Saturday, April 26, 2008

Commentary: Clinton Joins the Assault on Reason

Chances are that anyone who reads this blog agrees that the past eight years have been a disaster and that we should do anything and everything we can to avoid a repeat over the next four or eight years. To most of us, that means opposing John McCain, Bush's former opponent who has suddenly adopted virtually every one of Bush's policy positions. But it has become increasinly apparent over the course of the Democratic primaries and caucuses that Hillary Clinton shares Bush's most damaging trait, and the one that is the root cause of most of his many failures: an uneasy relationship with reality and common sense.

I may as well begin with the best-known, but perhaps least disturbing, of Clinton's breaks with reality: her strange "recollections" of sniper fire in Bosnia. In all probability, either Clinton or one of her speechwriters overembellished the details of a pseudo-incident that seemed to demonstrate her foreign policy experience. That overembellishment snowballed into somewhat of a controversy, but only thanks to news footage that flatly contradicted her claims; all in all, it was fairly standard stuff as far as campaigns go, and probably doesn't prove much with respect to Clinton's character.

I am more disturbed by the general thesis that the Bosnia fairy tale was crafted to support: the notion that Clinton has meaningful experience to begin with. The Clinton campaign has carefully nurtured this meme, and has succeeded to the extent that every poll and every focus group and every anecdote seems to suggest that her experience is a well-documented fact. The problem is that she doesn't have much experience: she has slightly more experience than Obama, but either in objective terms or when compared to McCain, her resume is far from impressive. Still, we are subjected to ringing-phone adds that suggest that she will be especially Ready From Day One; truly, though, any thinking person knows better, except perhaps for those who would have voted for Annette Bening's character in The American President 2: Annette Bening's Character Runs For President For Some Reason.

But even that break from reality can be forgiven, if only on such bases as marketing or desperation. After all, "experience" is a difficult thing to quantify, and perhaps Clinton really does feel that when Annette Bening translated for the French Prime Minister, that qualified her for Big Red Button duty. Quantitative measures such as popular vote totals and the percentage of as-yet-unpledged superdelegates needed to clinch the nomination are not nearly so difficult to quantify. The question of which measures are more relevant is only slightly less objective. Still, at every point in the race, Clinton has insisted that that measure which favors her most is THE measure, always and forever...or at least until that measure ceases to favor her most. The farce has progressed to the point where Clinton claims to have claimed the lead in the popular vote, and uses a metric which includes the state of Michigan (where Obama's name was not even on the ballot) to prove her point. Again, no thinking person would side with her.

This is no small thing. Clinton has managed to convince a significant portion of the media to take her claims to a lead in the popular vote seriously enough to air them with a straight face. And in a larger sense, people who sing the praises of dubious statistics and anecdotes in order to further their own goals are much to be feared. In the past, such people have argued that tobacco does not cause cancer, that global warming is just part of a natural cycle, that the mission in Iraq is accomplished, and the Brownie was doing a heckuva job. They are not to be trusted. And they are not to be voted for.