Hillary Clinton’s effort to run among the most anodyne, milquetoast campaigns for the presidency in American history is apparently paying off. A candidate who dares not speak much, and when she does says only aphorisms universally beloved by the left-leaning constituents she is courting, should inspire frustration among those tasked with speaking truth to power: namely, the political press. Instead, when Clinton dares to open her mouth on even a modestly controversial subject, she is lauded as a figure of unparalleled bravery and poise. Meanwhile, those candidates who have traversed objectively stormy seas, navigated political minefields, taken legitimately controversial stands, and stared down their constituents are given sideways glances by their chroniclers in the media. The latest example of this phenomenon from the Washington Post is nothing short of a disgrace.
Reporters often loathe being accused of crafting or husbanding a “narrative.” For obvious reasons, they would prefer to think of themselves as neutral arbiters of facts and stewards of balance. But the disbelief one is required to suspend to maintain that fiction while reading Washington Post reporters Phillip Rucker and Anne Gearen’s latest dispatch is too much to suffer. Their latest, “While GOP candidates stammer, Clinton directly confronts race,” is not inaccurate so much as it is a transparent hagiography of the prohibitive Democratic presidential nominee. Her accomplishment? Nobly committing to endure the absolute minimum level of discomfort expected of a presidential candidate.
In assessing the political impact of the aftermath of the atrocity in Charleston, South Carolina perpetrated by an anachronistic racist terrorist, Rucker and Gearen make no pretense of their cause: They came to praise Clinton and to bury those Republicans vying to challenge her next year.
Noting, also not inaccurately, that Republican 2016 hopefuls largely “stammered and stumbled,” or even “lacked sensitivity” when addressing the violence, these Washington Post reporters maintained that Clinton “has forcefully initiated a conversation about race and bigotry.” Quite the “contrast,” they add in a piece that is ostensibly straight reportage.
“The candidates have been balancing the political imperative to present a welcoming face to minority and moderate voters with hesitancy to turn off conservative white voters who see the Confederate flag as a representation of their family heritage and Southern traditions,” The report added. “Clinton’s allies said that her focus on race relations was in keeping with her life’s journey. She grew up during the 1960s civil rights movement and has said that going to see the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. speak in Chicago as a teenager was a formative moment.”
It’s almost as if that “contrast” these reporters are observing is one that they are also committed to enabling.
At no point in this piece did the reporters note the Clintons, too, have a complex relationship with the Confederate flag. A Clinton-Gore button from 1992 graced with the Confederate battle flag has led many to wonder if Hillary Clinton’s husband’s campaign endorsed it. But the likely Democratic standard-bearer’s campaign has thus far refused to comment on that matter. How courageous.
There are reasons to believe that Bill Clinton might have embraced this and other campaign buttons that cast him and his Tennessee-based running mate as sons of the South. As governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton signed a bill affirming that one of the stars on his state’s flag would stand in commemoration of the Confederate States of America. Even former Clinton advisor Paul Begala insisted that Hillary Clinton “absolutely” has to answer for standing by her husband’s decision on that matter all those years ago. The Post, however, seems unconcerned with Clinton’s silence on this issue, too.
As narratives go, the Post’s reporters made a conscious effort to embrace one over another equally compelling version of the aftermath of the Charleston shootings. The reporters spent an inordinate amount of time, perhaps reluctantly, noting that Clinton was forced after lagging behind events to praise Republican South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley for having the real courage to defy her constituents and demand that the rebel flag be furled forever. Haley is, after all, a Southern Republican governor — a woman and a minority — taking down the flag that was erected first by one of her Democratic predecessors in 1962. Republicans purged the South of the scourge of slavery amid a bloody civil war; Republicans oversaw the dismantling of Jim Crow and the desegregation of the Deep South; and now Republicans, from South Carolina to Mississippi, are flouting some of their more recalcitrant voters and ridding the South of that symbol of rebellion once and for all. The last time Clinton called for the Confederate flag to be lowered in the South was, her campaign insists, 2007. Such bravery.
This narrative didn’t seem to interest the Post’s neutral and dispassionate political reporters. Instead, what captured their imaginations was a speech Clinton gave to a room full of liberal supporters where she lamented persistent racial tensions and gun violence in America. What courage is there to be found in a liberal telling a room full of like-minded fellows what they already believe? It takes an empirical, objective political reporter to see it. For Rucker who was among the many reporters seen celebrating at the wedding of a Ready for Hillary staff member and her campaign’s director for grassroots engagement over the weekend, you would think he would display a bit more decorum. Apparently, modesty and an adversarial relationship with those on whom you are required to report is no longer a value that the nation’s journalistic class is prepared to uphold or enforce with much vigor. Unless, of course, that subject is a Republican.
The Post is not alone in effusively praising the pabulum on race that passes for courage from Hillary Clinton. New York Times reporter Amy Chozick averred yesterday that “frank discussions” on race have characterized Clinton’s whole career in politics, and she will continue those discussions this week. Assertions from Clinton like her pledge to make “voting easier” for African-Americans and her lament that “America’s long struggle with race is far from finished” are not brave displays, as Chozick contends. They are, in fact, rather unsubstantial polemics. There are real hard questions and thorny issues relating to race in America. On specific and potentially alienating policy preferences that would be required to address them, Clinton has largely chosen to remain silent. It should now be clear that this is a feature, not a bug, associated with Hillary Clinton 2.0.
Republicans like Haley, Senator Tim Scott, and Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn who are telling their voters that they are wrong, that they have made a virtue of vice, and to suffer the associated consequences is truly courageous. To preach shibboleths before roomfuls of the already converted is something else entirely. For reporters in desperate need of a story that paints Clinton in a favorable light, however, the latter will do in a pinch.