The ink was barely dry on the editorial cartoons, columns and commentary celebrating the end of the political year of 2015 when voters got their first taste of what’s likely in store for them in 2016. To anybody who’s been paying attention, it’s not exactly a spoiler to note that things are probably going to get worse.
Many pundits were relieved to consign last year to the dustbin, as it brought with it Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy and a general coarsening of the national dialogue about issues from immigration to terrorism to race relations. But whomever the Republicans eventually nominate, this year is going to be ugly, because there is a Clinton running for president. Because when Clintons run for office, conspiracy, scandal and prurience inevitably follow.
That’s not to say that Hillary Clinton herself will necessarily inject any of those elements into the race. (Beyond the extent to which she already has, that is, via her inexplicable decision to use a private email account while serving as secretary of state.) It is simply meant to point out that where the Clintons are concerned, there is a large and vocal element of the Republican Party that simply cannot resist the temptation to dive headfirst into the rabbit hole of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s past and then come to the surface screaming bloody murder (sometimes literally) about what they think they found there.
In a New Hampshire town meeting on Sunday, a state legislator named Katherine Prudhomme O’Brien demonstrated what we can likely expect to see a lot of in the coming year.
When Clinton paused to take questions from the crowd, O’Brien began haranguing the candidate with questions about former president Bill Clinton’s decades-old infidelities. Her point was to paint Clinton as a hypocrite for claiming to support women’s rights and for launching an anti-sexual assault campaign while, according to O’Brien, her husband still faces unsettled questions about alleged sexual assaults.
O’Brien, who was very close to Clinton when she began shouting questions at her, was herself shouted down by Clinton supporters. After the event, she told reporters “I asked her how in the world she can say that Juanita Broderick and Kathleen Wiley are lying when she has no idea who Juanita Broderick is," O'Brien said, according to CNN, referring to women who have accused the former president of sexual assault and to another attempt she had made to question the candidate.
“She told me this summer she doesn't know who she is and doesn't want to know who she is,” O’Brien said. “How can she access that they are lying, which she told someone last month?”
For her part, Clinton responded sharply, breaking from most candidates’ strategy of ignoring hecklers to tell O’Brien that she was “very rude” and that Clinton would “never” take questions from her.
To be sure, Clinton’s was not the only campaign speech to be disturbed by hecklers recently. Republican frontrunner Donald Trump’s speeches are frequently interrupted – often multiple times – by members of the Black Lives Matter movement and by supporters of undocumented immigrants. The Black Lives Matter protesters have also interrupted Clinton’s rallies, and at one event they memorably stormed the stage and took the microphone away from Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, the junior senator from Vermont.
While aggressive interruptions of campaign events have become more commonplace, the flavor of such disruptions is likely to change as the year progresses toward the November elections. That’s primarily because Clinton is likely to consolidate her current lead and become the de facto and then official nominee.
Clinton criticism has long since become a field that welcomes all comers, regardless of the strength of their tether to reality. Among Clinton detractors there is a veritable alternative history of the United States, beginning with their rise to power in Arkansas in the 1980s, which includes accusations of murder, drug-dealing and a vast menu of sexual improprieties all committed or endorsed by the Clintons.
And with the release later this year of the new Michael Bay film about the 2012 attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, which appears to play to virtually every debunked conspiracy theory about that awful episode, who can doubt that there will be vocal accusations that Clinton is somehow responsible for the American deaths there?
The thing is, there is no unilateral disarmament in politics.
If a New Hampshire state legislator is willing to stand up in a public forum and imply that Clinton’s husband is a rapist, it seems inevitable that others will take the opportunity of public events to make similar charges.
And when Democrats begin to see Clinton attacked over her husband’s infidelities – something Trump has said would be “fair game” in a general election – then is there any question that angry questioners will ask him to address, regardless of their merits, the claims of sexual assault raised by his ex-wife in a tawdry 1990s biography?
Yes, it’s nice to be done with 2015, but there’s no good reason to think that 2016 will be a whole lot better.