Politics

Clinton, Trump, Nixon and Those Liberal Blind Spots

Two Wellesley commencement speeches, 48 years apart, preach to the same narrow choir.

Echo chamber.

Photographer: Darren McCollester/Getty Images

Speaking at Wellesley College on Friday, Hillary Clinton recalled her 1969 commencement address:

Now, if any of you are nervous about what you’ll be walking into when you leave the campus, I know that feeling. I do remember my commencement. [I’d] been asked by my classmates to speak. ... We didn’t trust government, authority figures, or really anyone over 30 -- in large part, thanks to years of heavy casualties and statements about Vietnam and deep differences over civil rights and poverty here at home. We were asking urgent questions about whether women, people of color, religious minorities, immigrants would ever be treated with dignity and respect. And by the way, we were furious about the past presidential election of a man whose presidency would eventually end in disgrace with his impeachment for obstruction of justice. After firing the person running the investigation into him at the Department of Justice.

CNN writes up the speech thus:

In a fiery commencement speech at her alma mater of Wellesley College on Friday, Clinton went after President Donald Trump and the controversies that are swirling around him, comparing his imperiled presidency to that of Richard Nixon’s.

Okay, but three things about Clinton’s comparison.

  1. She’s comparing today’s anti-Trump fervor to the fury her peers felt about the wholly, unquestionably legitimate election of Richard Nixon in 1969.
  2. She’s comparing today’s anti-Trump fervor to the fury her peers felt toward Nixon long before he had committed any impeachable acts -- the Nixon-administration firings she mentioned happened more than four years after her commencement speech.
  3. That use of “we” refers to the Wellesley community as a cozy liberal monoculture. It erases any conservatives, or Nixon or Trump supporters, in the graduating class. Which is a little rich considering that she also decries the idea of “a closed society where there is only one right way to think, believe, and act.”

Like most Americans, I have my objections to Trump. But one reason the opposition to him has so far failed is that a lot of people think that it is made up of an insular and narrow elite that wants to sentence Trump before he gets a trial, or even faces charges. It’s an impression Clinton’s comparison does nothing to dispel.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

    To contact the author of this story:
    Ramesh Ponnuru at rponnuru@bloomberg.net

    To contact the editor responsible for this story:
    Jonathan Landman at jlandman4@bloomberg.net

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