Yesterday, Glenn Reynolds linked to John Dickerson’s article on CBS News saying that Republicans should not be looking into the Clinton presidential years while discussing Hillary Clinton.
We’re all very busy, so here’s a time-saver: Let’s all agree to not talk about Monica Lewinsky for at least two years. In fact, let’s not discuss any of the “events” in the Clinton marriage. You should embrace this view whether you think Hillary Clinton should be president or not.
Mostly, though, going down this road conveys the feeling that Republicans are obsessed.
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.
This is why we should only concentrate on the last ten years, he says:
Hillary Clinton was a senator, ran a rocky but nearly successful presidential campaign, and served as secretary of state. There are at least 10 questions worth analyzing from these years that would actually bear on what kind of a president she would be.
However, here was John Dickerson in Slate (reprinted on CBS News) in May 2012 explaining why talking about Mitt Romney’s behavior as a teenager in high school was important and decidedly relevant to the presidential race.
One of the many tensions in evaluating presidential candidates is that we don’t want to disqualify them based on the stupidity of their youth. George W. Bush’s blanket denial that “when I was young and irresponsible I was young and irresponsible” seems like a good rule. On the other hand, we want to know who these candidates are who seek to lead us (especially when they spend so much time offering us synthetic versions of themselves). We are looking for some piece of evidence, some sign of what makes them who they are. Many of us prize “character above all” in a president and a lot of those hints about presidential character are located in the stories of youth. If you want to be president, your resume, accomplishments, and experience are not enough. Your origins matter.
So let me see if I have this straight. It’s fair game to dig into Republican candidates’ past as far back as high school, and insist that it’s because you need to understand the character of the man who would be president. But we’re not supposed to go back to the 1990s, when Hillary Clinton stood by her man as he was impeached for lying about having an affair with a much younger intern. Because we should concentrate only on her years as Senator and Secretary of State.
Shorter John Dickerson: Dirt only counts if it’s on Republicans.