Hillary Clinton’s victories in Ohio, Texas and Rhode Island left many on the right gleeful at the prospect of Democrats deploying against one other the identity politics they’ve so effectively used against Republicans for so long. But whatever the advantages accruing to the GOP from the Democrats’ internecine warfare, it was impossible not to feel a twinge of dismay at Hillary’s political resurrection.
For years, the Clintons have been a cancer on the body politic. Almost from the time that they emerged on the national scene in 1992, America has endured corrosive partisanship and a deterioration of behavioral and rhetorical standards that has degraded national politics. Now, it appears that the Clinton venom is poised to infect even the body that first hosted them – the Democratic Party.
This week, Hillary Clinton came after her primary opponent hammer and tongs. “I have a lifetime of experience that I will bring to the White House,” she said. “Senator John McCain has a lifetime of experience that he'd bring to the White House. And Senator Obama has a speech he gave in 2002." With that argument, she made it clear that if she can’t herself run as the party’s nominee, she cares not at all whether her party wins. The maneuver was vintage Clinton.
Certainly, there is plenty of blame to go around for the bitterness and division that has characterized American politics since 1992. Republicans loudly denounced the Clintons’ shortcomings throughout eight scandal-laden years, sometimes with undue vitriol. But the Clintons actually welcomed the attacks, realizing that in order to survive scandals that would have sunk earlier presidencies, their supporters needed to have someone (and something) to detest even more than them and their behavior.
With the unwitting complicity of Republicans and the benefit of occasional GOP missteps and overreaching, the Clintons successfully stoked and redirected Democrat fury – and, as a result, decent people found themselves defending behavior that they otherwise would have condemned, were it not for their loathing of the Clintons’ adversaries. If their own survival required the Clintons to sow partisan hatred, and to make sure that many Americans believed that “every President does it” (whatever the definition of “it” happened to be), so be it.
They left America a political tinderbox, and when George Bush won election by a hair’s breadth, Democrats – who had been whipped into a frenzy of enmity toward the Republicans – were understandably embittered. Leaving The White House, the Clintons managed to poison the well for its next occupant, and even more significantly, for a country that would soon have to go to war.