Some of Bill Clinton's most unhinged foes are flinging wild charges at Obama. This time, they're better organized
By Joe Conason
Wearily familiar as he is with the "vast right-wing conspiracy," Bill Clinton says the network that sought to destroy him and his wife, Hillary, remains malignant as ever, yet lacks the might of a decade ago. "It's not as strong as it was, because America's changed," he told David Gregory on "Meet the Press." "But it's as virulent as it was."
Whether Clinton is correct about the current condition of his old adversaries can best be measured by the passage or wreckage of healthcare reform and the outcome of next year's congressional midterm elections -- the same early milestones that marked the beginning of Clinton's tumultuous White House tenure. Perhaps Barack Obama will be saved by political demography and decent intentions, as the former president tried to assure Gregory; perhaps he and his administration will prove less vulnerable to intrigue and propaganda and less flawed than their predecessors.
What Obama should anticipate -- indeed, what he is already encountering -- is a cascade of slurs, threats and rhetorical violence that reanimates all of the worst themes of the bad old days. That wave will inevitably damage the president and his hopes for change, even if the majority of Americans is less receptive to right-wing messages than they once were. The greasy machinery once used to grind Clinton down has grown larger and more sophisticated by orders of magnitude, from Fox News Channel (which did not exist during his first term) to all of the conservative digital outlets that enable echoing and organizing on a truly vast scale.
Back when videotapes still had to be circulated by mail order, the Clinton-hunters did a brisk business with "The Clinton Chronicles," a "documentary" alleging that as governor of Arkansas he oversaw an enormous, unchecked racketeering enterprise that encompassed international bank fraud, cocaine smuggling and multiple murders, facilitated by a kind of backwoods dictatorship. Nothing resembling that remarkable work of extremist art, once promoted by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell and the Wall Street Journal editorial page, has appeared so far in the crusade against Obama -- but that doesn't mean nothing is in the works. Many of the same organizations and operatives behind the original Clinton smears are still active and some have amassed considerable wealth and influence over the intervening decade.