A few days ago the odds-on favorite for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination was fielding meatball questions at a
staged love-fest CNN “Townhall” for her recent book (the book in which she omits her eight years in the U.S. Senate, years in which she voted to authorize the use of military force against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq). As any reasonably attentive person might have expected would happen, the subject of guns came up. Never letting pass a chance to use a human tragedy to score political points, the conversation was steered onto school shootings, and how American parents are supposedly cowering in fear lest something that happens once in a blue moon at a tiny proportion of the country’s tens of thousands of schools might happen to their beloved chickabiddies.
Our Not-Candidate made the following statement, having first prefaced it with a bunch of bromides about thoughtful conversations, difficult balancing of competing values etc. etc. etc.: “We cannot let a minority of people — and that’s what it is, it is a minority of people — hold a viewpoint that terrorizes the majority of people.” Althouse has a typically helpful de-construction of the remark and the context in which she made it. Placed in that context it becomes plain that the words mean precisely what they say. Holding a belief — as opposed to acting on it, such as by loading up a trunkful of semi-automatic weapons (supposedly brilliant, Our Not-Candidate repeatedly referred to “automatic weapons” in her speech, while in actuality not a single “school shooting” has involved an automatic weapon) — and expressing that belief is now a “terrorizing” act. Specifically it “terrorizes the majority of the people.” I strongly doubt it terrorizes any of the folks with whom this person runs, since they tend to have hired armed guards to protect them. I also strongly doubt it terrorizes many other people outside the Upper West Side or Manhattan Beach. But we’ll leave the counting of terror victims to another day; if anyone is terrorized we must act, right? How do we combat something so awful that it terrorizes the “majority of the people”? Why, we don’t permit that viewpoint to be held.
As Althouse points out, you can’t really prevent people from holding beliefs (a thought which must cause Our Not-Candidate endless frustration). So precisely what does “we can’t let” actually mean, in practical terms? What sort of approach to “thoughtful conversations,” “hard choices,” and “competing values” does it suggest might be the choice of a future administration headed by this person?
Admittedly that’s a tough call. Holding the American presidency is a state of existence so unlike any other set of relationships to the surrounding world that it’s just not, except in the rarest cases, very possible to state with certainty how a particular person is going to behave once in it. Any attempt to do so must necessarily be as much tea-leaf-reading as anything else. But it’s not impossible. There do arise, from time to time, situations in which a putative president is presented with a set of facts and the choice of how to react. How he makes that choice can be illuminating of how his mind works. The longer a person has been in public life the more such data points there will be. Our Not-Candidate has been in public life for a very long time. Even so, we needn’t fire up our Wayback Machine to find some of them.
There exists a group which proclaims itself “ready for” Our Not-Candidate. They even have cutesy logos, hip gear, and so forth. Of course there’s absolutely no coordination at all going on between this group of concerned-but-enthusiastic citizens and the operatives for Our Not-Candidate (you know, the ones she sends to herd The New York Times back onto the reservation). They just happen to think she’s the messiah, is all, and like all true evangelicals, they’re proud for the world to know it. The personality cult aspect of it all just begs for satire, and in a country that for the moment has a First Amendment, what begs for satire gets it. What was the reaction? Why, a threat of legal coercion, of course. Without, you know, actually having a basis for it, they still made the threat, but backed down once they saw their target had competent counsel. What, we Joe Bloggses of the world may ask ourselves, would have become if the person threatened had not had access to that legal assistance?
One of the poses Our Not-Candidate likes to strike is that of standing up for females (because War on Wymyn, dontcha know) and children, and especially female children. Unless they’re rape victims, it seems. Once upon a time Our Not-Candidate represented a fellow charged with raping a young (12) girl. She appears to have represented him zealously within the confines of the law — as was her ethical obligation. She got the only physical evidence excluded, and apparently gratefully used one of the oldest defense lawyer’s tricks in the book: she attacked the victim. Successfully, or at least successfully enough that he beat the rape charge, and got him time served (a couple of months, at that point) on a lesser charge. It appears that she did her job, no more and no less.
Thoroughly distasteful stuff, all of it, but I submit she would have been perfectly justified in taking the approach that she was just doing her job, however icky it was. In the Anglosphere we have this curious notion that everyone accused of a crime, no matter how terrible, has the right to competent counsel and a vigorous defense that is entitled to make use of every legally-valid, not-unethical stratagem to fight the charges. You don’t have to pretend to like it; you don’t have to pretend that it’s ennobling; you don’t have to pretend that it operates only to protect the innocent. The logic the Anglo-American adversarial legal system is not to guard against false negatives, but rather against false positives.
The fact remains, however, that her defense of this child rapist — and it seems she knew he was guilty as sin — destroyed the victim’s childhood.
The system worked as designed for Our Not-Candidate’s client. However disturbing her role in the story was, Our Not-Candidate can legitimately state she performed well the role assigned to her. Trouble was, she doesn’t appear to have been all that disturbed by it, and her re-telling of the episode, roughly a decade later, doesn’t jibe very well with the image she’s presented over the decades. And as interesting as are her words is her tone. A tone of voice captured. On tape. Archived tape. Tape that exists in the public records of a public library operated by a public university. Tape that can surface years later, a lifetime later, at awkward moments for someone who wishes for the illusion to continue. A newspaper (you know, part of that “press” mentioned in the First Amendment) went digging through the archives, out at the University of Arkansas, and found them. They were granted unrestricted access to and use of the tapes. And they reported what they found.
What happens next is instructive. The dean of libraries at the university sends a take-down demand to the newspaper, and notifies it that its privileges have been “suspended” for violating some sort of library policy. Did we mention this person gave $500 to Our Not-Candidate’s unsuccessful run for the White House, back in 2007? Granted, $500 isn’t much from the candidate’s perspective, but speaking from my own, any candidate about whom I’m sufficiently enthused to part with $500 is a candidate in whose fortunes I really have made a major investment, beyond the purely financial aspect. Fortunately this particular newspaper also has competent counsel, and is declining to accept without protest this pretty transparent effort to bury Our Not-Candidate’s past.
Two data points, the common element of which is a transparently unmerited threat to use processes of legal coercion against private citizens or organizations whose sin is to tell the truth, or expose the fatuity, of Our Not-Candidate. Technically Our Not-Candidate is a private citizen herself, for the moment. How, we can be forgiven for asking ourselves, would she be likely to respond to such situations when it’s not just some second-tier government hack in Arkansas she can send to run interference, but the entire United States Department of Justice, backed by shoals of alphabet-soup federal agencies that she can deploy to silence her critics?
Does that suggest any range of meanings which Our Not-Candidate herself assigns to the notion of “not letting people hold viewpoints”?