Hillary's rapist-defense problem

Earlier this week, I ventured that Hillary Clinton’s remarkable series of gaffes and tone-deaf statements, made through the launch of a book with disappointing sales, did not augur well for the campaign she’s trying to launch simultaneously.  I thought some of the things she said over the past couple of weeks would haunt her through 2016, or at least give her a deep public-relations hole to dig her way out of.

The contrary view was nicely presented by Allahpundit at Hot Air, who noted that pundits have a tough time predicting which gaffes will stick to a particular candidate:

My hunch is that nothing Hillary???s said this week has reduced her chances. It takes a biggaffe to register with average voters, and that gaffe has to reveal some perceived ???deeper truth??? about the candidate to have legs, I suspect. That???s why Romney???s ???47 percent??? comment outgrew the punditocracy and actually penetrated the electorate. It seemed to confirm the sense of him as a country-club Republican who looked down on the lower class. There???s potential, I guess, for Hillary???s ???dead broke??? comment and her stupid whining about how ???brutal??? American politics is to make her seem ???out of touch,??? but never forget that she???s got Bill around to give her a shot of blue-collar appeal when needed. If her last name weren???t ???Clinton,??? you might have something in drawing her as the consummate limousine liberal. As it is, I think it???s a glancing blow, nothing more, especially if the GOP ends up supporting the ???out of touch??? attack by, er, nominating a guy named Bush. As for the gay-marriage interview, it???s hard for me to believe liberals are going to give her too hard a time over any heresy knowing how difficult it is for a party to win the White House for three consecutive terms. Iraq is the perfect example. Her vote to invade helped Obama pull the upset in 2008, but no one thinks it???ll keep her from the nomination now. She???s clearly the strongest candidate Democrats have in an extremely difficult political climate. They???ll be prudent in deciding how severely to punish her for deviations from orthodoxy.

I’d say AP and I agree on the gaffe equation, but perhaps not on the value of the variables being fed into the Hillary Clinton iteration of it.  He’s absolutely correct that Hillary’s meltdown over gay marriage in an NPR interview isn’t going to hurt her – the political alliance between the gay-marriage movement and the Left is ironclad and absolute, and in the general election campaign, it won’t matter at all how clumsy Hillary’s efforts to explain her shifting positions are, or even if she’s so obviously flustered that she blows her stack at an NPR reporter.  But I think her “poor little me” whining is going to achieve a powerful and lasting synthesis with the perception of her as an out-of-touch limousine liberal.  I’m skeptical of Bill Clinton’s ability to paper all that over, in part because I think Bill’s influence is over-estimated, at least with regard to anyone beyond the rock-solid Democrat base.

Another story that bubbled up last week is also plugging itself into Hillary’s image as a ruthless political animal, and it won’t mix well with the identity politics she relies so heavily upon.  The point of identity politics is that woman + Democrat = above criticism.  There will still be some juice in that formula if Hillary runs against any male Republican, but the story of how she laughed with giddy abandon when remembering how she won a reduced sentence for a child rapist is going to hurt.  You can tell her supporters understand that, because they’ve been working hard to suppress the story, and keep any more like it from being discovered.

Since the Washington Free Beacon broke the story of the “Hillary Tapes,” let’s have a summary from their Matthew Continetti:

The facts are these. In 1975, before she married Bill Clinton, Hillary Rodham defended a child rapist in Arkansas court. She was not a public defender. No one ordered her to take the case. An ambitious young lawyer, she was asked by a friend if she would represent the accused, and she agreed. And her defense was successful. Attacking the credibility of the 12-year-old victim on the one hand, and questioning the chain of evidence on another, Clinton got a plea-bargain for her client. He served ten months in prison, and died in 1992. The victim, now 52, has had her life irrevocably altered???for the worse.

Sometime in the mid-1980s, for an Esquire profile of rising political stars, Hillary Clinton and her husband agreed to a series of interviews with the Arkansas journalist Roy Reed. Reed and Hillary Clinton discussed at some length her defense of the child rapist, and in the course of that discussion she bragged and laughed about the case, implied she had known her client was guilty, and said her ???faith in polygraphs??? was forever destroyed when she saw that her client had taken one and passed. Reed???s article was never published. His tapes of the interviews were later donated to the University of Arkansas. Where they remained, gathering dust.

Continetti goes on to recount how this story almost came up during the 2008 election, but was quashed by a very helpful editor:

Contrary to what you may have heard over the past week, Clinton???s successful defense of the rapist Thomas Alfred Taylor is not ???old news.??? On the contrary: For a CV that has been scrutinized so closely, references to the rape case in the public record have been rather thin. One of those references came from Clinton herself. In 2003, when she was a senator from New York, and published her first memoir, Living History, Clinton included a brief mention of the case, mainly as a way to take credit for Arkansas??? first rape crisis hotline. And in 2008, Glenn Thrush???then at Newsday???wrote a lengthy article on the subject.

Don???t remember it? There???s a reason. ???My then-editor appended a meaningless intro to the story, delayed and buried it because, in his words, ???It might have an impact,?????? Thrush said in a June 15 tweet. Well, the editor got his way. It didn???t have an impact.

And the quashing continues:

Lawyers I can handle. Librarians? They???re trouble. I did not expect, when I arrived at the office Wednesday, to find a letter from a dean of the University of Arkansas sitting on my desk, informing me that the Free Beacon???s research privileges had been suspended because we failed to fill out a permission slip, that we were in violation of the University of Arkansas??? ???intellectual property rights,??? and demanding that we remove the audio of the Hillary tapes from our website.

Now, we obtained these materials without having to fill out any forms and without being provided a copy of any university ???policy.??? The university has yet to prove that it owns the copyright to the Reed audio. Nor has it explained how, exactly, that audio does not fall under fair use. And remember, too, that the institution protesting our story is a library???which ostensibly exists for the sole purpose of spreading knowledge and literacy and information and print and audio and visual media. That is what libraries are for, isn???t it?

You will not be surprised to learn that the author of the letter is a Hillary Clinton donor, or that our media champions of the First Amendment do not seem terribly troubled by this effort to harass and intimidate a journalist who filed an accurate report, based on public materials.

One reporter who did pick up on this story is Josh Rogin at the Daily Beast, who did what every reporter in America would instantly have done if this story broke about a prominent Republican: he found the victim of the rapist Hillary Clinton defended, now 52 but just 12 years old at the time she was assaulted, and interviewed her.  Josh Rogin had better not plan on spending any leisurely afternoons at the University of Arkansas library, either.

???Hillary Clinton took me through Hell,??? the victim said. The Daily Beast agreed to withhold her name out of concern for her privacy as a victim of sexual assault.

The victim said if she saw Clinton today, she would call her out for what she sees as the hypocrisy of Clinton???s current campaign to fight for women???s rights compared to her actions regarding this rape case so long ago.

???I would say [to Clinton], ???You took a case of mine in ???75, you lied on me??? I realize the truth now, the heart of what you???ve done to me. And you are supposed to be for women? You call that [being] for women, what you done to me? And I hear you on tape laughing.???

The victim???s allegation that Clinton smeared her following her rape is based on a May 1975 court affidavit written by Clinton on behalf of Thomas Alfred Taylor, one of the two alleged attackers, whom Clinton agreed to defend after being asked by the prosecutor. Taylor had specifically requested a female attorney.

???I have been informed that the complainant is emotionally unstable with a tendency to seek out older men and engage in fantasizing,??? Clinton, then named Hillary D. Rodham, wrote in the affidavit. ???I have also been informed that she has in the past made false accusations about persons, claiming they had attacked her body. Also that she exhibits an unusual stubbornness and temper when she does not get her way.???

Clinton also wrote that a child psychologist told her that children in early adolescence ???tend to exaggerate or romanticize sexual experiences,??? especially when they come from ???disorganized families, such as the complainant.???

The victim was also angered by how the tapes published by the Washington Free Beacon strongly suggest Hillary Clinton knew her client was guilty (she found it amusing that he was able to pass a polygraph test, which “destroyed my faith in polygraphs.”)  “I think she was trying to do whatever she could do to make herself  look good at the time,” the victim told Rogin of the Daily Beast.  “She wanted it to look good, she didn’t care if those guys did it or not.”

The first defense offered by Clinton supporters is that she was just doing her job, and every accused criminal deserves a solid defense under our legal system.  That’s true, but it doesn’t excuse what Clinton actually did, and it probably won’t win her much sympathy from a public that generally dislikes lawyers, not to mention rapists.  There’s also a lot of cultural energy built up around rape, victim-shaming, making excuses for rapists, and so forth.  Clinton’s identity-politics campaign will not enjoy smooth sailing running against that energy.  Ham-fisted efforts to suppress the story by her operatives and supporters are only going to make the seas rougher.  Clinton could always apologize to the victim and claim she was hideously wrong to do what she did, but that would be out-of-character, it would damage her supporters’ image of her as an infallible super-genius, and people would wonder why she didn’t do it sooner.

Then we’ll hear strenuous efforts to dismiss the whole thing as old news, made by the same people who thought Mitt Romney’s high-school days and dog-transporting methods in the 1980s were the most relevant stories in the world.  Of course, that hypocrisy won’t phase them in the slightest; they would yell that Hillary’s legal defense of a rapist was irrelevant old news while simultaneously making a big deal about something unattractive her opponent was doing at the exact same time.  The effectiveness of the “old news” defense will, I think, be determined by the factors Allahpundit described: will people think it’s relevant in any way to who Hillary Clinton is now, or to the major themes of her campaign?

Of course, the people who dragged out dimly-remembered half-century-old anecdotes about Mitt Romney labored mightily to convince readers that they were relevant to the character of the man running for President, just as they howled in unison that Barack Obama’s youthful association with domestic terrorists and decades of attendance at Jeremiah Wright’s Church of Racial Hatred had absolutely nothing to do with his character in 2008.  It’s always going to be a media battle, in other words, and the party which controls 90 percent of the media is pretty good at winning it.  

The “Hillary Tapes” are already starting to have a little penetration into the mainstream press – a story about them has appeared at the Washington Postfor example, where Melinda Henneberger did not seem inclined to dismiss them as irrelevant… but found most reactions to the tape have fallen along predictably partisan lines.  No surprises there.  Two big questions remain: will Democrat partisans look at this, and other wreckage from Hillary’s week of gaffes, and grow nervous about her viability in the general election campaign?  (That will become a more burning question if she has a serious primary challenger.)

And what will the less partisan segments of the electorate make of it… assuming they cannot be prevented from hearing about it?  There is a growing sense that ordinary people are at war with the massive, legalistic bureaucracy and Ruling Class towering over them.  There’s not much doubt which side Hillary Clinton takes in that conflict, either in her youth, or today.