Clinton’s past is omnipresent

Hillary: The Movie previews what’s sure to come in her opponents’ campaign ads

About the author:
Stephanie Mencimer is a reporter in the Washington, D.C., bureau of Mother Jones and author of Blocking the Courthouse Door: How the Republican Party and Its Corporate Allies Are Taking Away Your Right to Sue.

Hillary Clinton has what pollsters call high negatives, which essentially means that lots of people really don’t like her and never will. But her supporters have long argued that she is a formidable candidate despite these negatives because those numbers aren’t likely to go any higher. As the theory goes, Americans are already well acquainted with the Clintons’ dirty laundry—Whitewater, Monica, etc.—and as a result, any more mud slung at Hillary isn’t likely to stick.

Unlike the less-seasoned presidential contenders, she’s been through the mill, and is still standing. But if Hillary: The Movie is any indication, this particular case for Clinton the candidate is wishful thinking.

Created by the conservative political group Citizens United, the anti-Hillary movie makes the Democratic primary season look like a polite college-debate tournament. It hurls all the down-and-dirty opposition research her opponents have thus far declined to touch. Moreover, it doesn’t simply recycle the old anti-Hillary stuff; it raises a new slew of charges to spin the New York senator as a cross between Machiavelli and Lady Macbeth.

The movie offers a preview of what the general election could look like should Clinton become the Democratic nominee. Despite far too much ranting by Ann Coulter and a few silly moments, the movie hits hard at Clinton’s weak spots and lands some solid punches that can’t be dismissed just because they come from the right-wing’s usual suspects.

Photo by nancy kaszerman/Zuma Press

Hillary dips briefly into some of the old Clinton scandals, including Bill’s well-documented skirt chasing. To great effect, the film also digs into the tale of Billy Dale, the former longtime head of the White House travel office who was allegedly sacked on Hillary’s orders so she could staff the office with cronies boasting Hollywood connections.

But the movie’s producers smartly skip over most of the ancient history and stick to fresher material, much of which will be unfamiliar to the average viewer (or voter). The fund-raising scandals alone provide a mountain of fodder. And Hillary makes great use of the video footage from the 2000 “Hollywood Farewell Gala Salute to William Jefferson Clinton.”

The star-studded event was organized and paid for by Peter F. Paul, a repeat felon and con artist who had cozied up to the Clintons in the waning days of Bill’s administration. Aiding Paul was Aaron Tonken, another con man who was later convicted of defrauding charities, who helpfully provides an interview for the film from prison.

Paul, who is interviewed extensively in the movie, paid $1.2 million to put on the gala, which raised money for Hillary Clinton’s Senate race. Her Senate campaign, however, reported to the Federal Election Commission that the event cost only $523,000. (In-kind donations such as hosting a party count toward candidate spending limits.) The FEC eventually fined Clinton’s campaign $35,000 for underreporting the cost of the party. Hillary Clinton’s finance director was tried and acquitted for his role in reporting the event cost.

After the Washington Post reported on Paul’s criminal history, which included drug charges and all sorts of financial shenanigans (even defrauding Cuba, if you can imagine the level of criminal ingenuity that would entail), Hillary Clinton distanced herself from him. But Hillary showcases lots of footage and chummy photos of the former first lady with Paul, even a video of a conference call she made to him.

You don’t need to be James Carville to see how the episode may play out in campaign ads. And you can already envision the making of commercials on Bill Clinton’s pardoning of 16 members of the Puerto Rican terrorist group Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional, which the film lays at the feet of Hillary.

Despite significant flaws and misrepresentations, Hillary is a useful reminder that Clinton carries a lot of baggage. It should give voters pause if only because the film lays waste to any notion that the vast right-wing conspiracy slithered under a rock. The Clinton-haters are alive and well, and in fighting form.

Reprinted with permission of