The Next Birtherism

Seeing Karl Rove's weird attack on Hillary Clinton for what it is.

Editorial cartoon on Hillary Clinton and Karl Rove
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By now of course you’ve heard Karl Rove’s canard about Hillary Clinton – his suggestion that she has brain damage, followed by some strategic back-peddling that allowed the charge to be repeated over and over again.

Lest it need be said: Rove's smear is both malicious and deeply stupid. That, however, has never stopped a political attack from being effective. Whether this one will be will tell us a lot about how far we’ve come over the last few years, or how far we haven’t.

Saying Hillary Clinton may have brain damage isn’t your garden variety attack. This is something more insidious than that she's a tax-and-spender or corrupt; it’s of the birther variety, the kind that worms its way inside the listener and creates a permission structure to feel all of sorts of ugly things that are no longer deemed acceptable in polite society.

[SEE: Cartoons about the Republican Party]

When Republicans spent all that time questioning President Obama’s birth certificate it obviously wasn’t about administrative record keeping. No, it was about finding a way to seed profound doubts about the authenticity and American-ness of the president and, in so doing, to leverage and fan the deeply rooted animus and suspicion some feel towards people who look like him, and that thrives nowhere moreso than in hard right environs.

Well, if African-Americans have a history of being considered “the other” by at least some segment of the population, most virulently on the conservative side of the ledger, how about women? What’s been the conservative knock on women in the political arena all these years? That they lack something essential for leadership. That there is something about, yes, their brains, that makes them less equipped to command the respect of others, to solve intellectual problems, or to keep a level head in a crisis.

So again we see it. Suggest Hilary Clinton is brain damaged, and you give people who harbor Paleolithic attitudes about women a meme to play with that allows them to express their views without the kind of reprisal they are likely to get if they offer them in a more unvarnished package. It’s disgusting. And it’s the kind of thing some hoped we’d moved past with the election of our first African-American president. We’ll see.

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Of course there’s no little irony in Karl Rove talking about brain damage. The man who was called “Bush’s Brain” was the architect of some of the worst policies ever to grace the American political scene. It was Karl Rove and George Bush who took America into an ill-conceived war that cost thousands of lives and trillions of dollars, that let Wall Street run amuck and plunged the economy into the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and who authored the policies that have created a yawning wealth gap. Talk about neurological inadequacies…

George Bush isn’t running for president again, of course, but his brother is. And since his days in the White House, Rove has positioned himself as the tribune of the establishment, taking on some of the more outlandish tea partyers who have invaded Republican primaries on behalf of the more traditional moneyed interests that have long sustained the GOP. In the forthcoming Republican presidential primaries, Jeb Bush is likely to be the establishment candidate, so it should be no surprise that Rove is aiming to torpedo his most likely general election opponent.

The good news is President Obama weathered the efforts of the right to undermine his legitimacy and one suspects Hillary Clinton will too. Rove’s idiocy aside, its hard to imagine a better prepared, better equipped, more accomplished candidate for president than she is.

[READ: Karl Rove's Comments About Hillary Suggest 2016 Will Be Nasty]

But be warned: Karl Rove is on the move again. And for the good of the country, if there’s one brain you don’t want anywhere near the White House, it’s his.