Warning: As we enter the final innings of the presidential campaign, the matchup between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump may be harmful to our mental health.
Speaking at Temple University this week, Clinton observed: “This election in particular can be downright depressing sometimes.”
She’s spot-on. But what’s most depressing is not how Clinton and Trump are treating each other. It’s how they’re treating the voters.
They offer only contempt. They must think we’re fools. The tall tales these two hucksters expect us to believe are astounding.
Whether she’s asked about her private email server or her physical well-being, Clinton responds like a slimy defense attorney who at first insists that her client wasn’t even at the scene of the crime only to eventually admit that her client was there and did commit the crime but only in self-defense.
Likewise, whether he is talking about deporting illegal immigrants or brushing past inconsistencies in his trade policy, Trump resembles a shady car salesman who jacks up the price of a vehicle and then tries to convince you he’s doing you a favor by giving you a great deal.
Both of these personas are on full display in the recently resurrected “birther” controversy, which you can bet Clinton, her surrogates and their enablers in the media are going to continue to bring up until Election Day.
After all, Democrats believe the issue hurts the Republican nominee. It was the birther controversy that first gave Trump a national soapbox. The reality-show star publicly flirted for several years with the idea that Obama was born not in Hawaii but in Kenya. At one point, Trump even promised to contribute $5 million to charity if Obama would release his records and hired private detectives to investigate where the president was born.
Last week, Trump acted as if he had solved the case. “President Barack Obama was born in the United States,” he told reporters. “Period.”
Then Trump did something that must drive Clinton supporters stark raving mad. He twisted the storyline to make it seem as if he had, all these years, somehow been on a noble fact-finding mission to establish Obama’s eligibility to be president.
“Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it,” he said.
The whole assertion is so preposterous that you have to wonder: Just how low is Trump’s opinion of the American voter?
About as low as Clinton’s. It’s a mystery why the Democratic nominee insists on bringing up an issue on which – as MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough recently put it – she and some of her former and current advisers don’t exactly have “clean hands.”
Trump is right about one thing. It’s indisputable that the roots of the birther issue go back to Clinton’s failed 2008 bid for the presidency. The media have tried to help Clinton whitewash that history by crafting a narrative that, while it might be true that some Democrats trafficked in ugly rumors about Obama being born in Kenya, this only happened after Obama had already won the nomination and the only people engaged in such mischief were low-level volunteers.
That part is not true. It was Clinton’s chief strategist Mark Penn who, in a March 2007 memo to Clinton, suggested that Obama’s “roots to basic American values and culture are at best limited” and insisted that Obama was not “fundamentally American in his thinking and his values.” And now a journalist named James Asher, formerly the Washington bureau chief of the McClatchy newspaper chain, says that the line that Obama was born in Kenya was pushed to him in person by longtime Clinton confidante Sidney Blumenthal.
Blumenthal denies Asher’s account. And there is no evidence that Clinton or her campaign ever acted on advice to portray Obama as foreign. But that doesn’t mean the advice wasn’t given.
Clinton surrogates were out there during the heat of the primary battle pushing a narrative that emphasized what CNN’s Jake Tapper gingerly called Obama’s “otherness,” as when former Sen. Bob Kerrey, a Clinton supporter, suggested during a TV interview that Obama attended a madrassa while growing up in Indonesia.
Clinton would be wise to avoid this entire topic, before it blows up in her face. But she won’t. She'll keep bringing it up.
Because, just like her opponent, she has no respect for the intelligence of the American voter.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.