The Seduction of Hillary Rodham
The frustration on the right wing has been palpable during this election. Nothing Bob Dole was trying seemed to work. But many of his troops felt that nothing should be needed. To the right wing, Bill Clinton is so self-evidently evil—and his wife even eviler—that a righteous public would welcome the chance to get rid of them, no matter who was running on the other side. Talk show hosts, who regularly praise “real people” as opposed to “government” or politicians or inside-the-beltway types, were horrified that the public was not as indignant as it should be. Neal Boortz, the talk show host known as “the Mouth of the South,” said: “We can survive a dishonest President. We can survive a scheming First Lady. We can’t survive an indifferent and lazy electorate.”
Dole shared the frustration of his extremist allies. He desperately swung from one charge to its opposite, saying one day that Clinton believes in nothing and is willng to become a crypto-Republican at the imperative of polls, but claiming the next day that Clinton is a “liberal, liberal, liberal,” who will undermine all that is good with his wild beliefs. An attempt was made to bridge this contradiction with the myth of an “unleashed” second term. The argument was that Clinton feigned moderation when he was still facing re-election, but he will let his principles dominate him when he has no further elections to face.
The idea that presidents in their final term are unfettered by anything but their own imperious will is nonsense. Our presidents do not rule by fiat. They sway Congress by influence with the people. Take away the influence, and the Congress is unfettered. It can defy a president with impunity. It was in Nixon’s second term that he became so unpopular he could not even meet the public except at military bases. It was in his second term that Reagan was called to account over the Iran-contra dealings. A president is exposed to the aggression of Congress and the courts whenever he loses popular approval. He must continue to solicit that, no matter what point of either term he is at.
Still, a number of people do believe in the unrestrained power of a re-elected president, and Dole has tried to work on that belief, not very successfully. A more deft use of the argument is implicit in David Brock’s book on Ms. Clinton, but it is published too late to give much help to Dole. It will be around to feed suspicion that Clinton is out of control in his second term.
Brock’s thesis has the advantage of playing off the unpopularity of the President’s wife. It was a point of great disappointment to the right that Dole, already hampered by the gender gap, felt that attacks on a woman would backfire. She is the real target of right-wing zealots’ outrage. Brock has…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.