By Peter Daou and Tom Watson
A stark illustration of political spin comes from Hillary supporter Anita Finlay, who calls out "Morning Joe" Scarborough for piling on Hillary as a 2016 candidate when he praised her before she announced her second run:
"Character is rarely revealed in its sharpest contrast after a glorious victory. Instead, you find out what a person is made of after they sustain a soul crushing defeat. In her long, tortured march toward Denver, Hillary Clinton showed more character, more resilience, and more true grit than any presidential candidate I can recall. And in that losing cause, Secretary Clinton served as a great example of character not only for my young daughter, but for us all. It is that type of strength that we need in our leaders now more than ever." - Joe Scarborough
In the sweltering summer of 2015, Hillary’s opponents across the political and media spectrum are working feverishly to inflict damage on her public image, frame her campaign as a failure, trumpet any unfavorable poll numbers, and turn voters against her. They say she is timid, she is flailing, she is losing ground. They are grasping at the slightest hint of bad news, lauding any potential challenger, and scrambling for viable attack lines.
Conservative groups are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to fuel these attacks. Major media outlets are abandoning fundamental ethical standards to find (or concoct) scoops that might sink her.
This is Politics 101, of course. The anti-Hillary frenzy is entirely expected. Long before voters fully tune into the race, political spinmeisters are doing their best to ‘set the table’ for the intense campaign to come. In Hillary’s case, the manic desire to prevent a woman from crossing the White House finish line turbocharges the spin cycle.
Hillary's supporters should understand that this avalanche of negativity directed at her is bound to take a toll. The public cannot be completely immunized against the vitriolic language and blatant lies that Hillary is subjected to. Polls will tighten. The drumbeat that her campaign is losing steam will get louder.
It's all part of the process.
This is not an easy battle. It never was going to be an easy battle.
Electing America’s first woman president is a monumental undertaking and the odds are not on Hillary’s side. But if anyone can defy those odds, Hillary Clinton can. As #HillaryMen, we believe she will. But it will require a clear-eyed understanding of her opponents' strategies and tactics.
To that end, we’ve been chronicling the daily assault on Hillary and doing our best to expose the methods her detractors are using to manipulate and distort public perceptions:
- The Rovian Research Behind Maureen Dowd's Anti-Hillary Screeds
- Case Study: How Hillary's Image Is Being Manipulated in the Media
- Hillary Clinton and the Crisis of Ethics in U.S. Media
- The Great American Brainwash: Half a Billion Dollars to Turn the Public against Hillary
- The Wall of Words: Hillary Clinton and the Verbal Assault Against Women Online
One of the false narratives about Hillary’s campaign revolves around policy and her willingness to take strong positions. If you read the national coverage or tune in to the talking heads, you’ll soon hear some version of this: Hillary’s campaign is playing it safe. She’s not taking chances. She wants to waltz to a “coronation” as the Democratic nominee.
Well, tell that to the Republicans, who find themselves nursing the political bruises Hillary is inflicting on them almost daily with her campaign’s strong and pugnacious style. In the last week, Clinton has punched hard at the center ring of American politics. Her campaign has showed a willingness to strike back against unfair attacks and faulty journalism. She has carved out bold positions on climate, the economy, race, mass incarceration and other important challenges facing the country.
The latest example is Hillary’s new video punishing the GOP contenders for their ongoing and longstanding war against women’s health in general, and Planned Parenthood in particular.
“I’m proud to stand with Planned Parenthood,” she says in the video. “I’ll never stop fighting to protect the ability and right of every woman in this country to make her own health decisions.”
As she’s done throughout her campaign, Hillary calls out specific Republicans by name. She goes after former Florida Governor Jeb Bush for “funneling millions of taxpayer dollars into abstinence-only programs while gutting funds for crucial family planning programs." She hits Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker for defunding Planned Parenthood. And she rips former Texas Governor Rick Perry, who “drastically cut funding for breast and cervical cancer screenings and then signed legislation that forced health centers across the state to close their doors.”
“If this feels like a full-on assault on women’s health, that’s because it is,” Clinton says in the video.“When politicians talk about defunding Planned Parenthood, they’re talking about blocking millions of women, men and young people from life-saving preventive care.”
Another example of Hillary going on offense is her recent speech before the National Urban League in Florida, where she took dead aim at the conservative policies of the state’s former governor, Jeb Bush. On his home turf, Hillary was sharp and to the point.
"I don't think you can credibly say that everyone has a right to rise and then say you're for phasing out Medicare or for repealing Obamacare," she said. "People can't rise when they can't afford health care."
Then she added (with a noted smile): "And you cannot seriously talk about the right to rise and support laws that deny the right to vote!"
Two days earlier, the Clinton campaign’s Communications Director, Jennifer Palmieri, sent a powerful letter to Dean Baquet, Executive Editor of the New York Times. The letter minced exactly zero words: it took the paper to task for its false reporting on the Clinton emails and its haphazard and meek response to the developing scandal in its newsroom.
In response to Hillary’s campaign playing offense, Jeb Bush’s spokesman (who, it should be noted, was the co-founder of the deeply sexist America Rising PAC) complained in Gatsbyesque fashion that Hillary wasn’t being sporting. Likewise, some of the more conservative analysts saw Palmieri’s letter as breaking the rules governing campaigns and the national media. “This just isn’t done” seemed to be the general paroxysm at the Beltway country club.
But we see it very differently. In addition to rolling out ambitious policy platforms and tackling sensitive issues, Hillary’s campaign is delivering a series of crisp, clear and interrelated messages to the Democratic primary electorate:
• I will fight against lies about my public service
• I will fight against attacks on my character
• I will call out attackers by name
• I will fight against the discriminatory policies of the Republican Party
• I will call out Republicans by name
• I will fight for Democrats and Democratic values
These are compelling themes that run counter to the pundits’ narratives. Hillary is counterspinning the spinners.
In the end, this is what campaigns are about. On a level of instinct and intuition, voters internalize the key characteristics of the candidates. Time and again in American history, voters have chosen politicians who fight back against political enemies and fight for policies that will benefit people the most.
Generation after generation, Americans reward political fighters. It is no accident, for example, that President Obama’s approval ratings rise when he is seen to battle publicly and strongly against the Republicans in Congress, just as it was no accident when President Clinton’s numbers rose when he, too, took on the GOP directly. (As Democrats, we’d also note in fairness, that President Reagan’s political rise was keyed by his instinct to fight back against attacks and to engage happily in political warfare).
In 1932 at the height of the Great Depression, incumbent Republican Herbert Hoover ripped into Franklin Roosevelt as a "chameleon on plaid" who peddled "nonsense ... tirades ... glittering generalizations ... ignorance" and "defamation.”
FDR leaned out of the back of an open car, tilted his cigarette holder and grinned. What was President Hoover, he asked, but a "fat, timid capon?" And then he demolished the Hoover Administration’s false claim that the Depression was caused by events overseas, and that the government bore no culpability for its effects.
Message received: the Democrat would fight back – both against personal political attacks and bad policy.
As of this writing, there are 463 days to go in the 2016 election and an unprecedented chance to break the 44-0 shutout in presidential politics. When the details of the past weeks have faded – and they will – the message that will echo with voters is this: Hillary is a fighter.
UPDATE: Another solid shot at Jeb Bush:
Peter Daou and Tom Watson founded #HillaryMen to provide actionable analysis of the 2016 campaign focusing on the gender barrier in U.S. politics. Peter is a former senior digital adviser to Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Global Initiative. He is a veteran of two presidential campaigns (Kerry '04 and Clinton '08). Tom is an author and Columbia University lecturer who advises companies and non-profits on social activism.