seeing our government construct increasingly flimsy excuses to justify its long-standing military establishment. While New Leftists and libertarians have been vocal in pointing out the unconstitutionality and danger of this development, it has been kept out of conventional political discourse. Just as a right-winger like Robert Taft was labeled a “Nazi sympathizer” and a left-winger like George McGovern was branded “soft on communism,” so too were early 21st century critics of the military-industrial complex accused of “wanting the terrorists to win.” This is the atmosphere of ideological fear tactics to which Millennials have grown accustomed.

Image Credit: AP

The bottom line: When history buffs try explaining the problem with the military arm of our government today, they frequently quote President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Farewell Address, during which he warned against “the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” While those words are as true now as they were 53 years ago, they don’t strike at the heart of what is so wrong with a government that is trillions of dollars in debt, and yet would rather snatch food stamps from single mothers than stop funding foreign interventions. To best encapsulate that, I close with a lesser-known Eisenhower quote, culled from his “Cross of Iron” speech:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

This world in arms in not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population.  It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway. We pay for a single fighter with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

This, I repeat, is not the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking.

This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

What the 20-Something Nostalgia Obsession Means About Growing Up

Published: mic (February 21, 2014)

Jean-Luc Godard once said that the best way to criticize a movie is to make another one. But our generation has put a strange twist on his aphorism: Even when we make new movies, we only seem to do so as a way of seeing old ones again.

Don’t believe me? Just look at the top box office hits of the past 14 years. With the exception of Avatarevery film was an adaptation, prequel or sequel. In fact, with the exception of Pirates of the Caribbeanall of them are based on characters and franchises who were already well-known to the public by the late ’90s — from favorite superheroes like Batman to the toys in Toy Story 3.

Most of us have noticed the shift. While revamps and serialization are as old as celluloid, our current remake madness began with Star Wars: Episode I. Critics were lukewarm about that movie and fanboys generally hated it, but it still grossed over $1 billion worldwide and became the biggest box office hit of 1999. Ever since, countless well-known film, television and literary properties of the late 1970s, 1980s and 1990s have been returned to us in one form or another.

Sometimes this results in cinematic gold (see The Dark Knight Trilogy), but more often it leads to disappointment. Nevertheless, with adaptations and sequels being the number one box office hits in all but one of the post-Episode I years, it makes sense that studios are churning out more. The next few years will bring us a Star Wars 7Jurassic Park 4Dumb and Dumber 2, a Batman reboot (co-starring last year’s rebooted Superman), the sequel to the Spider-Man reboot and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot, to name only a few. And since millennials have a well-documented fixation with nostalgia for the movies and TV shows that permeated the zeitgeist of their youth, it is safe to assume that there will be more of the same in the future.

This nostalgia obsession goes far beyond remakes. The Internet is more or less the source of the movement — nostalgia pours out from countless Tumblr pages, YouTube accounts and blog posts daily. Nostalgia-fueled TV shows like Family Guy and Robot Chicken are among the biggest hits on TV, and Jimmy Fallon is ruling late night television with a series of nostalgic sketches. Perhaps the most influential online cultural pundit active today, The Nostalgia Critic, embraces nostalgia in his actual nom de plume.

So why is this happening?

Nostalgia has always appealed to those who have grown past childhood because it reminds of when one experienced everything with the enthusiasm of a newcomer to life. Instead of viewing the world through a nostalgic tint, younger people experience the world as a series of exciting promises often made by their fictional heroes’ lives. We remember the films and shows of our childhood as if somehow the characters who raised us implicitly foreshadowed what we would achieve when we too became adults and began our adventures.

Anyone would want to escape from such a world … fleeing to the past prevents us from fully engaging with a present that needs fixing.

While I can’t speak for previous generations, the consensus among millennials seems to be that our experience of this “real life” has been banal and disappointing. Many of us are boomerangers, living at home with our parents because of chronic unemployment or underemployment. We grew up during a time of unprecedented prosperity and unchallenged global supremacy, yet we have inherited a world of economic desolation and diminished status in the international community.

The generation that lived through the Great Depression at least had the social experimental creativity of the New Deal era, the foreign crusades of World War II, the rebellion of the ’60s and the Cold War to give them a greater sense of purpose. We, meanwhile, have been left with a suspicious global mission and domestic gridlock. With nothing of central purpose in our world, we’ve retreated to a childhood universe that spoke only in promises.

Anyone would want to escape from such a world, so it was inevitable that the first generation to grow up with the Internet would jump at the chance to do so. The problem is in part that nostalgia oversaturation can become obnoxious after a while — a point we’re well past — and also that fleeing to the past prevents us from fully engaging with a present that needs fixing. Of course, only a handful of commentators have observed that our desire to revive our pasts might have unsettling implications about the here and now. Nostalgia is simply viewed as a cute trend. Until that changes, we will spend so much time in a fantasy world that we fail to take full advantage of the real one.

Rand Paul’s Republican Revolution Should Be a Wake-Up Call For Democrats

Published: mic (February 19, 2014)

The news. In a recent interview with Politico, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) discussed how the Republican Party could attract minority voters by focusing on a new slate of issues. These included reforming the war on drugs, opposing indefinite detention of detainees at military bases, and shifting the immigration debate away from border security and toward “find[ing] a place” for illegal residents who are willing to find work. He also repeated his earlier criticisms of the NSA’s domestic spying programs, which culminated last week in a class-action lawsuit against the agency.

Since most experts agree that the GOP needs to increase its support among minority and female voters to be viable on the national level, Paul’s latest statements are impossible to divorce from his 2016 presidential ambitions. As the only prominent candidate advancing even modestly libertarian ideas, he stands to benefit most from the argument that a distinctly “libertarian-slash-Republican” ideology offers the right-wing party its best chance of winning among key demographic groups. In addition to being nakedly self-serving, Paul’s thesis isn’t particularly convincing; data from PRRI and the Brookings Institute shows that self-identified libertarians are disproportionately male and overwhelmingly white, while Paul’s personal efforts to reach out to women and African Americans made headlines for being awkwardly unsuccessful.

Why Democrats should pay attention. While Paul hasn’t succeeded in demonstrating a pluralistic appeal for libertarianism, he has inadvertently highlighted how the Democratic Party is imperiling its own diverse brand by straying too far from its liberal roots. The term “liberal” (which evolved from synonimity with the economic conservativism and international isolationism of 19th century presidents like Grover Cleveland to association with the economically progressive and internationally interventionist ideology forged by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal coalition) is usually associated today with the New Left. This movement, which arose in the late 1960s and early 1970s, supplemented the New Dealesque support for an Economic Bill of Rights with a proactive opposition to all forms of racial and sexual discrimination, an ethically consequentialist belief that the state should not interfere in the personal lifestyle choices of individual citizens, and an abhorrence for the perceived excesses of the military-industrial complex and security state. Just as the New Deal liberals transformed the Democratic brand into a natural home for minorities and women by concentrating on their common class-based interests, their New Left successors maintained the party’s pluralistic status by responding to their needs as victims of discrimination (e.g., racism, sexism, homophobia) and addressing their concerns about the oppressive growth of state power (from the neo-imperialism of a massive military establishment waging frequent wars to the civil liberty intrusions of banning drugs and abortions).

The bottom line. Although the Democrats have yet to produce a purely New Leftist president, most of our leaders have adopted pieces of New Left ideology over time, from Jimmy Carter’s support for a foreign policy that prioritized human rights over Cold War containment and Bill Clinton’s staunch support of abortion rights to Barack Obama’s support for marriage equality. As Paul managed to point out, however, we remain behind the ideological curve on many issues where it matters most. The war on drugs not only violates our civil liberties but disproportionately targets racial minorities and the poor in the process, even as most Democratic politicians refuse to tackle it head-on. Similarly, despite our nation’s long history of unconstitutionally imprisoning racial minorities, Obama has continued many of the detention policies implemented as part of George W. Bush’s “War on Terror.” Finally, as the NSA spying scandal has revealed, many Democratic leaders have violated civil liberties and expanded the power of America’s security state in ways unimaginable when the New Left was first conceived.

This isn’t to say that large numbers of minorities and women will leave the Democratic fold anytime soon. The racist programs and rhetoric that the GOP first adopted during Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign, Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy,” and Ronald Reagan’s presidency will continue to repel minorities until it is purged from the party’s policies and ideology, as is also true of the right-wing’s underlying misogyny that has recently been aptly branded the “war on women.” With that said, Paul is correct in diagnosing that there are many areas where we are not properly serving our own constituents. If we don’t remain consistent with our core principles, the day may indeed come when we pay a dear price for it

If “You Pay a Million in Taxes, You Get A Million Votes.” Yes, a U.S. Billionaire Just Said That.

Published: mic (February 14, 2014)

Billionaire Tom Perkins, who once compared the Occupy movement with Nazism, is again at the center of a storm of controversy. His comment?

“The Tom Perkins system is: You don’t get to vote unless you pay a dollar of taxes… You pay a million dollars in taxes, you get a million votes.”

There is something instructive in Perkins’s ideas, albeit not in the way that he intends. For one thing, as a recent Huffington Post article explained, there are plenty of millionaires and billionaires who share Perkins’s views. Even without Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent” speech as a reference point, it’s an open secret that large sections of the wealthy upper class believe their voices should carry more weight than those of their fellow citizens. Usually they go about realizing this goal by selling voters on conservative and/or libertarian ideas through McCarthyist hysteria and exploitation of cultural reactionismbuying politicians with excessive campaign contributions, funding astroturf right-wing movements, and subsidizing sympathetic think tanks. That said, aside from covertly disenfranchising the poor through new voter ID laws, they have rarely attempted to outright prevent lower income Americans from participating in the democratic process.

This doesn’t mean that the wealthy haven’t accomplished this in the past.

Even after the Revolutionary War ostensibly guaranteed “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” to all citizens, many states subjugated the poor through laws that established property and financial requirements for voting. Most of these statutes were repealed by the end of the mid-19th century, usually through gradually non-violent means but occasionally through open rebellion. Until that happened, however, the rich and their political supporters were able to construct elaborate philosophical justifications in favor of them. During the Constitutional Convention, for example, Alexander Hamilton argued:

All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are the rich and well born, the other the mass of the people. The voice of the people has been said to be the voice of God; and however generally this maxim has been quoted and believed, it is not true in fact. The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct, permanent share in the government. They will check the unsteadiness of the second, and as they cannot receive any advantage by a change, they therefore will ever maintain good government.

Perkins’s ideas can be best understood as a latter-day version of this elitist principle. In Hamilton’s era, when the rich believed greater government involvement in the economy best served their interests, plutocrats were Federalists and egalitarians were Democratic-Republicans. Now that we live in a post-Progressive Era world, where the government regulates big business and the wealthy to protect consumers and the poor from economic exploitation, “small government” is the by-word of those who support rule of the wealthy. To counter this, we should remind ourselves of the ideal of Thomas Jefferson (Hamilton’s staunch ideological adversary). Appropriately enough, it was expounded upon by Franklin Roosevelt eighty-two years ago at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco… where Perkins delivered his classist spiel yesterday:

These people, he considered, had two sets of rights, those of “personal competency” and those involved in acquiring and possessing property. By “personal competency” he meant the right of free thinking, freedom of forming and expressing opinions, and freedom of personal living, each man according to his own Rights. To insure the first set of rights, a Government must so order its functions as not to interfere with the individual. But even Jefferson realized that the exercise of the property rights might so interfere with the rights of the individual that the Government, without whose assistance the property rights could not exist, must intervene, not to destroy individualism, but to protect it.

It’s easy to dismiss the concerns of liberals and moderates as class resentment or class warfare. The reality exposed by men like Perkins, however, is that the battle is not between a class that has and a class that doesn’t, but between those who believe all men are created equal and those who measure human worth in dollar signs.

A HUGE Gay Rights Battle Was Just Won in Kentucky. This is a Really Big Deal.

Published: mic (February 12, 2014)

A federal judge has struck down Kentucky’s law banning gay marriages from other states.

This historic decision, which is being rightly celebrated by the pro-LGBT community, sets an important precedent. By establishing that the constitutional guarantee to equal protection under the law applies to gay couples, it exposes the lie in the “states’ rights” rhetoric embraced for so long by ideological homophobes like those that originally created the Kentucky legislation. A federally-protected right, after all, cannot be compromised by the caprice of politicians. While other federal courts may contradict the ruling by U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II, he has laid an important building block in what will hopefully become an edifice of full legal equality for the gay community.

He has also reminded our nation of the ideals of its founders.

As Judge Heyburn explained in his decision, although “religious beliefs … are vital to the fabric of society … assigning a religious or traditional rationale for a law does not make it constitutional when that law discriminates against a class of people without other reasons.”

This echoes the words of Thomas Jefferson in his famous “Notes on the State of Virginia,” wherein he observed:

“The error seems not sufficiently eradicated, that the operations of the mind, as well as the acts of the body, are subject to the coercion of the laws. But our rulers can have authority over such natural rights only as we have submitted to them. The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God. The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others.”

Although leftists and libertarians may disagree with the position of those who morally disapprove of homosexuality, no one outside of the radical fringes in either movement challenges their right to hold those views. At the same time, preventing homosexuals from receiving the same rights enjoyed by heterosexuals blatantly violates their basic civil liberties. One can plausibly argue that the state shouldn’t be involved in the institution of marriage at all (which would effectively “legalize” it everywhere, since any church could perform the ceremony); the same cannot be said, however, for denying it on religious grounds.

Supporters of marriage equality should not be misled into thinking Judge Heyburn’s ruling is the final word on the subject. So long as there is homophobia in the hearts of the religious right, they will continue to construct new ways of impeding the rights of those who meet with their moral disapproval, from spurious John C. Calhounesque talk of small government to pseudoscholarly studies insisting that gay marriage is detrimental to society. Fortunately for anyone who favors gay rights, we don’t need new ways of supporting this important cause. The ideals of our founding fathers are as timeless now as they were when society had not yet advanced its pluralistic precepts to encompass our LGBT citizens. As James Madison wrote in The Federalist Papers: No. 10:

“The great danger in republics is that the majority will not respect the rights of minority.”

5 Ways Conservative Media Is Getting ‘The Hillary Papers’ All Wrong

Published:mic (February 11, 2014)

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.