Unless you've been off vacationing on Neptune or Uranus, you're aware that it's open season on Hillary Clinton. And although no one -- save perhaps Bill, Chelsea and Mrs. Clinton herself knows whether she will throw her hat into the ring for 2016, there are plenty of folks treating that which, in truth is highly imaginable, as absolutely indisputable. The signs are everywhere. There's Karl Rove's "concern" over the state of Mrs. Clinton's health and not-so-veiled reminders that come January 2017 she will be 69; there's the perpetual refrain of Benghazi and the reemergence of Monica Lewinsky; there's the asinine speculation over whether the former First Daughter's pregnancy is nothing more than a political diversion. And then there's Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's recent piece in Politico, in which he reminds us that back in 1993, when the then First Lady testified before Congress on what was termed "Hillary Care," she told them she was against the individual mandate. Horrors! This means that over the past two decades, she actually changed her mind . . . which of course makes her ineligible for higher office. One would think that in national politics, youth and consistency are as important as vision and integrity. But they are not.
Hold your horses guys. Did the fact that Ronald Reagan was 2-weeks shy of his 70th birthday when he became president bother you? Or that in 2008 John McCain was 72? I don't remember too much concern on your side of the aisle. (Admittedly, Reagan himself took care of that concern with his marvelous quip "I want you to know also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's [Walter Mondale] youth and inexperience.”)
Score one for The Gipper.
With each passing day Karl Rove's concern over whether Mrs. Clinton suffered a traumatic brain injury is losing steam. Increasingly, he's looking more and more like a sorry little man trying to maintain a grip on relevance while keeping the mega-bucks flowing into the coffers of American Crossroads . . .
If Rove, Jindal, Preibus and the rest of the Republican mouthpieces really think they can derail a Clinton candidacy by banging the brain/Benghazi/Lewinsky/Chelsea drum for the next year or two, they are not the political geniuses their colleagues believe them to be.
What interests me far more is the attack on Mrs. Clinton for having changed her position on the so-called individual mandate. And not for the sake of that one issue -- healthcare -- or indeed any issue in particular. No, my concern here -- and it is a serious one -- is how easy it is for people to adopt a "once a sinner always an unrepentant sinner" position for their opponents while turning a blind eye to the "apparel changes" of their allies.
Case in point: Robert Byrd and Ronald Reagan.
First, Senator Robert Byrd:
Back in the early 1940s, the 20-something Byrd created a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in Sophia, West Virginia. He remained with the Klan for a couple of years, even being elected to the top leadership post (Exalted Cyclops) of his local unit. By the time he was 30, Byrd was out of the Klan for good, and spent the rest of his life trying to live it down. In his autobiography (Robert C. Byrd: Child of the Appalachian Coalfields) Byrd wrote that he was " . . . sorely afflicted with tunnel vision—a jejune and immature outlook—seeing only what I wanted to see because I thought the Klan could provide an outlet for my talents and ambitions. I know now I was wrong. Intolerance had no place in America. I apologized a thousand times ... and I don't mind apologizing over and over again. I can't erase what happened." Despite the fact that Byrd would eventually receive a 100% rating from the NAACP, Republicans never ceased pointing out the fact that he had been a Klan leader, and that anything else he accomplished -- any position he espoused no matter how progressive -- had to be viewed through the lens of his racist past.
When it comes to Ronald Reagan, his political meanderings are forgiven, forgotten or rationalized away. Seen today as the patron saint of conservatism, Reagan is the only president who led a labor union: from 1947 to 1952 and again in 1959, he was president of SAG -- the Screen Actors Guild. Reagan began his political life as an ardent pro-New Dealer. In 1945 he attempted to lead an anti-nuclear rally in Hollywood, only to be threatened by his employer, Warner Bros. In 1950 he actively supported Democratic Representative Helen Gahagan Douglas in her senate race against then Representative Richard Nixon. In 1952, he urged Dwight Eisenhower to run for president -- as a Democrat. In later years, Reagan explained his switch to the Republican Party with the famous quip "I didn't leave the Democratic Party; the party left me." Whenever conservatives bring up Reagan's pre-Republican past (which is rather rare), they see the change as a sign of strength, growth and maturation . . . anything but inconsistency. Unlike the case of Robert C. Byrd, all is forgiven.
Like Ronald Reagan, Charlie Crist has changed parties. For that he is branded a craven political opportunist who lacks principles, standards or backbone. In matter of fact, American political history is heavily dotted with these sorts of changes and inconsistencies:
- Martin Van Buren was elected to numerous offices -- NY Attorney General and Governor, U.S. Senator, Vice President and President -- as a Democrat. In 1848, he was standard bearer for the Free Soil Party.
- In 1932, liberal Democrat Wendell Willkie took a break from his lucrative law practice to challenge Franklin D. Roosevelt for the Democratic presidential nomination. In 1940, he ran against Roosevelt as a Republican.
- In 1964, 17-year old Hillary Rodham was a "Goldwater Girl," -- cowgirl outfit and all. The following year she was elected president of the Wellesley Young Republicans.
- Senators Rick Santorum, Orrin Hatch, Bob Dole, and Chuck Grassley as well as former Speaker Newt Gingrich all originally supported -- and strongly so -- the individual health care mandate. When it became a Democratic -- i.e. Obama -- backed plan, they all made a 180 degree turn.
Demanding consistency from one's foes while casting a blind eye upon the inconsistencies of one's allies is . . . well, rather inconsistent, don't you think? To never change one's mind or position is to be intellectually stiff and fossilized. Admittedly, some course changes are a matter of political survival, and, as we know, the first rule of politics seems to be "get thyself reelected."
"Consistency," in the words of Aldous Huxley, “ . . . is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only completely consistent people are the dead.”
Or better yet, "Consistency," as Oscar Wilde, would have it, "is the last refuge of the unimaginative."
©2014 Kurt F. Stone