During the 2008 presidential campaign, small, right-wing publications started printing allegations that Barack Obama was Muslim and was not even a real American, instead having been born in Kenya. It was so crazy at the time (and still is) that it looked as though it was just one of those things that happens during a campaign – people become so consumed with dislike for a candidate that they hurl any kind of unsubstantiated charge at him or her. There would always be people so horrified at the thought of a certain person being elected that they couldn’t even make the effort to do a line-by-line policy criticism; they had to say the person himself was somehow illegitimate or not able to serve in office. It’s a visceral reaction to a candidate who – often because of race or other such factors – just isn’t one of them.
Those myths about Obama are enduring, even halfway through his second term. And they’ve already started with a potential candidate who could break another drought in presidential history by becoming the first woman to hold the office.
Critics are full of complaints about Hillary Clinton that are indeed based in policy – they didn’t like the health care plan she helped develop in the 1990s, or maybe they don’t like her views on issues like abortion and the minimum wage. But as with Obama, there is an utterly irrational campaign against her based in conspiracy theories that would be laughable if people determined to stop her didn’t actually believe them on some level.
It started when her husband was president, and people alleged Clinton – whose memoir, "Hard Choices," was released today – was either having an affair with White House counsel Vince Foster (who committed suicide), or that she had him killed, or that she was a lesbian who wasn’t interested in either Foster or her husband. Now, as Clinton approaches the 2016 campaign season in the strongest position she has ever been in, electorally, the crazy talk has revved up. She has brain damage, Karl Rove has suggested. Or, as the Drudge Report wondered recently, she is so feeble that she must hang onto a walker.
The latter claim is so pathetically absurd it’s hard to fathom how much mental effort it takes to even come up with it. There’s a photo of Clinton in People magazine, her hands resting on a patio chair. The conspiracy theory here is that an enfeebled Clinton really was leaning on a walker, but that it had been cleverly photoshopped out and replaced with a chair.
This, of course, would require a herculean level of dishonesty and journalistic malpractice on the part of People. Why on earth would any magazine give up such a scoop – a potential presidential candidate forced to use a walker? Why would Clinton even allow herself to be photographed that way, anyway? And how has she managed to walk and talk and give speeches and travel publically without a walker, but somehow needed one for the heavy lifting of posing for a magazine shoot?
It’s not a shock, really. If you think the prospect of an African-American man being president leads to derangement syndrome, just wait until it looks like a woman could end up in the Oval Office. Clinton already starts at a disadvantage, because the media – which would never allow racially-loaded observations in news copy – is much less sensitive when it comes to gender. Hair, wardrobe, even the burning question about whether a woman could possible focus on work when presented with the massive distraction of a grandchild – wait for all of these matters to be included as legitimate issues in the media.
This is actually good for the Republican party, which has some smart and thoughtful people as members. It’s still early, so if the blinded-with-rage Clinton haters can get the crazy conspiracy theories out of their system now, they can leave room to have an actual substantive conversation about policy as the 2016 election season heats up. In 2010, angry voters talked about taking their country back. (From whom?) The GOP should let its irrational wing get its absurd conspiracy theories about Clinton out now. Then it can take its own party back.