THE WASHINGTON POST – In the introduction to this exhausting book, Michael D’Antonio raises the possibility that Hillary Clinton has achieved mythic status, and not in a good way. He compared her to the ancient “ghosts and goblins” who are “unconscious projections of the insecurities… of their creators. ‘They’ are heaped with our shortcomings so that ‘we’ can feel pure.”
D’Antonio lets it go at that, but the notion of scapegoat sacrifice deserves more thoughtful exploration. In the ancient world, it was a death sentence. It was the most profound of rituals because the scapegoat was always guilty. It was a necessary expiation, a symbolic cleansing of society’s ills. “In Greek mythology, the scapegoat is never wrongfully accused,” author of Violence and the Sacred René Girard once told me. “But he is always magical. He has the capacity to relieve the burden of guilt from a society. This seems a basic human impulse. There is a need to consume scapegoats.”
This may be the best anthropological explanation for the demented and relentless “hunting” of Clinton and her husband. They are perfect scapegoats for the caricatured excesses of the baby boom generation. They represent the permissiveness that terrified and entranced, and tempted, their opponents.
The Clintons were also stupendously guilty of the more subtle failings of their generation, the solipsistic idealism and sense of entitlement; the belief that they could cut corners – fly free on private planes, give speeches for fabulous sums, indulge in insider stock trades – for the greater good. Early on, D’Antonio produced a quote from the revered Arkansas liberal Dale Bumpers, who later defended President Bill Clinton in his impeachment trial.
“Clinton ought to be most grateful… but he never is. You can never do quite enough for him and Hillary… They are the most manic obsessed people I have ever known in my life, and perhaps even the most insensitive to everybody else’s feelings. Everything centres around them and their ambitions. It is precisely the reason Bill got beat (for governor of Arkansas) in 1980. People felt, and correctly, that they were being manipulated.”
D’Antonio produced occasional nuggets like that one throughout The Hunting of Hillary, which raise the hope of a more insightful book than the one he produced. But his aim is simple: to lay out, in detail, the often lunatic 40-year campaign to destroy Hillary Clinton. We’ve read most of this before. D’Antonio is a workmanlike compiler of other people’s reporting and insights – he produces a new book every year or so – and his intentions are good. But there is no art to it. Indeed, quite the opposite: The book plods along through Whitewater and Lewinsky and Benghazi and the email non-scandals, and a host of others. There is the familiar cast of twisted characters: Richard Mellon Scaife, who funds a scad of hit groups to “investigate” the Clintons, and then winds up voting for Hillary against Donald Trump; Congressman Dan Burton, who shot a melon in his backyard to prove that Clinton’s close friend Vince Foster did not commit suicide but was murdered (by the Clintons, of course); the eternal “investigator” David Bossie, who turned conspiracy-mongering into millions; special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, who took a weirdly salacious interest – worthy of a scapegoat sacrifice – in Bill Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky.
There are Rupert Murdoch and Rush Limbaugh and the right-wing fake-news promoters. And there are the mainstream journalists – William Safire, Michael Isikoff, others – who pasteurised the poison for public consumption. I could go on; D’Antonio certainly does. Clinton-hating was, and remains, a lascivious phenomenon.
There are occasional revelations – or rediscoveries – along the way. George Conway, the current Trump scourge and husband of Kellyanne, makes a special guest appearance as one of the “Elves”, the lawyers representing Paula Jones against Bill Clinton. “Conway was so virulently anti-Clinton that he typically referred to the president not by name but by a derogatory term and literally jumped for joy” when he saw a TV report of new allegations.
And then there’s future Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh, working for Starr, who seemed fixed on Foster’s suicide and “persuaded” Starr to re-open the case as a murder investigation, which lasted three years and cost USD2 million. “Members of Foster’s family were interviewed again and again, resented the interference, but Kavanaugh pressed on,” D’Antonio claimed, “and even sent FBI agents to collect a sample of Foster’s daughter’s hair.”.
I suppose there is value in compiling this vile stuff. There will be first-time voters in 2020 who were not even born when Bill Clinton was president, and they should know where the Trumpist wing-nuttery came from. For the rest of us, though, there is a larger question, unasked in this book: In the end, what are we to make of Bill and Hillary Clinton – not just as “magical” scapegoats but as public servants.
In the end, a true scapegoat sacrifice tells us more about the sins of the society in question than about the goat. The Hunting of Hillary was always more about us than it was about her.