Janesville70°

Piling on? This was just a warm-up

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Rick Horowitz
November 2, 2007
“Senator Clinton.”
“Senator Clinton.”
“Senator Clinton.”
“Senator Clinton.”
“Senator Clinton.”
“Senator Clinton.”
“Hillary Clinton.”
“Senator Clinton.”
“Senator Clinton.”
“Senator Clinton.”
“Senator Clinton.”
“Senator Clinton.”
“Senator Clinton.”
“Senator Clinton.”
“Senator Clinton.”
“Hillary.”
“Hillary.”
“Hillary.”
“Hillary Clinton.”
“Hillary.”
“The First Lady, and now Senator Clinton.”

As videos go, it’s pretty clever—17 staccato, quick-cut seconds of her rivals saying her name in Tuesday night’s debate, while an increasingly frantic symphony orchestra saws away in the background.


All of those rivals are men (or hadn’t you noticed?) and once they’ve had their say—and had it, and had it—there she is, the target herself, serene and confident behind a lectern of her own.


“I seem to be the topic of great conversation and consternation,” she declares. “And that’s for a reason.”


Fade to black, and then—just in case you’ve missed the message—up comes the title: “The Politics of Pile On.”


Hillary Clinton as victim.


Of course, it might just as accurately have been titled “The Politics of the Frontrunner in the Spotlight.” Or “The Politics of You’ll Have to Earn It.” Or even “The Politics of What Were You Expecting?”


After all, it’s not as if she hadn’t been warned. John Edwards has been sharpening his attack lines for weeks: Hillary Clinton as part of a “corrupt” Washington system, and as an enabler of George Bush’s most warlike tendencies.


And Barack Obama might as well have taken out full-page ads—he’d be coming after her, too, he promised The New York Times days before the debate even started.


So which part of this was a surprise? The fact that Joe Biden and Chris Dodd also got in on the action? The fact that many of Tim Russert’s and Brian Williams’ questions focused on the candidate who’s leading in all the polls? The fact that Russert asks follow-ups when a candidate seems to be ducking and dodging?


She had certainly tried to keep Edwards and Obama from going after her; her campaign was busy suggesting during the run-up to the debate that criticizing her would somehow mean they were abandoning their “politics of hope.”


Maybe their first hope was to slow down the juggernaut. Maybe they hoped to make her account for herself. In any event, Edwards and Obama weren’t deterred; they bored in on her weak spots.


Hillary Clinton as calculating. Hillary Clinton as secretive. Hillary Clinton as someone who’s always trying to have it both ways.


This is new territory—how?


If she wasn’t ready for the tighter scrutiny, it’s her own fault. If her straddles came across as too clever, as positively Clintonesque—well, the problem wasn’t that the mean boys were ganging up on her.

Besides, the mean boys on that stage were nothing compared to what she’ll have to endure if she actually becomes the nominee. If you think Edwards and Obama punch too hard, just wait until the Republican attack machine really gets geared up. It won’t be pretty.


For months now, Hillary Clinton has been wearing past GOP attacks as a badge of honor. They come after her because she stands up to them, she insists, not because she’s polarizing or divisive. And she knows how to fight back, she insists, so she’s the best candidate to take them on.


If that’s her argument, she didn’t do herself any good by stumbling on Tuesday night, or by playing the victim on Wednesday morning.


The Politics of Pile On is just getting started.



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