Sunday, December 23, 2007


Frank Rich quotes Ted Sorrenson regarding Hillary Clinton's claims to experience versus her competitors, “Hillary should be careful about scoffing at other people’s experience,” Mr. Sorensen said. “It’s not as if the process of osmosis gives her presidential qualities by physical proximity.” Neither does it give her judgement in advisers, her foreign policy team includes Gen. Jack Keane, an author of the Bush "surge" and Lee Feinstein, who had this to say about Bush's Iraq, “we should take the president at his word, which is that he sees war as a last resort” and whether we might have to confront a lack of WMDs right before "Mission Accomplished, “I don’t think that that’s a situation we’ll confront.” Were that not disqualifying enough for any Democratic candidate, he had this to say about a policy of preemption, “the biggest problem with the Bush preemption strategy may be that it does not go far enough.” Now there's a crew that might undermine the idea that Hillary's vote to authorize force didn't mean go to war.

If one were to look at Mrs Clinton's advisers and campaign finances one would be very sure that experience counts heavily in her mind. The big problem is how the experience is processed. It has been noted that never making a mistake only proves you weren't trying, but is also of note that making a mistake can be the best learning tool available, Mrs Clinton seems not to have benefited from the latter. Her response to her signal failure in the health care debate during her husband's administration (his not her co-) has been to cozy up to the insurance industry and investment industry. Never mind that the chief architects of her failure were those very players, her response is to triangulate, cravenly bow to the foes of any consumer beneficial changes. Mrs Clinton has been able to rise to mild criticism of NAFTA and other so-called free trade treaties. Free-for-all trade is OK with her, the triangulation marches on, Unions get mouth noise. Her campaign is based on Bill Clinton, never mind her Senate record where she moved right up next to Joe Lieberman.

An extensive article by Matt Bai in the NYT Sunday magazine looks at the Bill 'Clinton Referendum' and how it will affect the public perception of the Hillary campaign. Bill Clinton gets credit for almost single handedly moving the discussion of the Democratic Party into a new space in the 1990s, words like new economy, information age, globalization, and at its best, Clintonism represented a more modern relationship between government and individuals, one that demanded responsibilities of both. But is that what we have or a huge squandering of the political charisma of Bill Clinton in the face of Republican opposition to any progressive politics? Were the Clinton years truly an advance or a short term invitation to destruction by BushCo?

It is difficult to sort out the lost political capital due to scandals and the deliberate triangulation and the real policy objectives of that administration. In most administration that should be a fairly simple procedure, even in BushCo it is not complicated, but in the Clinton administration virtually everything is open to debate. Whether or not Bill Clinton deserves much credit for the economic expansion during his tenure is open to debate, what he did do was effectively administer it. Even at that there are questions of what seeds were sown for the later dislocations of economic progress, as an example the huge influx of illegal immigrants began under Clinton and was never addressed, either domestically or in nations suffering unintended consequences of NAFTA.

Half measures and social stupidities haunt us today, 'don't ask, don't tell' is one; a half measure guaranteed to extend and complicate an issue into a larger mess than what it was intended to address. The Defense of Marriage Act contained the seeds of destruction, handing a tool and recruiting poster to the Religious Right. The ascension of the DLC's corporate mentality mainstreamed the idea of "what is good for business is good for the country" to the point at which the Republican version - plutocracy - seemed almost reasonable. The reform of welfare institutionalized the idea of families existing on minimum wage work, jobs that were always a means to entry to the work market became ends. A two-fold flood hit the lower end jobs, the reformed welfare recipients and illegal immigration which began the depression of wages at the bottom and ensured the continuation of a draconian minimum wage rate. The slide for workers began.

Job re-training for workers outsourced gained credibility, the workers would now have the "opportunity" to move from their dead-end smokestack industries into the future. The un-addressed problem was that the new jobs paid 70% of what the now gone job paid and there were nowhere near enough of them. The pickings were ripe for the BushCo, it was now "compassionate conservatism" to crush the worker's wages.

One of Bill Clinton's favorite quotes is from Machiavelli's The Prince,
It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor
more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a
new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by
the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by
the new order, this lukewarmness arriving partly from fear of their adversaries,
who have the laws in their favor; and partly from the incredulity of
mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had an
actual experience of it. Thus it arises that on every opportunity for attacking
the reformer, the opponents do so with the zeal of partisans, the others only
defend him halfheartedly, so that between them he runs great danger.
There is assuredly a great deal of truth in Machiavelli's observation, it is also true that absent a drive from a principled point rudderless policy results. There certainly does come a point at which one must be satisfied with what is obtainable, but that is also determined to a great extent by where one starts on the quest. Bargaining room is seriously constrained when one starts nearer the opponent's position rather than farther away.

There is little doubt that today's center is virtually the right of thirty years ago, and there is also little doubt that much of how the debate was framed by Bill Clinton will be the basis of the center again. Neglecting Dennis Kucinich, the candidates today would then have been derided by Democrats as hopelessly conservative. Despite the quarreling between campaigns there is scant difference between Obama and Hillary in their approaches and even the most populist candidate, Edwards, is framed by the Bill Clinton era. For Democrats the question of whether the frame will change may be the most important of all questions asked. It sure isn't going to come from osmosis.


Michael Oliva said...


Great article! Please check out this piece that I wrote called "Experience Matters!" It is important to note that I wrote this before the Iowa caucuses.

Thanks for reading,
Michael Oliva

Chuck Butcher said...

Thanks for the comment, I'd recommend Michael's article.