Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The return of the vast right-wing conspiracy

Hillary revives an old favorite.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday described past Republican political malfeasance in New Hampshire as evidence of a "vast, right-wing conspiracy." Clinton's barbed comments revived a term she coined for the partisan plotting during her husband's presidential tenure and echoed remarks she made last weekend in New Hampshire, which holds the nation's first primary.

I actually had some sympathy for this claim the first time around, when it was obvious that certain conservative elements were going all out to dig up dirt on and demonize the Clintons through efforts such as the Arkansas Project. It was not policy disagreement; it was an effort to destroy them politically.

But even then it had a vaguely paranoid air to it. Address specifics? Fine. Whine that everyone is out to get you? Not such a wise move, even if its partly true.

But I just don't get bringing it up now, when the right is in disarray, the Democrats have recaptured Congress and the Bush administration is enjoying approval ratings normally reserved for Communists and animal abusers. The base loves it, of course; but it plays poorly in the broader electorate, and there's really no way to make sure the message is only heard by the faithful.

Especially when the examples she cites involve Republicans being convicted of bad behavior. It's hard to claim a conspiracy when the perps are quickly brought to justice.

Maybe this is an attempt to get out in front of the venom that Hillary is sure to encounter because she's such a polarizing figure for conservatives. But I don't think it'll work. A better response would be to use the same tools -- the media, blogs, the Internet -- to counter such attacks. Unless Hillary believes that such attacks will be hard to discredit head on and so must be dismissed en masse.

Let's hope the 2008 campaign is not a repeat of the ugliness of the mid-1990s.

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