What we’ve learned from right wing reaction to Obama, and now Trump

On January 27, 1998, in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky revelations, Hillary Clinton appeared on the Today show and said, “The great story here for anybody willing to find it and write about it and explain it is this vast right wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for president.”

The veracity of her words have become ever more clear in the nearly eighteen years between then and now. While the right wing did not plant Monica Lewinsky in the White House to tempt President Clinton, once the story broke, the right wing went to all extremes to sensationalize it and to try to destroy the Clinton presidency.

The origins of the “vast right wing conspiracy”(VRWC) go as far back as the early 1960s with the John Birch Society and the rise of Senator Barry Goldwater (AZ) to the Republican nomination for president in 1964. The Nixon years were not good for the VRWC because Nixon tarnished the Republican brand. The Reagan years also were not good for the VRWC because Reagan’s “morning in America” tried to put a smile on things, whereas the VRWC has more of a frowning visage, somewhat like Karl Rove. But Bill Clinton was raw meat to them, somewhat as Jimmy Carter had previously been. By 1998 when Hillary Clinton appeared on Today, there was really no doubt that there was some sort of a conspiracy at work. The questions were, “How big is it,” and “Who is behind it.”

Barack Obama’s presidency presented a new opportunity for the VRWC to wreak havoc. The day of Obama’s inauguration, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) is alleged to have said that he wanted to limit Obama to one term, regardless of what he might do. He said it publicly in 2010 to the National Journal: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

The intransigence of McConnell, the outright hostility from him and many of his Republican colleagues, has characterized how Republicans have obstructed President Obama’s governance at every turn. The most significant piece of legislation of the Obama years is the Affordable Care Act. It passed in early 2010, while there were still Democratic majorities in both the House and the Senate. But it was sabotaged by Republicans at virtually every turn, even though the president tried to work collaboratively with the GOP. During the 2008 campaign, he had floated the idea of a public option which would be health insurance provided by the government for anyone who would need it. It had the obvious advantage of coming from a source that was not seeking a profit, so it would be cost-efficient for consumers. But it was DOA with Republicans in Congress. Only by cajoling that almost-extinct breed of “blue-dog Democrats” did President Obama succeed in steering through a program that while far short of perfect, was a significant improvement over what had previously existed.

Republicans have undermined the president at every turn. Nominations are either not considered or they are delayed for a year or more. Temporary budget agreements are tenuous at best and at times Republicans have even let the federal government shut down. Obama has been forced to maximize what he can do through executive orders to fashion any policy with regard to the environment, health and safety, labor rights, education, energy, transportation, housing, civil rights, civil liberties, or a host of other issues that previously were considered by members of each party in Congress.

The obvious question arises, to what extent is the President’s race a factor in the hostility? Up until Ferguson, most Americans lived under the illusion that racial harmony had improved and the election of an African-American president was the best possible proof of that. But Obama was elected by Democrats and independents; Republicans had virtually nothing to do with his victory. The party that had captured the Confederacy after Barry Goldwater’s run in 1964 was now locked in positions that undermined civil rights and civil decency. Those in the right wing became furious that an African-American could win an election and then be so well-qualified to govern. They have done everything in their power to undermine Barack Obama.

The depth and breadth of the right wing has become clear in the Obama years in ways that we previously never knew. It is indeed vast. Now, with Donald Trump running for the Republican nomination for president, we are able to get some actual numbers on what portion of the Republican Party is so pissed off at Obama and everything for which he and many other progressives support. Trump seems to be garnering 30% support of the Republican Party. Combined with the support for Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and others, the number of Republicans who act as part of the “vast right-wing conspiracy” is now well over 70%. That’s frighten; it’s paralyzing; and it puts everyone in America in jeopardy.

Hillary Clinton was right in 1998 when she named it. She was the target of almost as much of its animus in the 2008 campaign as was Barack Obama. Now that she looks like the probable Democratic nominee in 2016, it seems only fitting that she will be the new anointed one to fight back against them. Obama has had a difficult time doing so because some might think that if he did he would be playing the race card. But the gender card that Hillary Clinton can play is much more acceptable than the race one.

What we know now that we didn’t know when Hillary Clinton introduced us to the VRWC is that it is not an aberration; it is not a small minority; it is not easily going away. It is here and it is huge. It’s difficult for progressives to understand, but if we don’t learn more about the Republican Brain, then we will be continually stopped from reasonable governance. As absurd as Trump’s ideas and behavior are, he may be the best window we could have into what this right wing is really about. Progressives need to hold their anger and use their smarts to combat it.