We are all familiar with the “strange new respect” accorded nominal Republicans or former conservatives who betray their supporters. As Wlady Pleszczynski recalls, Bethell began bestowing the Strange New Respect Award on once-reliable conservatives who won the praise of the liberal media by adopting liberal policies.
I believe it was Linda Greenhouse of the New York Times who originally inspired Tom Bethell to recognize the phenomenon. As I recall, Bethell noted Greenhouse’s celebration of Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices who, in the eyes of liberals like Greenhouse, had “grown” in office. Harry Blackmun, David Souter and Anthony Kennedy are all prime examples of the phenomenon Bethell identified. Noemie Emery explains:
“Strange new respect” is the term coined by Tom Bethell, an unhappy conservative, to describe the press adulation given those who drift leftward, those who grow “mature,” “wise,” and “thoughtful” as they cause apoplexy in right-wingers, and leave their old allies behind.
Emery first discerned a variation of the phenomenon among conservatives with respect to Hillary Clinton this past spring, calling it “an exceedingly strange new respect.” She dated the growth of respect among conservatives precisely to March 2008:
After March 4, [Clinton] suddenly seemed to look and sound different: She began to seem real. The shrillness was gone, and so was The Cackle, and so were the forced southern accents that once caused so many so much merriment. Hillary!–whoever that was–never really cohered as a character; her previous poses–the Perfect Wife, the Aggrieved Wife, the Empress-in-Waiting–were all unconvincing, but in her new role–the scrapper, forced to the wall, and hanging in there with ferocious and grim resolution–she is suddenly all of a piece.
Emery now returns to the subject in “The great right hope.” She elaborates on the “exceedingly strange new respect” with which conservatives came to view Clinton as a function of the tack she took in her struggle to overcome the leftward-most viable candidate in the Democratic field (I.e., Obama):
As [Obama] rose, all her old mainstays began to desert her. The trendies and glitzies peeled off, as did the students. The civil rights lobbies peeled off, as was expected. The feminists split. NARAL deserted, aborting her hopes at a critical moment. Hollywood and the fashion world broke for her rival, who looked like a film star, or a model for the Gap. The media swooned, and began to assail her, deriding her style, and clothes. As her previous base was collapsed by Obama, she responded by taking the only route open: She morphed by default into the champion of middle-aged, middle-class, small-town and middle America; of the more conservative, post-Reagan Democrats; and, by her party’s standards, the hawks.
In the spring, conservatives found themselves pulling for Clinton, in the interests of keeping the Democratic feud going. But as time passed and she refused to dissolve in the face of adversity, a strategic alliance based on convenience became infused with a Strange New Respect. How tough she was. How relentlessly viable. How she resisted the pressure of Obama obsessives, who were trying to show her the door. And how right she was, at least from their viewpoint, and at least upon foreign affairs. “Hillary became the sane one in the race, at least from Republicans’ perspectives,” as Jennifer Rubin observed as the race ended, noting that she was the one who had ridiculed Obama’s plans to meet unconditionally with the leaders of terrorist governments, who had defied her party to vote to classify the Iranian National Guard as a terrorist outfit, who had “looked at George Stephanopoulos with a look of incredulity” when he asked why, if Iran attacked Israel, she would bomb Iran into rubble, or at least smithereens.
In “Opportunism knocks, part 3” and other posts we wrote at legnth about the September 2007 vote on the Kyl-Lieberman amendment supporting the designation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. Clinton voted in favor of it. Obama refrained from taking a position or voting on it. Once Clinton voted in favor of it, however, Obama castigated her for the vote. He described it as “saber rattling.”
The morning after Obama sewed up the Democratic nomination in June, he appeared before AIPAC and enthusiastically supported the position he had previously castigated throughout the campaign. It is a story that shows the peculiar cynicism and deep calculation with which Obama conducted a purportedly idealistic campaign, and it is of course a story that the mainstream media somehow missed.
With the relief now expressed among conservatives over the possibility that Obama may name Clinton Secretary of State, Emery concludes:
It’s a long trek from vast right-wing conspiracy to Great Right Hope, but Hillary Clinton, with the help of the far left, has made it. Strange things, people tell you, can happen in politics. But not many much stranger than this.
Emery precisely describes the evolution of the “strange new respect” with which I came to view Clinton in the course of the campaign. I would add only that the cynicism and calculation remaining on Obama’s side of the equation has yet to be reckoned with and should not be overlooked.
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