Posts Tagged ‘Hillary Clinton’

It Happened Here

Sunday, January 29th, 2017

Image result for trump inauguration fist


Last week, the previously unimaginable happened:  the first black President of the United States and his family were succeeded in the White House by the most high profile proponent of the ridiculous, racist Birther conspiracy theory.

Anyone who watched national TV in the last year knows Trump’s list of indiscretions, but it’s worth remembering that he spent most of his time running for president demonstrating just how unfit he was for the job. This is a man who made fun of a handicapped reporter to entertain a throng of cheering fans, a man who joked about the assassination of his political opponent, who attacked the parents of a decorated soldier for their religion, who said in one memorable Republican debate that he would force US soldiers to commit war crimes and bragged about the size of his penis, who stated in a another debate that he would put his opponent in jail if he won the election, who not only lost the three debates he participated in by a large margin, but publicly melted down during and after those debates… and to top it all off, was revealed on tape bragging about how he sexually assaults women in a tape that was released a month before the election.

Democrats have a lot of theories about how this could have happened and many of them have merit. Despite Trump’s desire to make it go away, it’s clear that Putin and Wikileaks were effectively acting as some combination of a Pro Trump Super PAC and Nixon’s Plumbers. There’s even more evidence that James Comey’s unprecedented last minute interference (not to mention a cabal of FBI agents colluding with Rudy Giuliani who may have forced his hand) was the coup de grace for Hillary, with late deciders breaking hard for Trump. And it’s also true that if black turnout was higher and more Bernie Sanders voters weren’t actively working against her, then she still could have won. But much of this misses the point. Donald Trump is an awful human being, totally unfit for the job and the race never should have been close. Hillary lost because she got trounced among white working class voters and she got trounced because she failed to articulate a credible case that she would ease the economic problems that have ravaged their communities since the 1970′s.

Hillary’s loss is made all the more dire by what George Packer calls the “hollowing out” of the Democratic party during the presidency of Barack Obama.

The Democratic Party claims half the country, but it’s hollowed out at the core. Hillary Clinton became the sixth Democratic Presidential candidate in the past seven elections to win the popular vote; yet during Barack Obama’s Presidency the Party lost both houses of Congress, fourteen governorships, and thirty state legislatures, comprising more than nine hundred seats. The Party’s leaders are all past the official retirement age, other than Obama, who has governed as the charismatic and enlightened head of an atrophying body. Did Democrats even notice? More than Republicans, they tend to turn out only when they’re inspired. The Party has allowed personality and demography to take the place of political organizing.

There’s a lot of technical analysis that I could go into to try to explain what has happened in the past 8 years, but I think that the inescapable conclusion is that what was good for President Obama’s electoral fortunes was a disaster for the national Democratic party. The historic nature of his candidacy and his electoral success hid (and even accelerated) the shift of the Democratic Party from a party built on a working class base, to a party increasingly made up mostly of women, minorities and  professional whites clustered in urban areas and on the coasts. These voters can continue to be a base for the Democrats, but the election of Trump (not to mention the elections of 2010 and 2014) shows what happens when working class whites abandon the Democratic party in droves.

For anyone hoping to understand the election of Trump, George Packer is required reading. Packer talks about the disconnection that many working class whites have felt over the decades as jobs left their communities and they felt increasingly disconnected from politics in America.

(They) have no foundation to stand on; they’re unorganized, unheard, unspoken for. They sink alone. The institutions of a healthy democracy—government, corporation, school, bank, union, church, civic group, media organization—feel remote and false, geared for the benefit of those who run them. And no institution is guiltier of this abandonment than the political parties… So it shouldn’t have come as a complete surprise when millions of Americans were suddenly drawn to a crass strongman who tossed out fraudulent promises and gave institutions and élites the middle finger.

Trump focused his campaign on the two issues where both parties had ignored the will of the white working class: trade and immigration. For decades, their views on immigration and trade were ignored by a consensus among “elites” in both parties. Republicans had traditionally supported free trade, but in the 1990′s, Bill Clinton’s Democratic Leadership Council made it a core part of the national Democratic party’s agenda. Politicians gave protectionism lip service, but always supported the trade deals when they came up.

On immigration, Business “elites” supported open borders because they want the cheap labor and liberal “elites” supported it for humanitarian reasons. The result is very little border security and a de-facto amnesty for those already here. As the working class saw their communities decimated by the decades long de-industrialization of America, they watched as both parties ignored the forces they felt were fueling it.

Trump’s campaign team took advantage of this rift masterfully, making the white working class “a self-conscious identity group” and setting them in opposition to the “globalist” ethos that the Democratic party increasingly personified.

Packer recounts a conversation with Charles Murray:

The energy coming out of the new lower class really only needed a voice, because they are so pissed off at people like you and me…We so obviously despise them, we so obviously condescend to them—‘flyover country.’ The only slur you can use at a dinner party and get away with is to call somebody a redneck—that won’t give you any problems in Manhattan. And you can also talk about evangelical Christians in the most disparaging terms—you will get no pushback from that. They’re aware of this kind of condescension. And they also haven’t been doing real well.

Trump spoke directly to these voters with a clear message: The Washington poiltical establishment has ignored your concerns and allowed your jobs to disappear. I’m not going to let that happen anymore. Hillary Clinton responded with a message that was almost devoid of economic messaging, basically ceding this ground to him and choosing to repeat the same messages about how unsuited he was for the job and preaching the message of tolerance and national unity. This strategy was taken right out of Obama’s playbook, but Obama was always very careful to keep the economic pitch at the forefront of in his campaign messaging.  Hillary failed to keep that focus, esentially forgetting her husband’s 1992 maxim: “it’s the economy, stupid.”

The election of Trump is a primal scream from Middle America. We are right to ask ourselves how our fellow Americans could have voted for a man that epitomized the worst tendencies in American society. But if we want to make sure it doesn’t happen again, we need to understand how we got here in the first place. If you listen through the noise, you can hear it: the recovery hasn’t spread to us, we’re hurting out here and we need your help. Quit condescending and start explaining how your policies are going to address our problems.

Until Democrats start making a better case that they have the answers to these problems, expect the beatings to continue.

Why Hillary Clinton Shouldn’t Worry (Too Much) About Bernie

Saturday, February 13th, 2016

As usual I’ve been planning on writing an opus on this crazy election season, but I’ve opted for this little piece on the Democrats to start with. Hopefully I can get to the Republicans soon.

After a virtual tie in Iowa, Hillary got trounced this week in NH and Bernie Mania is in full bloom among Democrats. Bernie Sanders has tapped into some very important issues in this election: a government and a political process that is captured by special interests, growing income inequality and a yearning for honesty in a political (and societal) culture that is sorely lacking it. In some ways his candidacy is a mirror image of Trump’s candidacy, but with very different policy prescriptions. They both tout their independence from special interests, they both are fighting a battle against their party’s traditional structure, and their supporters both believe that they are speaking truth to power and that their policies can help halt the decline of the American Middle Class.

Sanders has performed much better than anyone expected, both in fundraising and in actual vote totals, but one thing should be clear: Bernie Sanders 2016 is not Barack Obama 2008. In 2008 Barack Obama campaigned with a real strategy to win the nomination, and detailed policy positions on all issues including foreign policy. Bernie, in my opinion, has not approached this campaign with the seriousness and determination of someone who wants to become the next President of the United States. Instead, he acts like someone who entered the race in order to bring a few key issues to the forefront of our political debate and push Hillary Clinton to the Left during primary season.

Of course, Sanders would never admit this, but like a bad gambler, he’s tipped his hand at key times that illustrate his real expectations for this race. In August 2015, Martha Raddatz interviewed Bernie Sanders on This Week and pointed out that “There are two issues that are entirely missing from your campaign website, and those are issues of national security and foreign policy. Don’t you feel these are issues a president should be very concerned about?” she asked. Bernie looked a little sheepish and basically said that he had only been running for three and a half moths and hadn’t gotten around to posting anything about foreign policy, but that they would do that soon.

But perhaps the most obvious example of why Bernie is not seriously taking on Hillary Clinton is his refusal to attack Clinton on her State Department e-mail or use it as a broader attack on Clinton’s character. In the first Democratic Debate, when the topic came up, he refused to engage with Hillary, famously saying that America was “sick of hearing about your damn e-mails.” No matter how this was intended, it certainly wasn’t the attack of someone who wants to destroy his political adversary and take her place as the front runner. Even if you think that there’s no merit to the Republican argument that Hillary is facing an imminent Federal indictment for how she set up her e-mail as Secretary of State, the whole episode is a perfect way to go after Hillary on her biggest vulnerability: the fact that majorities of Americans consistently state that they don’t believe she is “honest and trustworthy.” Sure, Bernie has tiptoed around this idea, questioning whether Hillary has been consistently progressive in her career or whether her contributions from Wall Street have influenced her policy, but he has consistently refused to make the arguments that the Republicans will be making every day once she gets the nomination.

Rob Garver, writing for the conservative Fiscal Times, makes the argument I’ve believed ever since that debate:

Bernie Sanders does not expect, and never did expect, to be president. He entered the race as a longshot – a protest candidate who wanted to get his message about income inequality and an economic system “rigged” to favor the rich onto a larger stage. Maybe he could push his party a little further to the left on issues important to him before he was forced out of the race.

Despite more success than anyone, including Sanders, expected, he remains a long-shot candidate. He performed well in Iowa and won in a landslide in New Hampshire, but he knows very well that the demographics in those states are the best he will see for the rest of the primary campaign.

He could blast Clinton on the trust issue night and day, and probably sway some voters. But it doesn’t seem likely that he would accomplish much more than souring a considerable portion of the Democratic electorate on Clinton and making her more vulnerable to the ultimate Republican candidate.

Sure, Bernie Sanders would like to win the primary, but he’s smart enough to know the odds are stacked badly against him. And he also knows that savaging the eventual nominee might have the unintended effect of putting a Republican in the White House.

So, he continues to hit her from the left. On Henry Kissinger. On Wall Street. But he refuses to amplify the most effective attack, because he just doesn’t want to do too much damage.

Howard Gutman in Politico takes the argument even further. Not only is Bernie Sanders not running a campaign that will deny Clinton the nomination, he may also be the best thing that could have happened to her this election season.”He’s pumped a huge amount of oxygen into a race that could easily have been starved for attention. And even more importantly, he’s made sure that the biggest story in the race isn’t Clinton’s own background.” At least so far, the campaign is serving to sharpen Hillary’s debating skills and highlight the Democratic party positions instead of ceding the airwaves to the Republicans and their increasingly hyperbolic attacks on the Obama administration.

This is an echo of a phenomenon we saw in 2008. Obama and Clinton were engaged in a sometimes bitter fight for the Democratic nomination. Clinton had gone from being the odds on favorite to win the election and was now facing a challenge from a freshman Senator with a much thinner resume than herself. Their supporters retreated to their respective corners and the respective surrogates attacked the other campaigns. Millions tuned in to watch their debates and many in the party wondered whether the party could come together in November. To add to the drama, after it was clear that Obama would win the nomination, Hillary started racking up huge wins in large states, mostly with the backing of white rural voters.

Much to the Republican’s chagrin, the Democrats united that summer and Obama went on to beat McCain soundly.

Bernie has highlighted some of the problems Clinton is going to face in November, but I think she recovers here, and moreover, a little adversity will do her good. In many ways New Hampshire and Iowa were tailor made states for Sanders. As we get into larger and more diverse states, the the terrain gets more favorable to Clinton. That, combined with the fact that most “superdelegates” are supporting Hillary, will allow her to lock it up. This race will stretch for a few more months, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for Hillary Clinton.

Obama Is Not My Boyfriend

Sunday, August 31st, 2014

About 8 years ago, when the Bush Administration’s Reign of Error was in it’s prime, and I couldn’t believe that Republicans continued to support the man, I made a promise to myself: If a Democrat were ever to occupy the White House I wouldn’t reflexively defend him if he didn’t deserve it.

I’ve done my best to keep that promise and if you asked me what I think of this president over the past 5 years,  I would always try to give my real opinion, good or bad. Still, I’m well aware that I’ve been… let’s just say, “not as vocal” in pointing out the flaws of this president as I was of the last one. So let’s consider this my late attempt live up to the spirit of my promise as well as the promise itself.

Liberals, it’s time to admit it: Obama is not a very good president.

Of course, the usual caveats still apply. Despite all his failings, he’s still not any worse that George W Bush…and I have no regrets that John McCain didn’t win in 2008… or that Mitt Romney didn’t unseat him in 2012, both of which would have been disasters of epic proportions. But the relevant measuring stick wasn’t supposed to be “better than Bush” it was supposed to be “a transformational president,” or at least, “a  good president.” For the most part, Obama has been neither.

I feel a little bad for piling on him when he’s down, but he’s down for a reason.

Hard to tell where to start, but let’s start with his “signature achievement,” Obamacare. Despite snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, his HHS department launched a website that wasn’t ready to be launched, and it almost tanked his most lasting accomplishment. There’s just no excuse for that and it just comes down to bad management. Effective managers may not know all the details of what is happening in each department, but they clearly communicate the importance of big policies and hold people accountable for their results. Too often, Obama has done neither.

Similar deal at the VA. When Obama ran for president, he made a point of talking about how the Bush Administration didn’t keep faith with veterans. He claimed (sometimes with good evidence) that they sent them to war and then neglected to take care of them when they came home. Obama’s VA took on a lot, adding coverage for veterans who suffered from conditions related to Agent Orange exposure and relaxing the rules on PTSD claims, but the VA was unable to keep up. Instead of improving wait times as he had promised, the problem got significantly worse. By 2012, pending claims had exploded to almost 900,000, with over 550,000 of those claims over 4 months old. Responses were hobbled by an antiquated computer system that prevented the Defense Department from communicating with the VA.

Again, the problems predated Obama, but at some time, he needs to take responsibility for the system and there are few things more sacred than meeting obligations to our veterans.   I don’t expect Obama to single-handedly solve all the problems at the VA, but he once again showed ineffective management and no sense of urgency. It took a major scandal regarding lies about wait times at the VA and weeks of negative coverage before Obama acted to fire Shinseki and begin to really deal with this issue.

On foreign policy, Obama starts with a simple premise. He only wants to engage in military action in order to protect America. He thinks that foreign intervention has made us less safe instead of more safe and wants to avoid unnecessary military conflict.

The problem is that the world can’t be neatly split into what keeps us safe and what has nothing to do with us. Look at Syria: It’s a civil war between Assad and the Sunni rebels. Assad is a terrible actor.  He gets support from Iran and he helps fund Iranian proxies like Hezbollah who are attacking Israel and destabilizing Lebanon. But the most effective rebels fighting against Assad are Sunni militants with ties to Al Qaeda. The only thing worse than having Assad in power in Syria is having Sunni militants allied with Al Qaeda. So Obama stays out…and now we have ISIS (the people who were so maniacally evil that they were kicked out of Al Qaeda) occupying large swaths of Syria AND Iraq. I’m not going for Hillary’s argument that supporting the small moderate rebel force would have prevented the rise of ISIS, but it’s hard to argue that not being involved made us more safe.

Don’t do stupid shit” is a great start, but it’s no substitute for a strategic vision. Obama has had a fair number of experienced people in his administration: Bob Gates, David Petreaus, Jim Jones, Leon Panetta. He also has some political types that have a lot of foreign policy experience: Biden, Kerry, Hillary, Hagel… What he lacks is Grand Strategy person. Nixon had Kissinger, Carter had Brzezinski, George HW Bush had Scowcroft, GW had a lot of Grand Strategy people (Cheney, Wolfowitz…) almost all of them with terrible ideas. Where is Obama’s Scowcroft? Obama seems to think that he doesn’t need a Grand Strategy guy because he’s the Kissinger, but the proof is in the pudding, and so far, it’s been weak sauce as far as a strategic vision.

I don’t typically cite the Wall Street Journal’s Op Ed page, but this Kimberly Strasssel article has some merit. Even when he has had experienced Foreign Policy hands in his administration, he relies more on a coterie of sycophants on his National Security Council to advise him. Both Jim Jones and Gates complained about how much the White House Staff were involved in foreign policy discussions. Tom Donnilan? The guy’s a hack. Ben Rhodes? He’s not much more than a kid who used to write speeches for Obama. Rice? She might be smart, but she’s no Scowcroft. She’s not even a Condi.

Also, there have been a lot of cases where Obama ignored the overwhelming opinion of his advisers. Hillary, Gates and Panetta all wanted to arm the rebels in Syria. Kerry made a strong case in preparation for air strikes against Syria before Obama decided to ask the Tea Party for permission. I understand that strong leaders sometimes resist the advice of their advisors, but it’s hard to make a case at this point that Obama was right in ignoring the counsel of his foreign policy team with regards to arming the Syrian opposition.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing is that Obama seems at times to have given up on his job. He’s like a man who is so disappointed that the world didn’t meet his expectations that he has given up trying to make a difference. It reminds me of Bush in his last year, but Obama’s not even done with half his second term.

I could go on, but I probably don’t need to.  If liberals continue to defend Obama when he doesn’t deserve it, then we’re no better than Republicans who continued to defend Bush while he was so obviously driving the country into a ditch. I continue to root for this president to live up to the high expectations I had for him and I’ll continue to defend him when he is unfairly criticized. But we can’t ignore the reality in front of our faces. The country deserves better than that.

4 People Died

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

Well, after 3 months off, I had hoped to start with something more positive, but inspiration often comes from outrage, so I want to rant a little about what Joe Klein dubbed the Benghazi Circus back in November, and which any close viewer of politics can tell you is apparently still parked in Washington DC.

Last week, Senate Republicans bestowed on themselves the dubious distinction of being the first Congress ever to filibuster a Secretary of Defense nominee. The reasons for this vary (the main reason was to see if they could dig up a little more dirt on Chuck Hagel), but one cited by both Senators McCain and Graham is that they wanted the White House to release more information on the Benghazi attacks. This latest stunt is just one in a series dating back to the campaign, with the most prominent being Senator Ron Johnson’s ill advised attack on Hillary Clinton and the gentle smackdown provided by John Kerry the following day.

In order to understand the reasons that Republicans have wasted so much energy on the Benghazi attacks, you don’t have to look far. As Kevin Drum pointed out months ago, it’s the same thing that makes Republicans think that it would be good politics to hold the Attorney General in contempt of Congress over the “Fast and Furious” scandal that no one who doesn’t watch Fox had ever heard of, or that our electoral system has been severely compromised by Acorn and the six guys in the New Black Panther Party: Fox News. Even after the rest of the country had moved on, many Republicans continued to “very closely” monitor the story of “who knew what, when” after the Benghazi attacks. Why? Because it was on their TV every night.

Just to be clear, I’m not someone who thinks that there was no issue here. Clearly the White House soft pedaled the attack carried out on the anniversary of 9-11. While Susan Rice’s mentions of the “spontaneous response” to an anti-muslim video can be explained with reference to the talking points she was given by the intelligence agencies and the evolving reports from Benghazi,  President Obama’s repetitions of this incorrect narrative are harder to justify. In addition, there are lessons to be learned about how we protect our embassies in distant lands, many of which were detailed in the a State Department commissioned  report on the incident.

But let’s put this incident in historical perspective. President Obama shades the truth about four dead Americans and it’s a national tragedy that deserves months of media coverage, multiple hearings and the filibuster of a Secretary of Defense nominee who wasn’t even in the Obama Administration at the time. On the other hand, President Bush and his cronies lie our country into a war which results in the death of over a 100,000 people, including the death of 4,000 Americans and the maiming of tens of thousands of others, and there is nary a peep from those same Republicans. Where is the sense of proportion here?

Rand Paul, during the final Senate testimony of Hillary Clinton, said that if he were president he would have fired Secretary Clinton, and that the death of 4 Americans in Benghazi was the “worst tragedy since 9/11.”

First of all, Senator Paul, you’re not president, nor will you ever be president. And second of all, “the worst tragedy since 9/11″?! Were you sleeping through the entire eight years from 2000 to 2008? Again, 4 People Died. That’s a tragedy, and we mourn all Americans who die in service to this country, but were talking about 4 people, not the tens of thousands wounded in Iraq, not to mention the deaths of almost 2,000 Americans during Hurricane Katrina, or the many others who have died in mass shootings that could have been mitigated (if not stopped) if the GOP wasn’t completely in hock to the NRA.

Proportion, Republicans…


The Photo

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

Here’s Rachel Maddow on the evocative photo taken in the White House situation room during the raid on bin Laden’s compound.  

There has been much speculation on what was going on at the time the photo was taken, but Hillary recently said that she may have just been suppressing a cough:

I am somewhat sheepishly concerned that it was my preventing one of my early spring allergic coughs. It may have no great meaning whatsoever.

Certainly that is possibe, but look at everyone else in the photo. They are all staring intently at that video screen. As with all snapshots in time, it’s open to interpretation. I was thinking that this could have been the moment that the first helicopter went down. Everyone in the room thought for a moment that this could be Desert One all over again. Any guesses how many people were thinking of Jimmy Carter at that moment?

The Hillary-Gates Axis in Action

Friday, April 1st, 2011

I thought that this interaction between Bob Gates and Hillary on Meet the Press this week was particularly interesting. Gates has been a reluctant warrior on Libya and he gave an honest answer to David Gregory on whether he thought that what happened in Libya was in our vital interest. Gates said that he didn’t believe that it was, but that it was in our allies interest.

David Gregory highlighted that comment, and Hillary, understanding that this was going to be the headline of the interview interjected:

Well, but, but, but then it wouldn’t be fair as to what Bob just said.  I mean, did Libya attack us?  No.  They did not attack us.  Do they have a very critical role in this region and do they neighbor two countries–you just mentioned one, Egypt, the other Tunisia–that are going through these extraordinary transformations and cannot afford to be destabilized by conflict on their borders?  Yes.  Do they have a major influence on what goes on in Europe because of everything from oil to immigration?

And, you know, David, that raises a, a very important point.  Because you showed on the map just a minute ago Afghanistan.  You know, we asked our allies, our NATO allies, to go into Afghanistan with us 10 years ago.  They have been there, and a lot of them have been there despite the fact they were not attacked.  The attack came on us as we all tragically remember.  They stuck with us.

When it comes to Libya, we started hearing from the UK, France, Italy, other of our NATO allies.  This was in their vital national interest.  The UK and France were the ones who went to the Security Council and said, “We have to act because otherwise we’re seeing a really violent upheaval with a man who has a history of unpredictable violent acts right on our doorstep.” So, you know, let, let’s be fair here.  They didn’t attack us, but what they were doing and Gadhafi’s history and the potential for the disruption and instability was very much in our interests, as Bob said, and seen by our European friends and our Arab partners as very vital to their interests.

Bob Gates and Hillary’s alliance has been well documented and watching the video made me think that this policy is was no doubt significantly effected by the push and pull of these two key advisers. In fact, it might not be a stretch to say that the policy is a mix of Gates’  (George HW Bush style) political realism and focus on coalition building and the Hillary/Samantha Power/Susan Rice cohort (shaped by the Clinton Administration’s failure to intervene in Rwanda, and later, by its successful intervention in Bosnia).

The Obama Administration has tried to emulate George HW Bush’s political realism and focus on coalition building throughout their Administration, but as the New York Times reported, Clinton and Gates found themselves on opposite sides of this issue during internal deliberations. Hillary’s side won the day, but (perhaps in a nod to Gates and other advisors’ reticence),

The president had a caveat…The American involvement in military action in Libya should be limited — no ground troops — and finite. “Days, not weeks,” a senior White House official recalled him saying.

Tom Ricks seemed to take those reports at face value. Later on Meet the Press, Bob Woodward mentioned that there was a possibility that military advisers at some future juncture might argue for a much larger land war. Ricks said

I was really struck by what you had with the secretary of Defense and the secretary of State and their comments again and again saying limited war, limited interest.  There is a leash on here on the U.S. military that if they get any general getting a whiff of mission creep, they’re going to yank on that leash so hard his head’s going to come snapping all the way back to Washington.

At least at this point, it looks like Ricks was right. On Capitol Hill today, Gates basically said that he would rather resign than put US military boots on the ground in Libya and that we shouldn’t be involved in training the rebel military, arguing that there are many other countries that could do that.