The moral equivalent to tar and feathering is the demonization of political candidates we despise. Increasingly,we settle on our favorites and damn opponents not only for their point of view but for everything about them. Snoopy television and scandal exposures on the internet have helped scare up both legitimate wrongdoing and sensational nonsense with which to pillory our foes beyond the scope of what was possible even 50 years ago. Manichean politics is in the ascendency.
It entails turning even otherwise harmless or likeable traits into accusations. To indulge in current contretemps, I'd be required to despise every bit of Donald Trump's social skills as nothing more than the devil's strategy, which I'm not prepared to do.
More to the point is Hillary Clinton's support of her husband during the grim revelations of his infidelities. What could conceivably be considered "character" by the behavioral codes of the past become grist for further scorn by many in the enemies' camp. The New York Times felt the call to probe suggestions that Mrs. Clinton sought to undermine the complicit women, implicitly censoring her in a front page grabber.
You'd think the "family values" crowd, much of which has huddled around Trump, would applaud her. Here's a woman who managed through a tough stretch to keep her nuclear unit together, who didn't file for divorce, who didn't go public with accusations against Bill on her own. She would seem to be a model for indissolubility for those who hold to that view. But the die-hard "never Hillary" throng felt obligated to turn their own stated principle into a vice. If Hillary did it, it couldn't be counted as a plus. It would have to be lumped in with the other indictments. Hillary's disreputable behavior had to match Trump's backbreaking load of perfidy. Much of the public has bought it. "Neither one of them is any good," a florist recently told me. "They're both up to their ears in corruption." That often passes as character analysis these days.
The Bill Clinton scandals continue to exact a price, from Hillary most of all. With that in mind, under less polarized conditions she might get more credit for doing the right thing, exercising moral probity, by handling things as she did. But current political forces militate against it.