John Dickerson is the political director for CBS News and also a political correspondent for Slate. Monday he wrote a piece suggesting that everyone would be better off not mentioning Monica Lewinsky, or any other event in Bill Clinton’s history, as part of coverage of Hillary.
The piece is eight paragraphs of concern-trolling for the right followed by one paragraph directed at the left. Here’s the basic argument:
You can try to convince people that Bill Clinton’s behavior is
important, but while you’re doing that you’re not talking about whatever
programs you support that are actually going to improve people’s lives.
During the 1990s, voters decided that they preferred peace and
prosperity to moralizing. Why then, when there is anemic prosperity and a
much more dangerous world, would people be interested in pawing over
that old ground?
So it’s old news and the public is unlikely to care about such things in the midst of economic doldrums. That certainly sounds good, but Dickerson took a very different approach back in 2012 when a story about a young Mitt Romney giving a fellow prep school student a haircut appeared in the pages of the Washington Post:
With all the challenges facing the country, why does this matter? It may
not. The election will probably be decided on which candidate people
think will do the best job helping the economy create jobs. Some might
make a judgment about whether a candidate cares about them, so stories
about uncaring or intolerant behavior certainly aren’t helpful but not
enough to swing a race.
So far so good. He’s saying it may not matter much (which is not the same as saying it shouldn’t matter but close enough). But then Dickerson concludes by arguing that Romney “needs a new origin story.”
But Romney could take back his origins. A transformative moment in a
person’s life or personal history can clean one’s slate and let one
emerge as a different person. And Romney may have one. A year later, at
19, Romney was a missionary in France. He was involved in a searing car
crash that by his own admission deepened his faith and changed his
outlook on life. A near-death experience and a coma will do that to you.
It would explain why there is no analog for the behavior described in
the Post story. Romney and his team might consider having him tell that story again soon.
When it came to Romney, Dickerson suggested the candidate needed to offer the media some kind of life-changing transformation story to explain away his behavior as a teenager. But when it comes to Hillary, Dickerson writes “Hillary Clinton was a
senator, ran a rocky but nearly successful presidential campaign, and
served as secretary of state.” He adds that her life, beginning at age 53, is “enough to keep us all busy.” So not only are her teenage years off limits, even her time as head of the health reform effort in the 90s is a diversion.
Dickerson may be right that the GOP has little to gain by digging up Hillary’s sketchy past. Still it’s notable that the “old ground” defense didn’t seem to apply to Romney just two years ago.