The Clinton factor

December 2, 2008 at 9:06 am | Posted in Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, U.S. Politics | 1 Comment

clinton_obama_0107I’ve avoided writing anything about the mechanics of the transition for a number of reasons. First, until yesterday, only a few of the major appointments had been announced, and nobody’s time would’ve been enriched by reading post after post of hyped-up speculation. Second, I think it’s mistaken to think we can interpret what these appointments will mean for the policy content of Obama’s presidency; Rahm Emanuel might stalk the political centre like an obsessive pitbull, but one can’t imply from Obama appointing him Chief of Staff that this herals a retreat to the cautious Clintonomics of the 1990’s. His presidency will be judged by actions in office, not by what comes before.

But the blogosphere abhors a vacuum, and when there’s hits to be had, and millions of eager tag surfers demanding to know what it all means, it’s not surprising that my silence hasn’t been shared by the leading commentators. In this rarefied world, there are three distinct interpretations of the decisions made so far. There’s the ‘liberal overboard!’ argument pursued by Chris Bowers, who opines that Obama’s already begun to betray progressives with his appointments. Then there’s the ‘get a gip’ retort from Glenn Greenwald, who insists that he’s never been a true blue progressive, and is merely picking people who are moderate technocrats like himself. And then there’s the third way favoured by E.J. Dionne, whose well-sourced piece argues that the supposed ‘choice’ between the progressive and centrist policy factions is a false one, and Obama is more likely to govern using a synthesis of both.

Dionne’s interpretation certainly seems true in light of yesterday’s rollout of Obama’s national security team. By giving Samantha Power a role in shaping the US State Department and sending Susan Rice to the UN, Obama has put faith in two women with firm commitments to internationalism and human rights, and with General Jim Jones and the retained Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the guns ‘n ammo part of the government will be overseen by men who, for all their faults, at least understand the virtues of ‘soft power‘.

But the divide between progressives & centrists becomes a lot murkier when we look at the choice of Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State. The prospect of a Clinton in the State Department makes many liberals edgy. For one, whilst the differences between them were exaggerated, Hillary’s foreign policy record was part of what made her a non-starter for anti-war Democrats, and it seems somewhat perverse that she’s now preparing to take control of that department. Also, whatever differences there were can’t be waved away as irrellevant; there was enough clear water between them on issues relating to Cuba, Iran, nuclear proliferation and the use of cluster bombs to make Obama the more progressive candidate. And as Dylan Matthews points out here, the problem isn’t just that Clinton’s made some bad decisions on Iran and Iraq; it’s that she continues to be advised by people who – outside of their self-reinforcing Washington clique – no longer have much credibility.

On the other hand, Clinton is still a coalition-forming, multilateralist politician, she possesses one of the finest minds in the Democratic caucus and anyone who’s ever listened to her giving a Q&A will know that her attention to policy detail is extraordinary. We should also remember that this is a woman who, as first lady, did a significant amount to internationalise the cause of women’s rights and promote human rights in general. Lastly, the foreign policy she’ll be asked to execute won’t be her own. As Obama himself stated at the press event, the buck will stop with him and his appointees will be expected to carry out his instructions. Clinton’s actions will inevitably be a reflection on the new President, and those who showed faith in his abilities during the election certainly have no reason to question them just yet.

Anything beyond that is reaching too far into the unknown to be particularly helpful. I’ve no doubt that Clinton will be an extremely competent Secretary of State, but for her department to enact the kind of change which Obama promised during the election will require her to make some changes in herself. The new President can certainly bring that change out of her. The only question now is whether he will.

The best & the brightest

August 19, 2008 at 8:42 pm | Posted in Hillary Clinton, U.S. Politics | Leave a comment

Of all the themes in Joshua Green’s excellent report on the demise of Hillary Clinton’s campaign for President, the strongest for me is her shockingly bad taste in aides & advisors, as these two stories highlights all too well:

Mustering enthusiasm, Clinton declared that the campaign was mistaken not to have competed harder for the youth vote and that—overruling her New Hampshire staff—she would take questions at town-hall meetings designed to draw comparative,” but not negative, contrasts with Obama. Hearing little response, Clinton began to grow angry, according to a participant’s notes. She complained of being outmaneuvered in Iowa and being painted as the establishment candidate. The race, she insisted, now had “three front-runners.” More silence ensued. “This has been a very instructive call, talking to myself,” she snapped, and hung up.


On February 10, Clinton finally fired Solis Doyle and moved Williams in—but did not heed calls to fire Penn, enraging Solis Doyle’s many loyalists. At this crucial point, long-simmering feuds burst into the open. On February 11, Williams’s first day on the job, Phil Singer, Wolfson’s deputy and a man notorious for his tirades at reporters, blew up in Wolfson’s office and screamed obscenities at his boss before throwing open the door to direct his ire at the campaign’s policy director, Neera Tanden, an ally of Solis Doyle. “Fuck you and the whole fucking cabal!” he shouted, according to several Clinton staffers. In the end, he climbed onto a chair and screamed at the entire staff before storming out.

These are the people she would’ve had running the country had she been elected. Well, there’s nothing like surrounding yourself with the best and the brightest, is there?

Clinton & sexism

July 2, 2008 at 10:09 am | Posted in Democratic Party Presidential Primary, Hillary Clinton, U.S. Politics | Leave a comment
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In a medium that allows for infinite interpretations of reality, we can’t be surprised that the internet has facilitated some wildly different representations of politicians. At the beginning of the Democratic Primary, Barack Obama was either a wide-eyed, hope-mongering idealist, or a Bambi-esque neophyte without the strength or experience to be President. In turn, Hillary Clinton was either a smart and savvy politician running a flawless campaign or a power-hungry, say-nothing centrist who couldn’t articulate why she wanted to be President.

However diverse these portrayals were and however removed they might have been from reality, it’s important to remember that they weren’t just invented out of thin air; they were constructed by columnists, talking-heads and bloggers who built their own realities based on what they saw of the primary contest.

It’s a shame, then, that part one of Melissa McEwan and Maureen McCluskey’s CiF piece on the ‘destroying’ of Hillary Clinton in the liberal blogosphere doesn’t provide any background to indicate where this loathing came from. Even before her campaign for President, Clinton was never a popular figure: she was a leading member of the uber-centrist DLC, she voted for the war, she took money from special interests and her staff included union-busters and corporate shills. As her campaign began to smell defeat, she then started making statements that seemed unbecoming of a Democrat. She argued only herself and Senator McCain were qualified to become Commander-in-Chief. She fell short of confirming that Obama wasn’t a Muslim. She repeated the right-wing theme that her opponent was an ‘elitist’ – in spite all the years he’d spent working in poor parts of Chicago. Finally, in one of her last arguments about electability, she claimed the nomination should go to her because she won the votes of more white folks.

These actions prompted a smorgasbord of vicious, dehumanising and frequently sexist tit-for-tat responses, and McEwan recorded these diligently during the primary. But by ignoring the fact that genuine grievances existed, McEwan & McCluskey give the impression, whether intentionally or otherwise, that the prime motivation for attacking Clinton was sexism. Instead, I think the prime motivation was the poor conduct of her campaign, which incited a lot of anger and recrimination and all too frequently mutated into sexist attacks.

If I were them, I would’ve argued that even with genuine points of disagreement and disgust with the Clinton campaign, some previously upstanding members of the blogosphere still sank into the swamp of sexism, and that when seemingly decent, progressive people can still do that, there remains a long way to go before gender equality is achieved.

Image by Flickr user sskennel (Creative Commons)

“A shove in the wrong direction”

May 8, 2008 at 9:51 pm | Posted in Democratic Party Presidential Primary, Hillary Clinton, U.S. Politics | Leave a comment

A frank and fair assessment of a campaign that’s driven a wedge within the feminist movement and disappointed even some of Senator Clinton’s admirers with how eager she’s been to sow division for the sake of victory. The whole thing‘s worth a read, but it’s worth remembering some of the vicious misogyny she experienced a the start of the campaign which won her a considerable amount of good will.

In the course of Hillary Clinton’s historic run for the White House–in which she became the first woman ever to prevail in a state-level presidential primary contest–she has been likened to Lorena Bobbitt (by Tucker Carlson); a “hellish housewife” (Leon Wieseltier); and described as “witchy,” a “she-devil,” “anti-male” and “a stripteaser” (Chris Matthews). Her loud and hearty laugh has been labeled “the cackle,” her voice compared to “fingernails on a blackboard” and her posture said to look “like everyone’s first wife standing outside a probate court.” As one Fox News commentator put it, “When Hillary Clinton speaks, men hear, Take out the garbage.” Rush Limbaugh, who has no qualms about subjecting audiences to the spectacle of his own bloated physique, asked his listeners, “Will this country want to actually watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis?” Perhaps most damaging of all to her electoral prospects, very early on Clinton was deemed “unlikable.” Although other factors also account for that dislike, much of the venom she elicits (“Iron my shirt,” “How do we beat the bitch?”) is clearly gender-specific.

She’s done a fair amount of the mud-slinging in this primary, but when you’ve had so much mud thrown at you in your life, it’s understandable if attack and counter-attack are pretty default defence mechanisms.

50 Cent: “I’m Obama to the end now, baby!”

April 1, 2008 at 2:02 pm | Posted in Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, U.S. Politics | Leave a comment
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You thought it was bad for Hillary when Ted Kennedy endorsed Obama? Or ex-Clintonista Bill Richardson? Or Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar? Well, maybe these are important developments if you still live with your parents, know who Ron Wyden is and watch C-Span to see the grey parade of stiff-necked politicians pander for their lives, you saddo.

But if, like us, you’ve got your priorities in the right order, you’ll know that what really matters in this campaign is what’s going on in the mind of automated rap-bot & serial death-defier Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson. The omens are not good:

“I heard Obama speak,” the rapper told the MTV News crew assembled at his Connecticut mansion to hear the new G-Unit LP and talk about his upcoming video game. “He hit me with that he-just-got-done- watching-‘Malcolm X,’ and I swear to God, I’m like, ‘Yo, Obama!’ ” He threw his fist in the air. “I’m Obama to the end now, baby!”

Which is probably enough to throw the Clinton campaign into crisis mode. Hopefully, much like his insistence that he’s a ‘gangsta for life’ (whilst living in Connecticut? everyone knows that gangstas don’t do long commutes) and the declarations of love for the women in his rap videos, Fiddy’s Obama crush will be just as short-lived:

“To be honest, I haven’t been following that anymore. I lost my interest,” he said. “I listened to some of the debate and things that they were saying, and I just got lost in everything that was going on. … Don’t look for my vote, for me to determine nothing on that. Just say, ’50 Cent, he don’t know, so don’t ask Fiddy.”

Thanks Fiddy, we won’t.

The revelation comes at a testing time for the Clinton campaign, which has been working round-the-clock to snatch the gangsta rap vote from Obama. Her recent recollection that she had to dodge sniper fire on a trip to Bosnia was seen as a direct appeal to rappers whose songs are full of similarly dangerous exploits. Although she later admitted that she lied exaggeratedmisspoke‘ about the trip, this was not thought to damage her street cred as, well, rappers do it all the time.

Democrats for McCain?

March 26, 2008 at 8:45 pm | Posted in Barack Obama, Democratic Party Presidential Primary, Hillary Clinton | 2 Comments
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Via TPM, Gallup reports that 28% of Clinton supporters would vote for McCain is Hillary didn’t get the nomination:

Clinton supporters appear to be somewhat more reactive than Obama supporters. Twenty-eight percent of the former indicate that if Clinton is not the nominee — and Obama is — they would support McCain. That compares to 19% of Obama supporters who would support McCain if Obama is not the nominee — and Clinton is.

This is neither surprising nor something Democrats should get too anxious about. With each day there are fewer undecided voters in the primary race, and the more emotionally invested a voter becomes with one candidate, the more likely they might be to threaten to act churlishly and vote for the ‘enemy’ if their candidate doesn’t win.

Also, I’d like to bet that a sizeable portion of Hillary’s base doesn’t regard McCain as a partisan ‘enemy’ in the first place. One demographic group she practically owns is seniors (or if we’re being uncharitable, Doddery Old White People), so it makes sense that if Hillary isn’t nominated, they might look more favourably towards the Doddery Old White Man Sage Senior Statseman than the Uppity Negro Kid Charismatic Neophyte.

She also has a strong lead amongst Latinos, and given that John McCain is practically alone in his party for refusing to demonise hispanics/immigrants AND proposing sane, non-xenophobic immigration reform, they may be tempted to give him a fair hearing. None of which matters, of course, if Obama offers Bill Richardson the chance to be the first Hispanic Vice President…

Wal Mart sues brain-damaged woman

March 26, 2008 at 9:55 am | Posted in Hillary Clinton, U.S. Politics | Leave a comment
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A disgusting, but completely unsurprising example of the brutality of private health insurance. From CNN:

Debbie Shank breaks down in tears every time she’s told that her 18-year-old son, Jeremy, was killed in Iraq.

Debbie Shank, 52, has severe brain damage after a traffic accident in May 2000.

Even though the 52-year-old mother of three attended her son’s funeral — she continues to ask how he’s doing. When her family reminds her that he’s dead — she weeps as if hearing the news for the first time.

Shank suffered severe brain damage after a traffic accident nearly eight years ago that robbed her of much of her short-term memory and left her in a wheelchair and living in a nursing home.

It was the beginning of a series of battles — both personal and legal — that loomed for Shank and her family. One of their biggest was with Wal-Mart’s health plan.

Read the whole thing here. It should be noted that Hillary “I Will Fight To The Death For Universal Health Care” Clinton was a member of Wal Mart’s board of directors for six years.

But hey, corporations are people too, right?

Clinton’s long defeat

March 25, 2008 at 8:58 pm | Posted in Democratic Party Presidential Primary, Hillary Clinton, U.S. Politics | 1 Comment
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I wouldn’t normally link to David Brooks for anything more than another example of worn-out right-wing orthodoxy, but for a hollowed-out Beltway hack, he writes better than most.

A few days ago, a Clinton aide confided to the Politico that Hillary had no more than a 10% chance of securing the Democrats’ nomination for President. Brooks argues that those odds have since halved and ponders the full extent of the harm she’s inflicting on her own party by doggedly pursuing that 5 percent chance:

Let’s take a look at what she’s going to put her party through for the sake of that 5 percent chance: The Democratic Party is probably going to have to endure another three months of daily sniping. For another three months, we’ll have the Carvilles likening the Obamaites to Judas and former generals accusing Clintonites of McCarthyism. For three months, we’ll have the daily round of résumé padding and sulfurous conference calls. We’ll have campaign aides blurting “blue dress” and only-because-he’s-black references as they let slip their private contempt.

For three more months (maybe more!) the campaign will proceed along in its Verdun-like pattern. There will be a steady rifle fire of character assassination from the underlings, interrupted by the occasional firestorm of artillery when the contest touches upon race, gender or patriotism. The policy debates between the two have been long exhausted, so the only way to get the public really engaged is by poking some raw national wound.

For the sake of that 5 percent, this will be the sourest spring. About a fifth of Clinton and Obama supporters now say they wouldn’t vote for the other candidate in the general election. Meanwhile, on the other side, voters get an unobstructed view of the Republican nominee. John McCain’s approval ratings have soared 11 points. He is now viewed positively by 67 percent of Americans. A month ago, McCain was losing to Obama among independents by double digits in a general election matchup. Now McCain has a lead among this group.

For three more months, Clinton is likely to hurt Obama even more against McCain, without hurting him against herself. And all this is happening so she can preserve that 5 percent chance.

When you step back and think about it, she is amazing. She possesses the audacity of hopelessness.

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