Return of the “Red Queen”

At the end of a somewhat muddled meditation on the Greater Meaning of an HRC presidential candidacy in 2012, The Atlantic‘s Conor Friedersdorf offers a thought that has probably occurred to a lot of us at one time or another:

What I’ll be most interested to see, if she does run, is how the conservative movement reacts to her candidacy. With relative sanity, insofar as they can’t very well accuse her of being a Kenyan anti-colonialist? With a return to the anti-Clintonian fervor of the 1990s? I suspect the latter reaction wouldn’t play well. Politicians who hang around long enough seem to become inured even to scandals in which they were actually caught red-handed. There isn’t anything so clear cut in Clinton’s past, and if many Americans are like me, the word “Whitewater” would send an involuntary shudder of dread coursing through the population, as if we were collectively told we’d have to re-watch the pre-trial motions from the O.J. Simpson trial while sequestered in a cheap hotel with nothing for diversion but Clinton-era back issues of The American Spectator.

During the primary battles of 2008, a frequently heard argument for Obama (which he reinforced himself by thinly-veiled references to the tired partisan battles of the 1990s) was that conservatives would not freak out and hyper-mobilize against him as they would against HRC, given the Right’s longstanding descriptions of her as a sort of “Red Queen” who inflamed the worst tendencies (yes, including philandering, believe it or not) of her husband.

In the late stages of the 2008 general election, and ever since, Obama’s specific characteristics have been part and parcel of the worst conservative freak-out in living memory. But it’s never been that clear anything about Obama has been much more than a pretext on the Right for demonizing the opposition, whoever it is. After all, if you are in the habit of treating anyone on the center-left as a conscious agent of a conspiracy to enslave the country and expose it to destruction by its enemies that dates back at least to the Roosevelt–if not the Wilson–administration, then you’ll find the “facts,” real or invented, to support your Grand Narrative.

But if HRC is the next Democratic presidential candidate (at a time when all the pressures on the GOP to pull off a big win against the tides of demographics and history have been increased to a high-pitched steamy shriek), it will be interesting to see if our little friends on the Right choose to replay the tapes of past descriptions of her as a emasculating shrew who combines the worst features of the Nanny State with the cold mendacity of a Superlawyer–or comes up with some new Devil-Theory based on “vetting” her anew. Unless or until the time she rules out a presidential run, you can expect to see conservative gabbers hold their very own “invisible primary” over how to talk about HRC.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.