Thursday, January 7, 2016

Why are Bill Clinton's alleged crimes and scandals relevant to Hillary?

...airing these topics should be clear and direct on why or how they are relevant to the presidential race and to how we should judge Hillary’s case for the presidency. If they are, tell us why and tell us how. - Greg Sargent
This seems fairly straightforward:
  1. You do not actually have to accuse either Clinton of any wrongdoing to appreciate that the entire controversy significantly threatens Hillary's ability to govern. As it is doing already, it will continue to drain time and resources from any agenda she hopes to advance. It will also, of course, be weaponized against all Democrats and progressive causes, not just the Clintons. This may all very well be a tremendous injustice to the Clintons, but the stakes here are a lot bigger than whether Democratic voters should do right by Hillary. So regardless of how the conversation starts, as soon as it does, progressives have every reason to ask whether or not the mere persistence and magnitude of the controversy disqualifies Hillary from office.
  2. Americans have historically considered enforcing an ethic of personal honesty and transparency in elected officials crucial to the integrity of democratic representation. The implicit logic is that people can only participate in power if they know who they are voting for. For that reason, there is an essentially procedural argument that, if Hillary is participating in any lie or deceit about her husband's past, the public may hold her accountable for this for the sake of defending democratic norms.
  3. Similarly, Americans tend to believe - however naively - that personal honesty and integrity play crucial roles in an elected official's performance. This is particularly true in cases where political incentives are undecisive or ambiguous and an official has some discretion to make judgment calls. If (as alleged) Hillary is willing to silence a rape victim for the sake of political expedience or personal convenience, one wonders who else she would be willing to betray.
These are just three of the most obvious reasons why Americans might be concerned by Hillary's proximity to an alleged serial rapist.

And it seems a little odd to have to spell this out. Sargent is correct when he notices that these arguments often rely on a lot of rhetorical shorthand and polemic assumptions, but it does not at all follow, as he suggests, that they're actually meaningless. This is just what happens when a complicated controversy gets baked into our political discourse for several decades: the terrain of disagreements gets exhaustively mapped out, people internalize the stakes and the arguments, and multiple, elaborate positions get coded into overdetermined slogans like "Bill is fair game".

It's fair enough to ask for clarification, but Sargent goes too far when he uses the casual way that we naturally articulate familiar arguments to suggest that Clinton's critics have no case. The multiple examples he gives of hypothetical arguments her critics could be making is evidence enough that he knows perfectly well why people often think that "Bill is fair game", whatever that happens to mean in any particular interview. Sargent would do better to address those substantive arguments than to spend much time policing the eloquence of our pundits.