The return of Clinton Derangement Syndrome
It’s baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack. But, then, in various forms it never left.
Forget about the rapidly spreading Zika virus, Faster than you can say “political demonization,” Clinton Derangement Syndrome is whipping across our polity, in parts of the mainstream news media, social media and among some of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ most die-hard supporters. No, this isn’t saying that Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hasn’t contributed to this herself with her sloppy and politically negligent decision on an email server and her penchant for seeming untransparent which isn’t helped by her refusal to do a real press conference. And this isn’t saying that spirited opposition is “derangement.”
All that has been seemingly been missing from staunch Clinton foes these days seems to be foam coming from their mouths. To be sure, Bill and Hillary give their foes ammunition. And Republican Party presumptive Presidential nominee Donald Trump is fanning the flames as he often angrily tries to convert the Republican Party into the Trumpulican Party. Brian Beuter notes that the sometimes the political results of this syndrome aren’t good for those suffering from it:
If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results, then Republicans lost their minds chasing the Clintons down rabbit holes years ago.
They spent the 1990s turning every gnat fart in the Clinton White House into a six-part inquiry, and at the end of it, Bill left office historically popular. They’ve spent the better part of the 2010s doing the same thing to Hillary, and though she is emphatically not historically popular, Republicans have, in the process, tended to humiliate themselves and abet Donald Trump—the one person politically incorrect enough to call her crooked and accuse her of playing the woman card, at last, at last.
What we witnessed Thursday [in the hearings House Republicans called to question the FBI Director about Clinton’s emails] was part of a pattern that goes back more than 20 years. A Clinton does something—in some cases innocuous, in this case worthy of criticism—and her political nemeses respond completely out of proportion. They’ve invested so heavily in the fantasy that Hillary’s one email or utterance away from complete self-destruction that they can’t bring themselves to accept anything less than the highest return. A sunk cost fallacy of power politics and partisan score-settling.
The pattern has become so familiar that reporters now anticipate it. When FBI Director James Comey excoriated Clinton for her sloppy email protocol, it was almost a foregone conclusion that Republicans would peer so deeply into the mouth of the gift horse he’d just given them that they’d pop out the other end. On Thursday, they hauled him up to Capitol Hill knowing that any number of right-wing members on the House Oversight Committee might attack his integrity, and sure enough they did. Now the chase continues.
And don’t forget the media:
What made this episode unique is that the same media that expected Republicans to overreach played a critical role in increasing their expectations of a political windfall.
Republicans in Congress and their conservative media allies largely brought this upon themselves. They were the ones who made right-wing sop out of baseless speculation that Clinton might be indicted for violating a law nobody’s ever been convicted of violating.
But due to a strange brew of incentives that proved toxic—the competition for eyeballs, the lack of subject matter expertise, the industry standard of reportorial balance—the mainstream media did nothing to puncture this myth. To the contrary, it treated the threat of indictment as a permanent question mark hovering over Clinton’s campaign like a dark cloud. In a different media ecosystem, this wouldn’t have happened. A mix of common sense and truly basic research and reporting would have established a consensus that Republicans were trying to gin up intrigue and damaging innuendo, but that an indictment was extraordinarily unlikely. Instead, the remote odds of one came to be seen as something like a 50-50 proposition, to the point where even professional Democrats began to worry Clinton might be charged with a felony and prosecuted.
By the time Comey handed down his utterly predictable recommendation that prosecuting Clinton would not be reasonable, it had become a foregone conclusion on the right that an indictment was imminent, and could only be sidestepped through corruption.
It will leave the conspiracy-minded GOP base blindsided once again, and give way to some other tangentially related but probably fruitless inquisition….But now, instead of investigating Clinton for endangering national security or for some other crime related to her public service, it will transform into a shameless witch hunt. The kind of partisan onslaught that only seems to make the Clintons more powerful. And thus the insanity begets itself.
What isn’t said in looking at the case of Hillary Clinton and Clinton Derangement Syndrome are a few gentle reminders:
1. There was Bush Derangement Syndrome on the part of some Democrats.
2. There is massive Obama Derangement Syndrome which has helped names like Roger, and Sean and Rush and websites rake in lots of money.
3. Our politics now largely operates on derangement syndromes. Talking issues, not demonizing, not name calling has become oh, so 20th century. I mean, if you can’t sum it up in a Tweet, a few lines of Facebook, or a zinger on a talk show who wants to hear or read that boring stuff?
It’s much easier to demonize, go into rage mode and hate.
You have to do far less prep — and it feels so good (and gets big ratings and lots of hits).