This week, Hillary Clinton delivered a strong speech about Donald Trump's bigotry and his relationship to the alt-right. Even Maureen Dowd can't deny the speech's impact -- so she acknowledges the effectiveness of the speech while finding multiple ways to temper her praise:
HILLARY didn’t hang her head and cry, after she shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.
I know that dated pop-culture references are a Dowd tic, but Clinton is trying to win an election by making a serious point about the character and dangerous ideas of her opponent. She wasn't trying to kill for thrills.
... After getting steadily bolder at rallies about puncturing her former friend Donald Trump, Clinton channeled Johnny Cash’s song and delivered a coup de grâce so devastating that commentators predicted it will be known simply as the Reno speech.
Yes, Maureen, make sure to get that "former friend" bit in there, so we'll suspect that Clinton is a hypocrite for criticizing Trump.
... In this insane campaign year, Hillary doesn’t even need an oppo-research team digging up nasty stuff about her opponent’s record. She just has to stand there and wait for Trump to open his mouth. Or to wait for his wacky entourage to weigh in....
Yeah, Dowd tells us, it was a great speech, but it didn't require any actual effort.
In Reno, Hillary simply pointed out the obvious: Trump, who has no fixed ideology of his own except winning, has let himself become a host body for an ugly mélange of people and groups that spew poison, from Breitbart News -- its chief, Stephen Bannon, is now helping run Trump’s campaign -- to white supremacist David Duke to radio host Alex Jones.
When Anderson Cooper asked Trump on Thursday if he was embracing the alt-right movement, Trump replied like a perfectly oblivious vessel: “I don’t even know -- nobody even knows what it is.”
This is where the column shifts from catty to immoral. Trump is a grown man, 70 years old, and he's running for president as the nominee of a major party, but somehow he's not responsible for his own words and deeds. He has no idea what he's saying and doing! He's possessed! It's all the fault of other people who've brainwashed him!
Dowd writes this even though she acknowledges Trump's long history of bigotry, or at least a small part of it. Naturally, she makes this part of a bigger indictment of Hillary:
If Hillary had a normal opponent, her vulnerabilities would be more glaring. She would have spent the last week getting peppered with questions about how the F.B.I. discovered 14,900 more emails from her private server, which are going to drip out through the fall.
But Hillary does not have a normal opponent. She has one who manages to self-destruct in every news cycle. So instead she was soaring above her own paranoia and mocking Trump’s paranoia, soaring above her egregious messes and gamboling through Trump’s egregious messes.
In Reno, instead of having to talk about the email marked “C,” the ones classified as confidential, she talked about a very different “C”: She recalled the Justice Department’s housing discrimination suit against the real estate developer and his father in the ’70s, charging that the applications of black and Latino residents were “marked with ‘C’ -- ‘C’ for colored.”
Yes, that's all we get about Trump's decades of racism. Trump's history of housing discrimination is outlined in great detail in a front-page story today in Dowd's paper, but to Dowd it's useful only as wordplay. There's nothing in this column about Trump's birtherism, his call for the death penalty for the wrongly convicted Central Park Five, or the fact that black workers were removed from the floor in Trump casinos on a number of occasions, such as when he walked in, or when a mobbed-up high roller complained.
All of that preceded Trump's encounters with Steve Bannon and Alex Jones. All of it was Trump being Trump, not Trump being a "perfectly oblivious vessel" for the racism of others.
But to Dowd, the real tragedy of the Trump campaign's racism is that it obscures the horror of Clintonism:
Extremists always ride to Hillary’s rescue. Just as Ken Starr and impeachment-crazed conservatives in the House pushed it way too far and made laughingstocks of themselves, succumbing to Clinton Derangement Syndrome, so the alt-right allows Hillary to have an easy target that occludes the Clintons’ own transgressions.
She clearly feels sorry for Trump, who, in her view, doesn't know what he's doing:
... Trump ... has been seduced by the roar of the crowd and hijacked by a dark force he doesn’t seem to fathom. Ultimately, the stain will extend beyond a campaign loss to damage his business brand.
Black people? Who cares! WHAT ABOUT TRUMP'S BRAND????
What upsets Dowd more than Trump's racism -- which isn't really his, after all! -- is the sin so great that no political journalist in America can forgive it: Clinton's choice not to hold press conferences:
When reporters approached Clinton after her Reno speech, she ignored the questions being served up and told the press to have some of the chocolate being served up. “Love the truffles,” she said in a condescending let-them-eat-chocolate moment.
This, unlike Trump's racism, genuinely infuriates Dowd, so much so that only a straw man is sufficient to convey how great a danger is posed by Clinton and her allies:
Many people believe that Trump is so demented and dangerous that any criticism of Hillary should be tabled or suppressed, that her malfeasance is so small compared to his that it is not worth mentioning. But that’s not good for her or us to leave so many things hanging out there, without her ever having to explain herself.
Letting her rise above everything for the good of the country is not good for the country.
Who is saying that "any criticism of Hillary should be tabled or suppressed"? Yes, Clinton isn't holding press conferences, but she's not threatening to put critical reporters in jail, or, like Trump, arguing that they should be sued into silence. She's given 350 interviews this year, even if they're not all with mainstream journalists. You can cover politics without attending press conferences, as I.F. Stone did. Just do some damn journalism.
But, no, the press conference drought is horrible. Why?
Hillary is more easily able to continue to cold-shoulder the press on serious issues, which really is an outrage and will hurt her in the end, because she’s building up a giant bubble of hostility that will follow her into the White House.
Oh -- it's not because the public is less informed, it's because reporters have no choice but to be hostile to her. Well, reporters do have a choice. Everything isn't about you, folks.
And what's this about "cold-shoulder[ing] the press on serious issues"? Everyone knows that if Clinton did hold a press conference, there wouldn't be any questions about the economy or race relations or Syria or gun violence or climate change or health care or student debt -- every question would be a gotcha, and the vast majority would be about the Clinton Foundation or the damn emails. Those aren't "serious issues."
This may be one of Dowd's worst column ever. And that's saying a lot.
Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog