Hillary Clinton in the Right's Crosshairs
OAKLAND, California, 17 Aug (IPS) -
While Democratic candidates are battling it out for their party's 2008 presidential nomination, conservative partisans have been gearing up to take down the frontrunner, Senator Hillary Clinton.
In the 2004 presidential campaign, the term 'swiftboating' came to describe the mendacious, tenacious and well-funded effort aimed at destroying the reputation of the Democratic Party's standard bearer, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. Himself a swift-boat commander in the Vietnam War, Kerry was ostensibly targeted by a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
This time around, 'Hillary hunting' describes the Republican Party's crusade.
'Although swiftboating is reprehensible, like most well planned, funded and executed attacks it works very well,' John Stauber, author and founder of the Wisconsin-based Centre for Media and Democracy, told IPS. 'It took Kerry's strength -- his military record and Purple Hearts -- and stuffed them down his throat. Swiftboating was the single most successful tactic used to defeat Kerry, and we're going to see much more of it in the months ahead.'
While 'Hillary hunting' or 'swiftboating' have existed in one form or another for decades, this election cycle's rendering may be a tad more sophisticated and much more media savvy.
Earlier this decade, in attempts to prevent Clinton from becoming a senator from New York, direct mail campaigns were launched, faxes were blasted, e-mail alerts were issued and websites were built. Books were written and strategies developed, and revised.
While these efforts failed to forestall her election and subsequent re-election to the U.S. Senate, they succeeded in raising substantial amount of money for right-wing organisations, and in raising questions amongst voters about her character -- as well as drumming up her negative ratings.
Failed efforts to derail her in 2000 led to long-time Republican Party political consultant Arthur Finkelstein's launching of 'Stop Her Now' in February 2005. Head of Arthur J. Finkelstein & Associates, he aimed to raise 10 million dollars with 'Stop Her Now' and defeat her in her re-election bid.
'Stop Her Now' failed to stop her then.
Even though the first presidential primaries are still months away, some Republican Party officials, and their surrogates, have determined that Clinton will win the nomination and they have begun sprucing up old anti-Hillary websites and launching new campaigns.
'Hillary Clinton, like her husband, is a tough-as-nails campaigner who has been through the right-wing attack wringer,' Stauber pointed out. 'While many polls show her as the Democrat front-runner, they also show high negatives for her that will be easy for Republicans to exploit, and it's clear that they are already beginning to do so.
'Any Democratic candidate is going to be attacked by well-funded, well-coordinated Republican groups. Although these Swiftboaters will try to appear independent and grassroots oriented, they are fronts for well-funded special interests and campaign consultants who try to stay behind the scenes.
'While she is very vulnerable to smears, it's also possible that anyone influenced by such an attack has already turned against her,' Stauber said.
The Washington, D.C.-based 'Stop Her Now' -- 'Rescuing America from the radical ideas of Hillary Clinton' -- is now run by the Dallas-based, Republican Party political activist and businessman Richard H. Collins, who is also a contributor to Rudy Giuliani's campaign for the Republican Party presidential nomination.
Collins, a graduate of Southern Methodist University -- the future home of the George W. Bush presidential library -- heads Richard Collins Enterprises, a family investment company, and is also vice-president and director of the Collins Family Foundation.
According to a biography posted at Townhall.com, a conservative website, Collins also serves as chairman of DALENPAC (Dallas Entrepreneurial Political Action Committee) and 'has been a strong activist in the Republican Party.'
His 'Stop Her Now' effort is employing a newer methodology: it uses humour and satire to expose the 'real truth about Hillary Clinton.' The site has a daily blog and features 'The Hillary Show,' a weekly video lampooning the candidate and her Democratic Party colleagues.
In a recent column posted at a blog called 'Against Hillary' (Keep Corrupt and Dishonest Hillary Clinton Out of the White House), Collins resuscitated a number of so-called Clinton-era 'scandals,' warned voters not to be taken in by her claim of having 'experience,' and capped his assessment by writing that 'Even a cursory review of her time in the White House reinforces the truth that not only is Hillary a big government liberal, but an arrogant and vicious one.'
Citizens United is a conservative organisation founded in 1998 by Floyd Brown, who was recently described by McClatchy Newspapers as 'among the nation's best-known conservative political knife-throwers.' Brown rose to fame for creating the Willie Horton television advertisement that is credited with helping derail Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis in 1988.
These days, the organisation -- whose board is chaired by Brown and whose day-to-day operations are run by long-time Clinton-hater David Bossie -- is in production of a movie that it claims will tell the complete story of Hillary Clinton's past scandals, and her radical plans for the future.
Bossie was chief investigator for the Whitewater hearings held by U.S. Senator Lauch Faircloth during Bill Clinton's administration. Bossie was later fired for editing and releasing to the media transcripts of prison conversations of former Clinton administration official Webster Hubbell, which created the false impression that Hillary Clinton was involved in billing irregularities at the Rose Law Firm where she and Hubbell both worked.
In a recent fundraising pitch to Republican donors, former Clinton advisor turned anti-Clintonista Dick Morris, wrote: 'If you liked how the Swift Boat Veterans turned the tide against John Kerry, you understand how a top Clinton aide can turn the tables and stop a Clinton-style liberal from becoming the next president of the United States.'
Citizens United has produced several movies over the past few years including one attacking the American Civil Liberties Union, titled, 'ACLU: At War With America,' and a 2004 film titled 'Celsius 41.11 - the Temperature at Which the Brain Begins to Die,' which featured a host of conservative and neoconservative critics slamming Michael Moore's award-winning film, 'Fahrenheit 9/11,' and providing a full deconstruction of Senator Kerry, then the Democratic presidential nominee.
While none of Citizen United's cinematic efforts received significant distribution or critical acclaim, the organisation is hopeful that 'Hillary: The Movie' -- which is aimed for a pre-primary election season release -- will be buzzworthy enough to receive nationwide distribution.
A host of anti-Hillary books are also planned, including 'Whitewash' by Brent Bozell, the head of the Media Research Centre, a conservative media watchdog group, and 'God and Hillary Clinton', by Paul Kengor, which will look at her religious beliefs.
A recent post at the website of Human Events sums up the current rush to 'swiftboat' Hillary Clinton. Under the headline 'Hillary's Hypocrisy Exposed: Help Prevent the Next Clinton Presidency,' the conservative weekly newspaper is offering a 'sneak peek' -- delivered via email -- into 'The Extreme Makeover of Hillary Rodham Clinton,' a new book by Bay Buchanan, sister of former Republican presidential hopeful and television commentator Pat Buchanan.
According to Human Events editor-in-chief Tom Winter, Buchanan's book will provide 'all the ammunition you'll need to expose Hillary's hypocrisy.'
'The big loser in all this is the voter who will be fed more and more vile propaganda designed to keep them from supporting candidates covered in mud,' Centre for Media and Democracy's Stauber said.
Co-author of several books detailing the manipulative practices of the public relations industry, Stauber added that his 'prediction is that by the end of the November 2008 elections, hundreds of millions of dollars will have been spent on Swiftboating and other forms of negative attacks.'
*Bill Berkowitz is a long-time observer of the conservative movement. His column 'Conservative Watch' documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the U.S. Right.