Now, this is interesting.
In June, the Washington Free Beacon published the investigative work of reporter Alana Goodman who uncovered audio tapes featuring former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussing her work defending a man accused of raping a 12-year-old girl. In the tape, Clinton bragged about her ability to call the integrity of the evidence presented against her client into question.
Beyond Clinton’s distasteful display of pride in her own ability navigate the legal system and reduce the penalties this rapist faced for his actions, there was nothing untoward about her conduct. Conniving and manipulative behavior is a celebrated lawyerly trait, and the role she served in America’s system of jurisprudence is one that should be celebrated.
Deceit, however, is another matter. Weeks after the publication of these tapes by the Free Beacon, they have created the conditions whereby Hillary Clinton’s own gender-centric presidential campaign might implode.
These audio recordings are not the first revelations about Clinton – one of the most powerful and well-known political figures in the last two decades of American politics – which this upstart conservative publication has unearthed. Earlier this year, Goodman uncovered the diary of late Clinton confidante Diane Blair. Forced to begrudgingly report on that scoop, MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell could only bring herself to refer to the Free Beacon contemptuously as an “anti-Clinton website.”
Mitchell’s tune has changed, and it is Clinton’s own statements that changed it.
Clinton told her interlocutor in those 1980s tapes that she took the controversial case as a personal favor to a friend. She did, however, seem confident about the guilt of the accused in her taped conversation. “She’s claiming at the same time that she was court-appointed, which is one thing, and the other reporting is that she did it as a favor,” Mitchell said, vexed by the incongruities in Clinton’s statements.
Mitchell’s guests speculated over the apparently misleading nature of the former secretary’s statement, but all agreed that Clinton and those charged with vetting her would have to revisit this case.
Mitchell added that the emergence of these tapes ahead of a likely 2016 presidential bid suggests that “Hillary Clinton is going to be challenged on everything, including the most basic part of her biography which is that she’s always been an advocate for women.”
Let that sit for a minute. This is not merely the most sacrosanct aspect of Clinton’s “biography” for her supporters, one so sacred that even challenging the assumptions surrounding it is tantamount to heresy, but it is the entire basis for her campaign. In fact, running as the first woman president is the only campaign she could run.
Clinton’s party is one that has become obsessed with identity politics, but it has had a difficult time reconciling the contradictions associated with the fact the identity of the president’s likely successor is so divergent from the backgrounds which Democratic voters regard as superior. Wealthy, white and privileged; Clinton shares none of the biographical elements which led Democrats to believe Barack Obama could be a transformative figure.
A prerequisite for success in modern Democratic politics is the legitimate claim to personal adversity. Whereas an earlier generation of Democratic leaders only needed to feel your pain, Democratic voters are imposing a relatively new requirement on their party’s aspirants: they must have experienced your pain. One of the rare claims to adversity Clinton can legitimately make is her identity as a woman. For what it’s worth, Mitchell’s faith in the authority of this feminine hardship has not been shaken by the appearance of mendacity in Clinton’s effort to defend her choice to malign a 12-year-old rape victim.
“I think just by virtue of being a woman, and the most successful woman, you know, female political figure in our times – in any time, in this country – that that gives her a certain edge and distinguishes herself from any male politician,” Mitchell said.
Her fellow panel guests, while agreeing, also noted that Clinton has elevated her status as a woman to the centerpiece of her nascent campaign – a total reversal from her 2008 strategy which was to emphasize competence and experience in government over identity politics.
But Clinton cannot run on experience, because her party does not value experience over identity anymore. Furthermore, the lesson many took away from the 2012 campaign was that the country may no longer value experience as highly as they do the character of the candidate. Clinton may be right, but this episode demonstrates why that is a risky strategy.
A candidate’s qualifications based on their experience and ability cannot be stripped away, whereas the authenticity of their subjectively defined identity most surely can be. Clinton’s once unassailable claim to be an “advocate for women” was always a dilapidated edifice which could collapse at the first few blows. It is fascinating that it is Clinton herself and her allies who are dismantling that façade.