Favorite

Partying like it's 1999 

Nov. 8, 2016, remains more than a thousand days away, but the 2016 race for president moved into a decidedly higher gear this week. At its party meeting, the Republican National Committee established its calendar for the key early nomination events and moved toward selecting its convention site. The "super PAC" that was central to President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012 — Priorities USA Action — lined up clearly behind the prospective candidacy of Hillary Clinton and the nation's paper of record carried a long-form piece titled "Planet Hillary" on the complex campaign-in-waiting (with a heavily Arkansas flavor) for the 2008 Democratic runner-up.

Finally, key Republicans began trying out a 2016 line of attack on the former first lady and secretary of state centering on Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky. It is a throwback script that shows that the Republican Party learned little from the battles of the last years of the 20th century. Focusing its attacks on the Monica Lewinsky case not only created a backlash against the GOP then but it also was crucial to the rise of Hillary Clinton's political career. To try it once again shows just how devoid of creative ideas the modern GOP is and what a challenging opponent Clinton represents.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the GOP 2016 nominating calendar that combines states where his father has thrived in recent years with South Carolina, got the Lewinsky chatter going in responding to questions about whether Mike Huckabee's quickly-infamous "libido" comments are indicative of a broader problem for his party in reaching out to women voters. After babbling about how well the women in his life are doing professionally, Paul quickly pivoted to Lewinsky. "Someone who takes advantage of a young girl in their office? I mean, really. And then they have the gall to stand up and say, 'Republicans are having a war on women?' " said Paul on NBC's "Meet the Press." When host David Gregory asked if the Lewinsky matter should really play a role in evaluating Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate, Paul said that the former secretary of state should be judged on her own merits. But he then connected her to her husband anyway, saying, "Sometimes it's hard to separate one from the other."

The next day, MSNBC's Joe Scarborough picked up the line of attack, "[I]f Hillary Clinton attacks the Republican Party's ... treatment of women and disrespect for women, and suggests they're misogynists ... it does seem to be a fair question to ask right now, a few years out, does the media have a responsibility to say, 'Well, let's see what happened when you were in the White House, and how women were treated when you were in the governor's mansion and the White House?' " For the 24 hours that followed, Fox News looped the images that became iconic throughout the scandal and brought in talking heads to "analyze" the role of the Lewinsky scandal on 2016 politics.

What those who want to talk about the events of the late 1990s anew forget is how well Hillary Clinton performed under the pressure of that scandal and how reminders of it only benefit her politically. Unquestionably, the Lewinsky affair was personally scarring to the first lady. But, politically, it was an event that sent her to stratospheric heights (to borrow imagery from the controversial New York Times Magazine cover article), setting the stage for her candidacy for the U.S. Senate from New York and all that has followed. In polling just before the 1996 re-election of her husband, Hillary Clinton was viewed favorably by less than half of the voting public (49 percent favorable and 43 percent unfavorable); in contrast, Elizabeth Dole was seen as favorable by nearly six in 10 voters with only a quarter viewing her unfavorably. But, as the scandal broke and Hillary Clinton showed public grace under the pressure of the events, her public persona grew (topping out at 66 percent in a February 1999 Gallup survey). It was from that base of popularity that Clinton began her successful Senate campaign.

In 2008, as best analyzed in Anne Kornblut's "Notes from the Cracked Ceiling," the Clinton campaign consciously downplayed gender issues until late in that primary campaign. All signs are that a 2016 campaign will be different and that Clinton will emphasize the historic nature of her candidacy and the symbolic and substantive benefits for American women (and society as a whole) that would accompany her victory. Part of that argument will, of course, focus on GOP foot-dragging on the Violence Against Women Act, opposition to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and, yes, concerns about required contraceptive coverage. It appears many Republicans will not be able to hold back from trekking back in time and focusing anew on Lewinsky. There also is little doubt a veteran Clinton can play her role in any revival of that docudrama with aplomb.

Favorite

Speaking of Hillary Clinton, Mike Huckabee

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Jay Barth

  • GOP health care

    There is this little thing called the Affordable Care Act that screams "danger ahead" for Republicans in Arkansas.
    • Mar 9, 2017
  • Arkansas voters know what they want

    With a surprisingly strong vote, 53 percent of Arkansas's voters said last Nov. 8 that they wanted to bring medical marijuana to the state.
    • Feb 23, 2017
  • Resist Gorsuch

    Barring the bizarre, Judge Neil Gorsuch will become one of the nine members of the U.S. Supreme Court by the time the court reconvenes for its new term in October.
    • Feb 9, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Ban the box in Little Rock

    In the latest evidence of the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement in shaping the American policy agenda, this past week has become "ban the box" week.
    • Nov 4, 2015

Most Shared

Latest in Jay Barth

  • Worse than N.C.'s bathroom bill

    SB 774 extends birth certificate requirement to bathrooms in all public facilities, and that's an original birth certificate, too.
    • Mar 23, 2017
  • GOP health care

    There is this little thing called the Affordable Care Act that screams "danger ahead" for Republicans in Arkansas.
    • Mar 9, 2017
  • Arkansas voters know what they want

    With a surprisingly strong vote, 53 percent of Arkansas's voters said last Nov. 8 that they wanted to bring medical marijuana to the state.
    • Feb 23, 2017
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Forest bathing is the Next Big Thing

Forest bathing is the Next Big Thing

Arkansas is the perfect place to try out this new health trend. Read all about the what, why, where and how here.

Event Calendar

« »

March

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30 31  

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: More on pits

    • Just here because this column was the focus of the recent print issue's "Comment" section..…

    • on March 26, 2017
  • Re: Don't cry for Robert E. Lee

    • Thank you Max. Wonderful, pointedly (if that is a word) laying out what is so…

    • on March 25, 2017
  • Re: More on pits

    • Well, aren't we the compassionate one - "own family members" can mean small children -…

    • on March 24, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation