Given that Hillary Clinton’s quest for the presidency is founded upon the juvenile assertion that it’s “a woman’s turn,” it is not surprising that she has begun to brandish her feminist credentials. In one of her Twitter proclamations this week, she wholeheartedly endorsed the current dogma that in cases of (alleged) sexual assault, “every survivor of sexual assault deserves to be heard, believed and supported.”
Normally, reverberating feminist truisms would deserve neither ink nor air, but American politics is no longer normal. Donald Trump is its ringmaster now. Brash, egotistic and determined to play by no rules but his own, Trump has bulldozed the conventional understanding of how politics is to be played, what may be said and how to deal with opponents.
Any well-mannered candidate, say a Mitt Romney or a John McCain, would never have the gall to point out that Clinton’s words do not accord with her past practices. Or to bring up the seamy conduct of her famous mate, Bill Clinton, from his sexual escapades in Arkansas to the White House, from Jennifer Flowers to Juanita Broderick to Paul Jones and Monica Lewinsky. So familiar was this pattern, to Hillary and to those who supported her and Bill, that their campaigns had a whole team to deal with the big dog’s meanderings from the marital couch.
But Donald Trump does not have any good manners. He may not have any manners at all. He goes, as many have written already, where angels fear to tread and where no man — at least no Republican — has gone before. Hillary Clinton’s pious genuflection to the current mores on sexual assault was duly noted, and then Trump decided to take particular notice.
He responded with one of his own Twitter proclamations, warning Clinton that if she “thinks she can unleash her husband, with his terrible record of women abuse, while playing the women’s card on me, she’s wrong!” Picking up on Clinton’s own words, he made it very clear that if that is what she wants to argue in 2016, he will have questions, and very personal ones, for her. Questions such as: how do Clinton’s past responses when it was her own husband who was on the wrong side of allegations of improper sexual conduct match up with her current feminist principles?
I should think to Clinton’s current dismay, that her current rhetoric does not match her previous contortions. Paula Jones was dismissed, callously, as “trailer trash.” Trailer parks figure highly in the Clintonian mind. For after the Jennifer Flowers eruption, the always-sophisticated James Carville tried to wave her charges off with the now famous gem: “Drag a $100 bill through a trailer camp and there’s no telling what you will find.”
Hillary herself came down on the poor intern as “a narcissistic loony toon”
When the explosive story of Monica Lewinsky’s relations with Bill Clinton broke, there was a veritable full-cycle spin machine in the White House, led, as the late Christopher Hitchens revealed, by the Clinton consigliere, Sidney Blumenthal. Blumenthal sent out information about “Monica Lewinsky’s past, her weight problems and what an aide said was her nickname — ‘the Stalker’.” And Hillary herself came down on the poor intern as “a narcissistic loony toon.” Once the truth came out, did Hillary ever retract or apologize — in the spirit of feminist solidarity for a young woman, dazed by prestige and at the furthest end of a “power imbalance.” Nope. She was expendable.
So how will this play out? Are Clinton’s feminist credentials about to get a real test? Will her campaign theme — it’s a woman’s turn — harmonize with her past words and actions about her husband’s activities?
Well, should the contest of 2016 feature Clinton against Trump, of this I am certain: it will be a fight, and a real one. If Bill Clinton, as has been signalled already, enters the campaign, his conduct, together with Hillary’s artful defences of it, and the dismissal of the myriad of woman who over the years have brought forth their stories, will be “old news” no more. For every time Hillary plays the woman card, Trump with ace it with the Bill card.
Trump has the reckless audacity to play the political game on the same hard terms as the Clintons have always played it. And that’s as hard and vicious as it may be played. Put it this way: should it be Trump v. Clinton in 2016, it will be great fun, because the Clintons will finally be up against someone as shameless and ambitious as they are.