Republicans are like: Zzzzzzzzz.
  • Patrick Semansky/AP Photos
  • Republicans are like: Zzzzzzzzz.

Rooting through old files, I came across a Mike Royko column from August 13, 1992, that was headlined: “GOP sets its sights on Hillary Clinton.”

This was 22 years ago! Bill Clinton hadn’t been elected president yet. The Democrats hadn’t even nominated him yet, though it was clear they would. This was before Vince Foster, and before Whitewater, and decades before Bengazi. It was so long ago we might suppose hating Hillary Clinton wasn’t even a gleam in the GOP’s eye.

We’d be wrong.

The Republican convention was about to begin, and Royko predicted that Hillary Clinton would emerge from it as “Public Enemy Number One of the traditional American family.”

It’s already started, observed Royko. “I’ve heard right-wingers describe her as a Nazi, a pinko, a baby-snatcher, and a vicious, ambitious, grasping man-hater. At least they give her credit for versatility.”

By right-wingers, Royko did not mean simply conservatism’s lunatic fringe. His case at hand was a speech by the Republican national chairman, Rich Bond. “To hear Bond tell it,” Royko wrote, “Hillary thinks that as an institution, marriage is a modern-day Devil’s Island.”

Bond had told other Republicans that Hillary Clinton “likened marriage and the family to slavery.” Bond wasn’t speaking simply for himself. A few days later Pat Buchanan asked the convention, “What does Hillary believe?” and answered his own question: “Well, Hillary believes that 12-year-olds should have a right to sue their parents, and she has compared marriage as an institution to slavery—and life on an Indian reservation.”

The Republicans had dusted off an article Hillary Clinton wrote in 1973 for the Harvard Educational Review on the legal rights—actually, the lack of legal rights—of children. Under the law, she wrote, children were “almost powerless to articulate their own interests or to organize themselves into a self-interested constituency.” They were assumed to be “incapable or undeserving of the right to take care of themselves”—a legal status that at one time or another had also been written into the institutions of “marriage, slavery and the Indian reservation system.”

If Republicans truly believe children should be powerless to defend themselves against adults who abuse them, then the party should champion child abuse in its platform, Royko concluded. But his snarkiness was lost on me. What I felt on concluding his column was a deep sadness for the Republican Party. Surely, it finds itself at a crossroads. Hillary Clinton is the odds-on favorite to become the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016, and what will the Republicans do then? Will they tell themselves, “We’ve hated Hillary for 22 years now—we can hate her a few months more”? Or will they admit that when it comes to hating Hillary, at this point they’re running on fumes?

Critical thinking on grudges is close to unanimous. “Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs,” wrote Charlotte Bronte. Wrote Christopher Hitchens: “Part of the function of memory is to forget; the omni-retentive mind will break down and produce at best an idiot savant who can recite a telephone book, and at worst a person to whom every grudge and slight is as yesterday’s.” Bette Midler is said to have remarked, “How many times can you wake up in the middle of the night gnashing your teeth? It’s so boring. Give it up!”

But as fine as it is to sleep through the night and awake with a peaceful heart, there is another reason—less commented on—for letting go of old grudges. When you do you make room for a new grudge—the kind that whets the appetite and puts spring in the step. I bet the GOP is full of Republicans who would just love to hate Elizabeth Warren for the first time, or maybe that radical new mayor in New York, Bill de Blasio.

Instead, do they have to crank it up for Hillary yet again? At this point they could phone it in, but you don’t win elections when you do.