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Hillary’s Stockholm Syndrome

March 4, 2008

Clinton and Obama duke it out today in Ohio and Texas, and there are questions over what Clinton will do if her candidacy continues to falter. For Democrats or Independents still undecided between the two, a report on 60 Minutes Sunday offers some telling data; Steve Kroft’s segment captures some key exchanges between the two candidates, revealing their perhaps not-so-subtle differences in leadership styles.

Kroft reports from Ohio, which he calls a bellwether state—if Democrats had won in Ohio they’d have taken the White House, he misleads. More precisely from Chillicothe—if Ohio is bellwether, Chillicothe, we’re led to believe, is uber-bellwether. But let’s get right to those exchanges…

“I know your husband has said and other people have said you’ve got to win these two states to stay in the race. Do you agree with that?” Kroft asks Senator Clinton.

“Well, I intend to. I intend to do everything I can to win them. And we’re doing well,” Senator Clinton replies.

I don’t want to be too hard on Senator Clinton; this is an understandable non-answer.

Alongside interviews with Candidates Clinton and Obama appear interviews with Ohioans suffering morally and economically from the reign of Bush. Particularly of interest is a downsized paper manufacturer named Schoenholtz with no health insurance, whose wife he tearfully recounts has MS.

On the issues that affect Ohioans like Schoenholtz, Kroft finds the candidates fairly similar:

“Both Clinton and Obama want to renegotiate NAFTA, give tax breaks to the middle class, and take them away from companies that send jobs overseas,” Kroft reports. “But John Blind, a vice president at the Glatfelter paper company, one of the last big employers in Chillicothe that pays $20 an hour with full benefits, says that’s not going to be enough to reverse the tide.”

Mr. Blind cites the need for tariffs. So Kroft asks the candidates about tariffs, and—to be fair—neither directly answers the question.

Clinton talks about a “time-out” on trade; she refers to American tariffs of past centuries but doesn’t actually say whether she’d try them. In giving the same sort of vague half-answer, Obama quips that the world won’t be taking a time-out on trade. He offers a vision, however, that seems broader and braver: “I don’t think we should be afraid of competition with the world. I think what we have to do is to be smart about competition in the world.”

60 Minutes doesn’t give a lot to these issues (ad hominem attacks draw them away in a moment) but what comes through to me is that Obama shows his vision is broadly grounded in the world while Clinton’s is grounded in American precedent. A significant difference.

Then Kroft diverts his (and, alas!, our) attention to campaign mudslinging, largely against Obama.

“And Senator Obama has another problem,” Kroft reports, “a malicious campaign against him that surfaced in a number of our interviews.”

Schoenholtz [the paper worker with the sick wife] tells Kroft he is leaning towards Obama, but that there were a couple of issues he is “not too clear” on.

Asked what they are, Schoenholtz says, “Well, I’m hearin‘ he doesn’t even know the National Anthem, you know. He wouldn’t use the Holy Bible. He’s got his own beliefs, got the Muslim beliefs. Couple issues that bothers me at heart.”

“You know that’s not true,” Kroft remarks.

When Kroft mentions the rumors to Obama, the latter asks, “Did you correct them, Steve?”

“I did correct them,” Kroft replies.

(Here Obama prods the media, represented by Kroft, to tell the truth. He raises the argument, rather than responding with counter-attacks.)

But where is this attack coming from?

“You know,” begins Obama, donning a weary visage, “this has been a systematic e-mail smear campaign that’s been goin’ on since actually very early in this campaign. It clearly is a deliberate effort by some group or somebody to generate this rumor. I have never been a Muslim, am not a Muslim. These e-mails are obviously not just offensive to me—somebody who’s a devout Christian who’s been goin’ to the same church for the last 20 years—but it’s also offensive to Muslims. Because it plays into, obviously, a certain fear-mongering there.”

Cut to Clinton (and this is what startled me to the point of horror, and confirmed my endorsing Obama): “You don’t believe that Senator Obama’s a Muslim?” Kroft asks Senator Clinton.

“Of course not. I mean, that, you know, there is no basis for that. I take him on the basis of what he says. And, you know, there isn’t any reason to doubt that,” she replies.

“You said you’d take Senator Obama at his word that he’s not…a Muslim. You don’t believe that he’s…,” Kroft prods.

“No. No, there is nothing to base that on. As far as I know,” she says.

“It’s just scurrilous…?” Kroft pokes.

“Look, I have been the target of so many ridiculous rumors, that I have a great deal of sympathy for anybody who gets, you know, smeared with the kind of rumors that go on all the time,” Clinton says.

This may be subtle, using the kinds of euphemisms right-wingers have used for decades, but it is also horrifying. This is Hillary at her worst, what I can only call her Stockholm Syndrome moment.

Rather than decisively denouncing the angle of coverage in itself, promising her campaign had nothing to do with it, Clinton is entertaining the notion of Obama’s possible Muslim beliefs. It is in those two phrases, “No basis for that” and especially the qualifier, “As far as I know,” that Clinton shows her near-total lack of honor. She seems ready to concede—and much is conveyed in her eyes—that if Obama is secretly Muslim she has no way of knowing. It is as if the freedom to define ourselves religiously however we choose has been taken away from Candidate Obama, he of the shady, foreign heritage; this freedom, in fact, has been eclipsed by our Everything-Has-Changed moment, and our implicit war, not on terrorism, or illegal killing, or breach of law—since the American occupation of Iraq actively pursues all of those crimes and ills—but on the religion of Islam.

And her last answer is just as telling.

Rather than straight talk on how disingenuous an unsourced email campaign is, rather than asking the media to focus on the issues, Clinton points to past attacks against her; she has sided with her Republican hostage takers. One almost sees a glimmer of joy in her eyes as she dodges Kroft’s followups. This is the new meaning of experience; Clinton is initiated, while Obama is not; she’s undergone what in literary studies is called the progression from innocence to “experience.”

Clinton may still favor many Democratic policies, but her tactics are veering further and further into Rove-Republican territory. Is she still a Democrat? I take her on the basis of what she says. I mean, as far as I know.

Joel Whitney is a founding editor of Guernica.

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