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Bill and Hillary's 'Stockholm Syndrome'

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Bill and Hillary's 'Stockholm Syndrome'
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By Robert Parry
April 14, 2008

As one of the few mainstream Washington journalists who defended the Clintons when they were under often unfair attack in the 1990s, it sometimes pains me to watch how that experience shaped – or misshaped – them in their national political revival a decade later.

The two most distinctive features of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign – and Bill Clinton’s attempts at a supporting role – are a seemingly bottomless pit of self-pity (excavated in part by the right-wing attack machine years ago) and the copycat use of many right-wing tactics to demonize their opponents and critics.

It’s like watching a Democratic mirror image of Lee Atwater and Karl Rove (albeit without all the creative destructive brilliance and with more whining about alleged media bias against individuals, Hillary and Bill Clinton).

Not that the Right didn’t whine over the years. A central theme in the Right’s faux populism was the long-asserted grievance about “liberal media bias.”

That right-wing complaint emerged historically in the 1950s when white Southerners grew angry about what they saw as sympathetic Northern news coverage of Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights protesters.

The “liberal bias” argument gained steam in the late 1960s and the early 1970s when mainstream TV and print journalists were blamed for undermining public support for the Vietnam War and for driving Richard Nixon from office over the Watergate scandal.

Indeed, the Republican Party’s chip-on-the-shoulder style can be traced to these alleged injustices – even if the complaints hold little water (few Americans today would defend racial segregation; U.S. military historians pin the Vietnam defeat on incompetent battlefield strategy and high casualties, not the press corps; and President Nixon was guilty in the Watergate scandal).

Nevertheless, the right-wing anger over integration, Vietnam and Watergate transformed the U.S. political system, as Republican operatives justified their nasty hard-ball tactics as payback against the elitist liberals. Conservatives were the victims, you see.

So, in the late 1970s and through the 1980s, wealthy right-wingers built an extraordinary attack apparatus – their own media, well-funded think tanks and groups that would target journalists who exposed facts that endangered some other Republican president. There would not be “another Watergate.”

Clintons Arrive

That was the strange world the Clintons entered in 1993 when they arrived in Washington. During the presidential campaign, they had gotten a taste of the attack machine (see, for instance, the targeting of Bill Clinton’s patriotism by President George H.W. Bush in the Passportgate scandal).

But the Clintons thought that the Republican meanness would subside once they took office, that they would be given a fair chance to govern.

So, in what he apparently regarded as a gesture of bipartisanship, Bill Clinton helped sweep under the rug serious investigations that were then underway into major political crimes of the Reagan-Bush years, such as the secret Iraqgate arming of Saddam Hussein and the Iran-Contra Affair. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]

All Clinton’s generosity did, however, was free up the Right’s attack apparatus from its original role of playing defense for Republican presidents and let it go on the offensive against him and his wife.

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at It's also available at

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