7 Things About the Inevitability of Hillary Clinton You Probably Haven't Thought About

As in 2007, war hawk Clinton is less of a shoo-in, but Warren shines.

In December 2007, just as the 2008 presidential primaries were beginning to heat up, and with Hillary Clinton 26 points ahead in national polling of Democrats, I wrote an article for AlterNet arguing that she was beatable, that she had vulnerabilities the other candidates did not have, that she had historically high “unfavorables,” that she polled poorly against Republicans and that Democrats should rethink the “inevitability” of her candidacy. Apparently, they did and we know how that turned out.
Once again, Clinton is riding high in polling of Democrats; once again, her supporters are claiming she is “inevitable;” and once again, she has vulnerabilities other candidates lack, including extremely high “unfavorables,” as well as additional liabilities in 2016 she didn’t have in 2008 — some of her own making, some not.
1. Worrisome Polling
Hillary Clinton has maintained consistently high “unfavorable” ratings since at least 2007 (ranging from 40 to 52 percent). In December 2007, they were running 45 percent and are still hovering in the 45 percent range today. In 2007, I wrote that her unfavorable” ratings “currently are running 45 percent — far higher than any other Democratic or Republican presidential hopeful and higher than any presidential candidate at this stage in polling history. Hillary may be the most well-known, recognizable candidate, but that is proving to be as much of a burden as a benefit.” That still seems to be true.
Before Chris Christie melted down in the Bridge-Gate scandal, Quinnipiac, a well-respected poll, had him running ahead of Hillary Clinton 43-42 percent. That doesn’t, in my opinion, mean Christie is a strong candidate — people hardly know who he is — but it suggests Clinton is a weak, or at least vulnerable, candidate. She is someone who has been on the national scene prominently for 20-plus years, people know her, yet a relatively unknown Republican runs even with her? Not a sign of strength.
In a Quinnipiac poll in Colorado, a state with two Democratic senators and a Democratic governor, Rand Paul was out-polling Clinton 45-40 percent and she was running 42-42 percent against the scandal-ridden Christie. Colorado is a blue state Democrats need to win in 2016 and having a well-known Democrat running behind a virtual unknown Republican is not good news.
And, in a recent [October] Presidential match-up poll by the Des Moines Register, Hillary trailed Mitt Romney in Iowa by one point [44-43] and ran only one point ahead of Paul Ryan and three points ahead of Rand Paul.
This should be a serious concern for Democrats because in Presidential years, Iowa has become a fairly reliable Democratic state.  In fact, Romney lost Iowa by 6 points to Obama in 2012 and Obama won Iowa by 10 points in 2008.  To be trailing in Iowa by even a point to a Republican candidate who lost the state by six points just two years ago and, to date, has shown no interest in even running for President, is one more ominous indication that Hillary is not as strong a candidate as her supporters want you to think.  But this is not the only reason to think that Hillary’s relationship to voters is not robust.   In the just-concluded 2014 mid-term election, of the Senate candidates Hillary personally appeared and spoke on behalf of, 8 won and 14 lost [one race remains undecided].  By contrast, Elizabeth Warren personally stumped for 11 Democratic Senate candidates: 6 won and 5 lost. Elizabeth Warren pulled voters in her direction; Hillary did not.
2. New Liabilities
By every metric, voters are in a surly mood and they are not going to be happy campers in 2016, either. Why should they be? The economy is still in the toilet, not enough jobs are being created even to keep up with population growth, personal debt and student debt are rising, college graduates can’t find jobs, retirement benefits are shrinking, infrastructure is deteriorating, banksters never were held accountable for melting down the economy, inequality is exploding — and neither party is addressing the depth of the problems America faces.
As a result, just like in the 2014 mid-terms, voters in 2016 will be seeking change and there is no way Clinton can run as a “change” candidate — indeed, having been in power in Washington for 20-plus years as First Lady, U.S. Senator and Secretary of State, she is the poster child for the Washington political establishment, an establishment that will not be popular in 2016. This problem is not really her fault, but it creates serious headwinds for her candidacy and makes her susceptible to any Republican candidate who does not appear to be crazy, who can say a few reasonable things and who looks fresh, new and different. The status quo is not popular today and it is not going to be any more popular in 2016.  If Hillary Clinton is the Democratic presidential candidate, even though she will try to harken back to the nostalgia of the 1990s, she will not be able to escape being the candidate representing old ideas and an unpopular status quo.
3. Democratic Party Base
On nearly every important issue, except women’s issues, Clinton stands to the right of her Democratic base. Overwhelmingly, Democrats believe that Wall Street played a substantial role in gaming the system for their benefit while melting down the economy, but Clinton continues to give speeches to Goldman Sachs at $200,000 a pop, assuring them that, “We all got into this mess together and we’re all going to have to work together to get out of it.” In her world — a world full of friends and donors from Wall Street — the financial industry does not bear any special culpability in the financial meltdown of 2007-’08. The mood of the Democratic base is populist and angry, but Clinton is preaching lack of accountability.
According to a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll done by Hart Research, only four percent of American voters have a great deal of confidence in the financial industry, while 43 percent have “very little or none at all.” With Wall Street at a historic low in popularity and respect, with her close ties to Goldman Sachs, Bob Rubin and the financial industry, Clinton will be perceived as Wall Street’s candidate.
Clinton has not explained why she supported the repeal of Glass-Steagall legislation, which deregulated banks during the Clinton administration and contributed significantly to Wall Street speculation, the meltdown of big banks and the trillion-dollar federal bailout. She has not explained her support for NAFTA, which has eroded the manufacturing base of America and cost American workers a million-plus well-paid jobs; nor her support as Secretary of State for the Trans Pacific Partnership, which has been described as “NAFTA on steroids.” On all these core financial issues, Clinton is well to the right of the Democratic base, so how is she going to fire up the base the way Obama’s promises of “Hope and Change” fired it up in 2008?
The 2014 mid-term election confirmed voter antipathy to Wall Street:  According to a Hart Research poll of 2014 voters, the most important issue in the election was the economy and 80% of voters agreed with the statement that “politicians from both the Democratic and Republican parties do too much to support Wall Street financial interests and not enough to help average Americans;” only 13% disagreed.  It is not plausible that voters in 2016 are going to feel much differently or want to support a candidate so closely associated with the financial industry as Hillary has been.
Clinton is no more in-tune with her Democratic base on foreign policy issues than on domestic issues. She is not simply a hawk at a time when the Democratic base (and the country) is sick of expensive and counter-productive foreign adventures, she is a superhawk, consistently trying to outflank Republicans on foreign policy issues. We all know she voted in favor of invading Iraq in 2003, despite the fact that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 and despite the fact that evidence of WMDs was sketchy at best. She has never recanted that vote, shown any remorse about not examining classified reports about Iraq, reports that were made available to her before the vote nor expressed any qualms about the fact that the U.S. blew $3 trillion down a rat-hole in Iraq and Afghanistan with nothing to show for it. Then, five years later, with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan collapsing, she strongly urged new President Obama to escalate the commitment of troops in Afghanistan, advice that proved disastrous. It is no surprise that General David Petraeus has endorsed Clinton for President. He knows a military hawk when he sees one.
More recently, she supported invading Libya and bombing Syria. And, at a time when Obama was trying to moderate Putin’s behavior in the Ukraine and get our European allies to support economic sanctions against Russia, Clinton threw gasoline on the fire by comparing Putin to Hitler, a comparison which is ridiculous on many counts, but which played very badly with our allies.
Ironically, Rand Paul represents the concerns of the Democratic base far better than Clinton about foreign interventions and the excesses of the National Security State and if he were the Republican presidential candidate, would undermine her support among Democrats in an unprecedented way.
4. Assets
Clinton’s biggest asset, in my opinion, is that she is a woman, and America is long past the time when a woman should be elected President. But Democrats already win the women’s vote and lose the vote of men, so what is the net advantage? She also has the highest name-recognition of any candidate, which is why she is polling so highly in Democratic polls, but name-recognition evaporates in any high-profile campaign and is an ephemeral asset.
Indeed, that is the essence of her problem: She has a small and active hardcore base of feminist supporters and donors; a large core of conservatives who hate the Clintons; and among others, her support is a mile wide and two inches deep — which is why a relative unknown ran her down and beat her in 2008.
5. Bill’s Legacy
Hillary Clinton’s campaign will harken back to the glory years of the Clinton administration, but is a campaign based on nostalgia really going to work, particularly with disengaged young voters the Democrats need to win? Certainly, Bill Clinton deserves credit for some things. He increased taxes on the rich, wages grew in his second term and jobs were created in his eight years as President (helped in no small part by the tech revolution and the financial bubble he helped create and which ended in disaster 10 years later). Bill also expanded the earned income tax credit, which helped working people. But there are a lot of things his administration did which don’t look very good in hindsight.
With help from Newt Gingrich, he enacted a Draconian welfare reform program; he overrode the opposition of labor to enact NAFTA, again with mostly Republican support; and, he repealed the Glass-Steagall Act, which deregulated Wall Street. He deregulated the telecom industry, and that deregulation now has put net neutrality in jeopardy, while enriching the big telecom companies.  As he described himself to Bob Woodward, “I hope you’re all aware we’re all Eisenhower Republicans. We stand for lower deficits and free trade and the bond market. Isn’t that great?” Conservative Alan Greenspan, whom Bill twice appointed to chair the Federal Reserve Board, said, “Bill Clinton was the best Republican president we’ve had in awhile.”
So here we are, 20 years later, with wages of average workers in decline, CEO pay and Wall Street bonuses accelerating at obscene rates, pensions disappearing, the loss of millions of jobs to developing countries thanks to NAFTA and exploding wealth inequality. Yes, we can blame Bush/Cheney for their contributions to these trends, but the major policy changes that started the ball rolling steeply downhill for workers and the middle class began in the Clinton Administration.
6. Accomplishments
There is no question Hillary Clinton is smart, hard-working and competent. She does her homework, shows up for work every day and works long hours. Yet she has been on the world stage for more than 20 years, so it is fair to ask what are her accomplishments over those 20 years. She led a healthcare task force in Bill Clinton’s first term, but that effort failed, largely because she was not collaborative and failed to involve Congress, despite the fact Democrats controlled it. She repeatedly claims credit for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, passed during Bill Clinton’s second term, and while her role has been disputed even by the bill’s sponsors, she played an important role in supporting it within the White House and later publicly.
In 2008, however, she tried to bootstrap many accomplishments of her husband by exaggerating her role as First Lady and got roundly mocked for her exaggerations. She had a term as U.S. Senator, and was re-elected, but can anyone identify anything of consequence that she accomplished during that period other than facilitating Republican idiocy by supporting Bush’s war in Iraq? Then she spent four years as Secretary of State, which certainly improved her public profile, but can anyone identify any substantial accomplishments she had as Secretary of State?
Clinton came to the role of Secretary of State with a huge asset — her strong relationship with AIPAC and the Israeli government. She, like President Obama, supports a two-state solution, opposes Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory and seeks peace with the Palestinians. There was hope when she was appointed that she would leverage her strong relationship with AIPAC and move Israel away from aggressive settlement activity and toward the peace process. That did not happen. Clinton is cautious, by nature, and I have little doubt she feared angering her wealthy Jewish donors by pushing them hard on peace negotiations. So she didn’t act and whatever leverage she had was wasted; it was not until John Kerry replaced her as Secretary of State that peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine resumed. Likewise with Iran, as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton was a consistent advocate of tough sanctions and serious peace negotiations did not begin until John Kerry replaced her.
7. Foreign Policy Credentials
The Arab Spring exploded on her watch, but Clinton and U.S. foreign policy drifted. There were no long-term strategies and with her stewardship, America supported whoever looked like a winner. When it was Mubarak, she supported Mubarak. When he was going down, she supported elections. Then when they had elections and the military tossed out the winners, she supported the military. Of course, she is not the only person responsible for the policy drift, but where did she leave a positive imprint on the direction of American foreign policy?
In my opinion, she has been wrong about almost every major foreign policy question in recent American history. She probably lost the Democratic presidential primaries and the presidential nomination due to her ill-advised vote to start a war in Iraq, a vote which ultimately gave Obama’s candidacy substantial impetus, and it is reasonable to assume she will face some amount of accountability with voters for her consistently hawkish and unpopular views on foreign interventions.
In the past few months, Hillary has double-downed on her hawkish positions in the Middle East by her continued unconditional support for Israel, despite its murderous assault on Gaza which killed 2,000 mostly defenseless people, her criticisms of President Obama for not arming Syrian rebels fast enough and her hawkish stance about making a peace deal with Iran.
In an August interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, published in The Atlantic, and elsewhere, Hillary said, “The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad — there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle — the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled.” This is mostly fantasy. The U.S. invested trillions of dollars in Iraq, including hundreds of billions trying to train an Iraqi Army, and utterly failed in the effort. What could possibly make Clinton think the U.S., with far fewer resources available for Syria, had the capacity to train a competent rebel army, let alone even determine who the “good rebels” were?  Is she unaware of how bad—and counter-productive—America’s track record has been arming and training fighters in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere? And, if she really believed Syrian rebels needed to be armed, why didn’t she protest publicly at the time? The fact that she remained silent as Secretary of State shows lack of conviction and no courage.
In the interview, Hillary also took a very hard line on Obama’s negotiations with Iran’s nuclear expectations: “I’ve always been in the camp that held that they [Iran] did not have a right to enrichment,” Clinton said. “Contrary to their claim, there is no such thing as a right to enrich. This is absolutely unfounded. There is no such right. I am well aware that I am not at the negotiating table anymore, but I think it’s important to send a signal to everybody who is there that there cannot be a deal unless there is a clear set of restrictions on Iran. The preference would be no enrichment. The potential fallback position would be such little enrichment that they could not break out.” When asked if the demands of Israel, and of America’s Arab allies, that Iran not be allowed any uranium-enrichment capability whatsoever were militant or unrealistic, she said, “I think it’s important that they stake out that position.”
Claiming Iran has “no right to enrichment,” is a half-truth. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty does not expressly grant a right to uranium enrichment to any nation, but it also doesn’t prohibit enrichment, so long as enrichment is not done secretly. Hillary, of course, knows this, but by choosing to emphasize only parts of the Treaty and ignore the rest, she is misleading and inflaming the discussion. In the case of Iran, misinformation feeds right-wing opposition and potentially could jeopardize a peace agreement with a country with an educated population and democratic traditions [destroyed by the CIA coup in 1953] which could be a stabilizing force and America’s ally in the Middle East.
Ironically, as Secretary of State, Clinton explicitly recognized that Iran could enrich uranium under the terms of a negotiated comprehensive deal, which, of course, is exactly what Obama is seeking to do, but now, as a potential Presidential candidate, Hillary appears to want to forget her own history and criticize Obama from the right.  Does that sound like opportunism to anyone other than me?
Concerns about these types of hawkish positions by Clinton are not academic or inconsequential. Becoming enmeshed unnecessarily in long-term sectarian conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq killed hundreds of thousands of people, including 5,000 Americans, and cost U.S. taxpayers $3+ trillion, and counting, as 500,000 war-damaged American vets get healthcare, most for the rest of their lives. Worse, U.S. military intervention inflamed a situation America never had control over, or ever could have control over, promoted recruitment of thousands of militants by terrorist organizations, and made America, despite this huge investment, less safe.
It has been a total clusterfuck, to be sure, but apparently Hillary Clinton is willing to repeat the policy mistakes which caused it. Voters should be, and I think will be, concerned.
Is There a Democratic Alternative?
Bernie Sanders has declared his intent to run, but Sanders is technically a socialist; more importantly, his candidacy is unlikely to present a formidable challenge to Clinton.
The name on people’s lips is Elizabeth Warren, who is the harshest critic of Wall Street excesses and who speaks to the populist zeitgeist. Would she run, despite having said she is not interested?
I think we should take her protestations of disinterest seriously. Running for President is a brutal task: Two years of living in motels; two years of banquets and bad food; two years of glad-handing people; two years of dialing for donor dollars; two years of facing attacks from Republicans. No rational person would do it. Unless they wanted to change the world.
I believe there are five scenarios that would make it possible, perhaps even likely, for Elizabeth Warren to run in 2016:

  1. Elizabeth Warren ran for the U.S. Senate because she wanted to change the world, most immediately to break the stranglehold on American politics and the economy that Wall Street currently holds. If she sees Hillary Clinton continuing to suck up to the financial industry and offering the failed economics and deregulation beliefs of Bob Rubin, Larry Summers and Tim Geithner, Warren might rethink what she can accomplish in the U.S. Senate. She is a person of great principle; she has fought for her principles, often against brutal odds. In the end, principles could prove more compelling than the easier and more comfortable path of stepping back.
  1. I have been told by friends of hers that Warren likes her job as senator and thinks she can make important contributions in that role. But now that the Democrats have lost control of the Senate, she might want to rethink that, because as a member of the minority in a rigidly controlled Republican Senate, it is unlikely she could accomplish anything other than increase her level of frustration.
  1. Warren might rethink the clock. She is 65 now and would be 67 on Election Day 2016, so 2016 could be the only chance she has to run for President.
  1. Clinton could choose not to run. In December 2012, she suffered dehydration and fatigue, fainted, fell and hit her head, suffering a concussion. She was re-hospitalized two weeks later and her condition was described as a clot between her brain and skull. She previously had suffered a large blood clot in her leg. These medical issues could cause her to rethink undertaking the rigors of a presidential campaign, which are brutal.
  1. Warren raised a record $42.5 million to run for the Senate and Democratic donors would come out in droves to fund her presidential campaign. A challenge to Clinton and Democratic Party orthodoxy by Warren would be like catnip to the media. So the minute Warren declared to run for President, she would have $100 million worth of free advertising from the media telling her story and playing up the differences between her and Clinton. Even if Warren lost, she would have pushed Clinton away from Wall Street and toward more progressive Democratic Party positions and ignited a new generation of Democrats opposed to neoliberalism and dedicated to making America a more fair and equal society.

Barbara Bush recently commented that America should have more choices for President than two family dynasties. This may be the first time I have ever agreed so strongly with Barbara Bush.

Cows, Rice Fields and Big Agriculture Consumes Well Over 90% of California's Water

Low-flow shower heads help save much less water than people think.

California is experiencing a serious drought and the media is filled with recommendations about how to save water: Switch to dry landscaping; don’t run water when you are shaving or brushing your teeth; install low­-flow shower ­heads; and don’t wash your car. All those ideas would help, but much less than people think.
When I ask people to guess how much personal consumption accounts for water usage in California, people guess 20­-40%, which sounds reasonable; ­­­after all, there are 38 million people in California and they have lawns to water, teeth to brush, toilets to flush, cars to wash, and showers to take. But 20-­40% is not even close to being accurate.

  • ­­­According to a 2012 report by the Pacific Institute, only 4% of California’s water is used by individuals
  • ­­­An astounding 93% of California’s water goes to agriculture; and most of that 93% is misused or wasted

Drive down I­nterstate 5 in the middle of summer in 100-plus-degree weather and you will see huge sprinklers spraying water in the middle of the day and fields being flooded­­­ in the process, losing huge amounts of water to evaporation. Very few crops and very little acreage is watered with drip irrigation in California compared to other arid regions of the world.

California agriculture also concentrates on growing the thirstiest foods­­­ derived from animals, mainly beef, dairy and eggs. One pound of animal protein requires 100 times more water than producing one pound of grain protein. Producing one pound of beef requires 2,500 gallons of water, compared to 100 gallons for a pound of wheat.

  • ­­­Humans drink less than one gallon of water per day
  • ­­­A cow drinks 23 gallons per day—and we have 5.5 million of them

Not only does it take huge amounts of water to hydrate animals, it takes billions of additional gallons of fresh water to irrigate the feed for livestock, wash excrement off concrete floors, and clean blood and grease from equipment used in the butchering process. A dairy operation that uses an automatic flushing system can use 150 gallons of water per cow, per day.
Crops like corn and soybeans­­­ made cheap by government subsidies­­­ used to fatten up cattle also waste water.
And why does California grow water-­intensive crops like rice, which requires the flooding of fields, and cotton? Shouldn’t water-­hogging crops like cotton and rice be grown in the southeast United States, which has abundant water?
Most people shower once a day and use an average of 14 gallons of water. You could save more water by reducing your beef intake by one pound than by not showering for six months!
People think grass-fed beef is the ecological answer, but pasture-­raised animals require more water than factory-farmed beef because they have higher activity levels and spend more time in the sun. Grass-­fed cows produce 60% to 400% more methane. (Of course, there are compelling health reasons to switch to grass-fed beef, as grass-fed cows are far healthier and organic beef will be free of chemicals, hormones and antibiotics.)
But none of that is the worst of the story. Agriculture uses 93% of California’s water and almost half of that is devoted to growing alfalfa for shipment to the Far East, mainly China, to feed their cows. California is, in effect, shipping almost half its precious water to China.
And none of this would have been possible without the help of Democrats. The extravagant waste of California water by California agriculture is the result of cheap water, water subsidized by state and federal water projects begun more than 50 years ago.
When water is cheap­­­ and the state is willing to continue building water infrastructure like viaducts and tunnels­­­ there is little incentive for California agri­business to do anything but continue to feed California politicians. Yes, California agri­business supports Republicans too, but the Democrats get most of the big agriculture money because Democrats have delivered the water for Big Ag. Jerry Brown’s father, Pat, delivered the California Water Project in 1959, and Jerry Brown supported the Peripheral Canal 30 years ago and supports the Twin Tunnels project today.
Stewart Resnick, an agri­business tycoon who owns 115,000 acres of farmland in Kern County, has funneled $4 million to politicians, mostly to Democrats, including $99,000 to Jerry Brown in 2010. Resnick has been repaid handsomely for his political donations, most notably the creation of the Kern County Water Bank, which has pumped water underground and is one reason Central Valley reservoirs were drained so low the last few years. The book How Limousine Liberals and Water Oligarchs are Hijacking Our Water, by Yasha Levine, says, “through a series of subsidiary companies… Roll International [owned by Resnick] has been able to convert California’s water from a public, shared resource into a private asset that can be sold on the market to the highest bidder.”
There is a saying, “Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting.” Unfortunately, to date, the fight mostly has been about moving water from north to south at public expense. Missing in this fight is any serious discussion about how California agri­business could stop wasting California’s water. As we go forward into more years of potential drought, California needs to change the conversation. We need to reassess the blame and point fingers at the real users and abusers of California water.

The Deafening Silence of Hillary Clinton

The implicit Dem favorite for the 2016 presidential elections, Clinton is mum on the issues that matter.

Many Democrats these days are ready to anoint Hillary Clinton as the 2016 Democratic nominee for president, although that election is more than two years away. And many of her closest supporters want everyone to think she is inevitable. But if Hillary Clinton is going to be the Democratic candidate, shouldn’t she be telling us what she thinks about important issues? If she is going to claim the mantle of leadership, shouldn’t she be showing some leadership on vital issues?
Clinton has been speaking to Wall Street and apparently providing it with assurances that she won’t rock the boat. She has given two speeches to Goldman Sachs, one to private equity firm KK&R and another to the Carlyle Group. She was paid $200,000 for each of her Goldman Sachs speeches; it is unknown what she was paid by KK&R and the Carlyle.
According to Politico:
“Clinton offered a message that the collected plutocrats found reassuring, according to accounts offered by several attendees, declaring that the banker­bashing so popular within both political parties was unproductive and indeed foolish. Striking a soothing note on the global financial crisis, she told the audience, in effect: We all got into this mess together, and we’re all going to have to work together to get out of it. What the bankers heard her say was just what they would hope for from a prospective presidential candidate.”
While Hillary has been reassuring Wall Street, has she told any of us what her positions on financial regulation are? Where does she stand on Glass­ Steagall legislation, which de­regulated banks during the Clinton administration and contributed to the 2007-‘0­8 financial melt­down; NAFTA, which has caused a million jobs to move off­shore; the trillion­-dollar bail­out of Wall Street; the lack of accountability for Wall Street; CEO wage inflation; widening disparities of income and wealth; and the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership, which has been described as “NAFTA on steroids”? Do we have any reason to believe that, if elected, she wouldn’t bring back the Bob Rubin/Larry Summers economic team, or Rubin/Summers clones, who de­regulated Wall Street, contributing to the melt­down of Wall Street and the American people’s loss of $13 trillion in wealth?
Do we know what her position is on the Keystone Pipeline or what she would do about impending climate change? As former Secretary of State charged with the task of reviewing the Keystone Pipeline application, she should be highly knowledgeable and informed about the environmental issues presented by the Keystone tar sands pipeline. Has she said anything publicly? If so, I missed it.
Has she even led on foreign policy issues, her area of expertise? We know she was strategically wrong about invading Iraq and escalating the war in Afghanistan and she tried to lead us into attacking Syria. On Iran, I credit her with finally supporting Obama’s peace initiative, but she did so only after almost every Democrat in the foreign policy community to the left of hawkish Madeleine Albright had come out publicly in favor of the initiative and in opposition to the Menendez­-Kirk Iran sanctions bill. Clinton only spoke up on the issue after the Menendez­-Kirk bill had completely stalled, so her opposition was not strategically important, although it was welcomed. Is being late to the party the new definition of leadership?
Like many of you, I am a lifelong Democrat who has never voted for a Republican, but if Hillary Clinton is going to be the Democratic standard-bearer, we deserve to know what she stands for, who she will fight for and where she wants to take the country. I am not asking her to be “transformational,” I would just like to have some basic idea where she stands on critical issues.

What Obama's Willingness to Deal with the Right Means for Progressive Politics

Obama was willing to make substantial cuts to the crown jewels of liberalism–Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid–in order to get a deficit-reduction deal with Republicans.

Recently, three articles have been published analyzing President Obama’s negotiations with Republicans about a deficit reduction deal (Peter Wallsten, et al., “Obama’s evolution: Behind the failed ‘grand bargain’ on the debt,” Washington Post; Jonathan Chait, “How Obama Tried to Sell Out Liberalism in 2011,” New York Magazine; Matt Bai, “Obama vs. Boehner:  Who Killed the Debt Deal?New York Times Magazine).
All three articles come to essentially the same conclusion: Obama was willing to make substantial cuts to the crown jewels of liberalism—Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid—and get little in return, in order to get a deficit-reduction deal with Republicans.
The details of the proposed deal should be very disturbing to anyone who believes in Democratic core values and protecting the American Dream. In addition to substantial cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the domestic budget, Obama was willing to reduce top-end tax rates, maintain current tax rates on investment income (the reason millionaires like Mitt Romney pay such low tax rates) and prevent the expiration of the Bush tax cuts in return for increasing tax revenues by $800 billion.
That amount is less than half the amount of new revenues recommended by the co-chairs of the Bowles-Simpson Deficit Reduction Commission, but, as it turns out, the $800 billion in “new revenues” was mostly a mirage. The $800 billion mentioned by the Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner, would not have come from increasing taxes on anyone, especially not the rich, who would have had their taxes cut even below the Bush tax cut levels, but from nebulous plans to “overhaul the tax code,” which may or may not have ever gotten through Congress, and from projecting new revenues based on the largely disproven assumption that lower tax rates would boost the economy and produce more revenues (the laughable Laffer Curve). As one of the authors, Jonathan Chait, characterized it, “The Republican position was that its higher revenue, in other words, had to be imaginary, theoretical revenue.”
Obama did not reject this proposal. In fact, according to the Washington Post article, “[W]hen Boehner brought up economic growth, arguing that his caucus would not accept tax increases under any other terms,” Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said, “Yes, we accept that” and Obama’s Chief of Staff, Bill Daley, is quoted in the Washington Post article saying, “We walked away feeling that we were 80 percent there” [to achieving a deal].  Events intervened, including a proposal by a bipartisan group of senators for $2 trillion in higher revenues—real revenue increases, not the imaginary increases Obama apparently was willing to accept in a deal with Boehner.
In fact, the Gang of Six proposal, which was supported by some very conservative Republicans, including Senator Lamar Alexander, then the third-ranking member of the Republican Senate leadership team and senators Tom Coburn and Saxby Chambliss, contained $2 trillion in real revenue increases, including higher taxes and stronger protections for the poor than the deal Obama was negotiating. This caused Bill Daley to say, “We’d be beat up miserably by Democrats who thought we got out-negotiated” if Obama took the $800 billion of phony revenue projections, and no deal was concluded.
Nevertheless, with the prospects of a deal dimming and even with the embarrassment of the much better Gang of Six proposal in the background, two days later, according to the Post, “Working late into the evening, Obama asked someone to get Boehner on the phone. His message: I’ll take your last offer.” At this point. Boehner refused to reopen negotiations and Obama was left at the altar without a mate. But, the Post article reports that, “White House officials said this week [March 17] that the offer is still on the table.”
Obama’s willingness to bargain away core progressive values of the Democratic Party in a deficit-reduction deal comes after his meltdown on a large range of issues dear to progressives: His unconditional support for Bush’s Wall Street bailout; his escalation of the Afghanistan War; his acceptance of Bush-era limits on civil liberties; his shift from supporting the healthcare public option and opposing individual mandates during the 2008 campaign to subverting the public option and backing individual mandates in 2009; his extension of the Bush tax cuts for the rich (in exchange for Republicans allowing an extension of unemployment benefits and aid to cash-strapped states); his withdrawal of strong EPA rules on clean air; his gratuitous attacks on “the professional Left.”
At times it has seemed that Obama went out of his way to attack progressives and undermine progressive programs in order to prove he was truly the post-partisan president he claimed to be. Indeed, as I and Andrew Sullivan have previously argued, the evidence is pretty conclusive that Obama has governed as a conservative.
So, the question for progressives is, “What do we do now?”
Obama supporters would answer that question by arguing that now is not the time to criticize the president because the alternative–electing a Republican–would be worse. Now is the time to mute criticism, because criticism can be embarrassing and dispiriting. Buck up, Dems, forget issues and actual performance, now is the time for cheerleaders, not critics. We can reconvene on the issues after Obama gets re-elected
I think exactly the opposite is true. The only leverage progressives have on Obama is now, not later, not after the election. After the election, what is most likely is that Obama will return to his vision of himself as someone standing above politics, capable of making a “Grand Bargain” with Republicans, as a serious deficit hawk, as someone willing to put Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security on the chopping block before he demands more sacrifices from the rich and well-connected.
The 2012 presidential election is going to be one of the most dismal and depressing presidential elections in American history. Morale among Democrats is low because Obama has not been the savior many people expected and because the 2008 Democratic mandate was squandered so quickly and for so little. Republicans, on the other hand, likely will be led by Mitt Romney, a guy who has been pulling an aggregate of 39 percent of votes in the Republican primaries and who has been strongly opposed by the Tea Party and conservative wings of the party; indeed, if the conservative Republican votes had not been split among conservative candidates, Romney would not be the nominee.
Voters also will be bombarded by $3 billion of negative advertising, which is not likely to increase voting enthusiasm; indeed, much of the Republican advertising will be designed to suppress voting. Low enthusiasm elections mean one thing, low turnout and in low-turnout elections, what do you do? You activate the base voters because base voters are more likely to vote than occasional voters.
Obama already has figured this out, which is why his State of the Union address was so populist and progressive (if you leave out the 15 minutes or so of pure pandering to the military). He is smart enough to realize that he can’t get re-elected talking austerity and cuts to important social programs that many people, especially his base, like. He may want to make a Grand Bargain with Republicans, but he can’t do that now, not with an election looming.
Obama has few progressive achievements to offer his base, but he knows he’s a skilled wordsmith of populist rhetoric. And this is what gives progressives power now that they haven’t had for 3-plus years: Obama needs progressives; he especially needs progressives to vote; he is reaching out to us; he is beginning to talk our talk.
So, now is the time to make demands on him, to push him to make promises and commitments–as MoveOn did recently by demanding that he promise to veto any extension of the Bush tax cuts for the rich and by protests of inaction about mortgage relief at Obama for America sites. This is also what Bill McKibben’s 350.org did on the Keystone Pipeline, putting pressure on the president to reverse a State Department decision to permit the pipeline from Canada and thereby reaching out to the environmental community, which heretofore he had largely ignored, but which he needs in November.
Between now and the election, we need to take the lead from actions like McKibben’s and MoveOn and drive Obama as far to the progressive side of politics as possible, because if we don’t, once he is freed of having to run for re-election again, the Grand Bargain will be back on the table and it will take 20 years, or more, to reverse the damage. Ironically, by pushing Obama to take more populist positions, we will be helping to make him more electable, so there is no conflict between pushing him on issues and re-electing him.
The progressive vehicle for this pressure may now be in sight with plans by The 99% Spring to train 100,000 people in nonviolent direct action April 9 to 15 to push a progressive agenda about foreclosure relief, student debt, protection of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, job creation, poverty, pollution, wealth inequality and the roll-back of tax cuts for the rich. Let us hope this potentially game-changing force puts its allegiance squarely behind real change, not protecting the president, or any other politician.

Can John Edwards Pass the Leadership Test?

John Edwards ran a campaign of integrity and ideas, which he and his supporters can be very proud of. He spoke for a tradition of populist progressivism, which long has had too few advocates. He spoke of a need to change America, to change America’s priorities. But now that he has bowed to the inevitable fact that the Democratic Presidential candidate will be Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, the question becomes, “Can John Edwards pass the test of leadership?” Can he provide direction to the 15% of Democrats who supported him in the primaries? Can he use this moment in time, this opportunity, to advance the causes he believes in? Can he support the candidate who more closely represents his ideals, or will he be cautious, unwilling to choose, unwilling to lead?
There can be no doubt that ideologically John Edwards stands closer to Barack Obama than to Hillary Clinton. This was evident in the Democratic Presidential debates. Despite the successes of Edwards and Obama in life and politics, both are true political outsiders—mavericks in a sea of conventional wisdom. Indeed, the Clintons not only represent the status quo, they embody one of the Americas John Edwards so eloquently described—the well-connected, powerful, prosperous America which is doing well, which has benefited by globalization, which has secure jobs. This is the America the Clintons courted and pandered to during Bill Clinton’s presidency, and which they continue to represent. This is the America of special interests, which is as comfortable with the Clintons as with Republicans. But it is not the other America that John Edwards spoke so passionately about.
Certainly, there must be the temptation for Edwards to step back and let the two remaining combatants battle it out. This path offers Edwards the easy option of hedging his bets, perhaps in the hope that he will retain credibility with the ultimate winner and be able to advance his issues, and, dare I say it, his own interests after the election. On examination, however, this path offers Edwards nothing at all. Let’s assume—and I think it is a fair assumption—that, for the reasons stated above, there is no chance Edwards would endorse Clinton and that the choice he faces is endorsing no one or endorsing Obama. If he stands mute and Clinton wins, she will owe him nothing and she will not even be interested in his concerns; the best he will get is a courtesy lunch or a sub-Cabinet position in a non-critical department. On the other hand, if he fails to help Obama now, when help is most important, the leverage he will have with a victorious Obama would be much diminished than what it is now—such is the essence of politics, a brutal blood sport. On the other hand, should Edwards see the wisdom of endorsing Obama now, his leverage would be greater than it will ever be and he can deal for commitments to support his poverty agenda, and perhaps even for an important position in an Obama Administration. Surely I am not the first to think of John Edwards as Attorney General and if Obama were to make such a commitment, it would be no sell-out of values because John Edwards not only is eminently qualified to be AG, he may well be the most qualified Democratic attorney in America to be AG in a Democratic Administration.
I supported John Edwards in the 2004 Democratic primaries and donated to his campaign this time around. I have watched him grow in stature as a politician since the day in June 2003 when he appeared at an event at my house to explain to me and 75 other Democrats who he was and what he stood for. He ran a great campaign in 2004 and he ran a better one this time, but it was just not to be. But having come as far as he has come, he is not done. He owes it to his supporters, to progressive Democrats, to all Democrats, and to all the voiceless people he speaks for to provide leadership and direction about what direction this country should go and who should lead them as the Democratic presidential nominee in 2008. Silence, or none of the above, should not be an option.

Hillary Clinton Is Trying to Drive Democrats Into a Dead End on Foreign Policy

In recent weeks, Hillary Clinton has increased her attack on Barack Obama, arguing that foreign policy experience is essential to “being ready on Day One.” Clinton thinks this argument will bring her closer to the presidency, but she is actually painting herself, and Democrats, into a corner in the general election, for, whatever one may think about her or Senator Obama’s foreign policy credentials, they certainly are less than John McCain’s. Democrats cannot run the general election campaign on the question of who has more foreign policy experience, or experience, in general, because the answer to those questions will be John McCain, even though most of his foreign experience is military. The Democratic campaign will have to be about which candidate has demonstrated the best judgment in foreign affairs, not who has the most experience. Which one endorsed and supported the greatest foreign policy fiasco in modern American history? Which continued to support this war long after every possible justification for it had collapsed? Whose belligerent statements would increase the chance of war with Iran? In answering these questions — the questions Democrats will have to emphasize in a campaign against McCain — Hillary Clinton doesn’t fare so well.
First of all, it is not clear where Hillary derives the foreign policy “experience” advantage she claims, if not her eight years in the White House as First Lady. But when did the American Presidency become a monarchy? When did the First Lady role morph into the Queen? No First Lady, including Hillary, has been tasked with foreign policy assignments. As First Lady, the main purpose of her foreign travel was to engage in ceremonial events. There was nothing wrong with that, of course, but being hostess or guest at dinner parties is not “Commander-in-Chief” experience any more than Senator Obama’s experience living abroad is foreign policy experience. In fact, it can plausibly be argued that living in a foreign country, which Senator Obama has done, provides a deeper understanding of how the rest of the world thinks than bopping into a country for a day or two to schmooze with a Saudi oligarch. If her foreign policy role was more than that, why has she refused to release her White House papers so voters could see evidence of what her “experience” claims are based on?
Whatever her actual level of “experience,” since entering the U.S. Senate, Senator Clinton has been one of the most hawkish of Democrats, including, of course, her vote for the October 2002 Iraq Resolution which led to war with Iraq. She and Bill have tried to explain that vote on the grounds that President Bush’s true intentions, and the debacle Iraq would soon become, were “unknown and unknowable.” These claims cannot withstand scrutiny, however. Long before October 2002, there were abundant reasons not to trust anything Bush/Cheney said about Iraq. Long before October 2002, there existed a large body of scholarship that detailed the regional and religious conflicts that would erupt in Iraq if Saddam were removed. Two of the best predictors of the fiasco that Iraq would become, were President George H.W. Bush and his National Security Advisor, Brent Scowcroft, both of whom had written well-known articles and memoirs about why Baghdad should not be invaded — in the case of Scowcroft, in a New York Times Op-Ed shortly before the vote on the Iraq Resolution. And these warnings were not lost on the large majority of Democrats in Congress; in fact, 148 Democrats in Congress (125 in the House and 23 in the Senate) saw through the smoke and mirrors, accurately perceived that Bush/Cheney would use the resolution to invade Iraq, and voted against the resolution. Hillary Clinton missed all the clues, took the Republican bait, and made one of the worst foreign policy decisions in modern American history. As recently as December 2005, Senator Clinton wrote a letter to her constituents defending her war vote. While she now favors troop withdrawals, her turn against the war followed the opinion of a majority of Democratic voters by more than two years. Is following public opinion the type of leadership that “experience” produces? If it is, maybe we need less of it.
Hillary Clinton fell into the same hawk trap by voting for the Kyl-Lieberman resolution [Senator Obama opposed it], which labeled part of the Iranian national army, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, “a terrorist organization.” Aside from the fact that Iran has played a very cautious role in Iraq and seeks a long-term accommodation with the U.S. in Iraq, labeling the Iranian Revolutionary Guards a “terrorist organization” establishes the pre-conditions for a military attack on Iran, just as Bill Clinton’s call for “regime change” in Iraq was the predicate for attacking Iraq. Once Democrats, like Hillary Clinton, label part of the Iranian Army a “terrorist organization,” how can they complain when Bush attacks the Guards without appearing weak on “terrorism.” The Clintons play chess one move at a time; they simply are no match for Republicans, who see the whole board and plan several moves ahead.
The problem of Clinton’s poor instincts on foreign policy is compounded by the hawkish foreign policy advisors she has surrounded herself with, the most important of which are Madeleine Albright, Richard Holbrooke, Lee Feinstein and Sandy Berger. Former Secretary of State Albright is the person who Colin Powell’s Chief of Staff, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, once said, “She never met a military option she didn’t like. When I worked at Defense, she used to scare us.” When Colin Powell urged the new Clinton Administration not to bomb Bosnia too hastily, she countered, “What’s the use of having his superb military that you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?” “I thought I would have an aneurysm,” Powell would later write.
Perhaps an even more problematic member of the Clinton foreign policy team is Richard Holbrooke, who Clinton insiders say would be the most likely Secretary of State in a new Clinton Administration. Holbrooke certainly is not short on foreign policy experience, having been an Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Ambassador to the U.N., but his track record should cause all progressives concern. Holbrooke, described by pundits as, “The raging bull of U.S. diplomacy,” cultivated and supported Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, supported Indonesia during its brutal occupation of East Timor and backed the generals behind the Kwangyi massacre in South Korea. He supported Bill Clinton’s signing a bill calling for “regime change” in Iraq — the predicate for the Bush/Cheney led invasion. Thanks to Richard and Bill, Bush and Cheney were able to say “regime change in Iraq is American policy.” In his last press conference as U.N. Ambassador, Holbrooke called Saddam Hussein, “a clear and present danger at all times,” and said the incoming Bush Administration, “will have to deal with this problem.” Supported by this push from the Clintons, Bush/Cheney and the neo-conservatives were only too happy to oblige. As late as December 2005, with the Iraq War collapsing around Bush/Cheney, when asked what he recommended in Iraq, Holbrooke responded, “I’m not prepared to lay out a detailed policy or strategy.” Holbrooke provides lots of experience and a great resume, but outstandingly bad judgment.
Lee Feinstein is rumored to be in line for the critical position of National Security Advisor in a new Clinton Administration. Like many Clinton foreign policy advisors, Feinstein enthusiastically supported invading Iraq and in April 2003, shortly after the invasion, confidently assured CNN that, “U.S. forces over time will find weapons of mass destruction and also find evidence of programs to build weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq, even when it was becoming apparent they would not. Feinstein expanded his theories of unilateral, pre-emptive intervention in an article he co-authored in Foreign Affairs, where he championed the “duty to prevent.” He argued that the U.S. should try to build coalitions, but that it can attack sovereign nations without support from allies. He went even further, arguing that Bush’s controversial, and internationally illegal, doctrine of preemptive war “does not go far enough.” The logic of his argument would be that his concept of widespread violations of international law is crucial to strengthening international law. We see, once again, that deep foreign policy experience is serving the Clinton advisors so well.
Other top Clinton foreign policy advisors, such as Kenneth Pollack, Jack Keane and Michael O’Hanlon, strongly supported President Bush’s troop surge in Iraq. This could be why, during Bush’s recent State of the Union address, when Bush claimed that the surge was a success, Clinton stood and cheered while Obama remained seated and silent.
It should be noted that not every one of Clinton’s foreign policy advisors is a stone-cold hawk. General Wesley Clark and former ambassador Joseph Wilson have nuanced understandings of foreign policy, and neither supported the war in Iraq. Clark, in particular, understands not only the uses of military power, but also its limitations. I hope he will serve an important role in the next Democratic Administration, regardless of who wins the presidency. Experience is not always disabling.
In contrast to Senator Clinton, in the critical months prior to the launch of the war in 2003, with public opinion running strongly in favor of invading Iraq, Obama openly challenged the Bush Administration’s exaggerated claims and astutely predicted that a war in Iraq would lead to an increase of Islamic extremism, terrorism and regional instability, as well as a decline in respect for America throughout the world. Obama is a case study of good judgment trumping a resume.
While nearly all of Senator Clinton’s stable of foreign policy advisors were strong supporters of Bush’s invasion of Iraq, almost every one of Senator Obama’s foreign policy team opposed the U.S. invasion. Obama advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s National Security Advisor, warned that the international community would consider invasion of a nation which posed no threat to the U.S. would be an illegal act of aggression. Bzezinski said “without a respected and legitimate law-enforcer, global security could be in serious jeopardy.” Another key foreign policy advisor to Senator Obama, Joseph Cirincione, argued that containing Saddam already had been achieved, saying, “Saddam Hussein is effectively incarcerated and under watch by a force that could respond immediately and devastatingly to any aggression.”
While Senator Clinton and most of her advisors have been strong supporters of virtually unlimited defense spending, some of Senator Obama’s key advisors, like Lawrence Korb, have expressed serious concerns about the enormous waste from excessive defense spending. While most of Senator Clinton’s advisors, like Madeleine Albright and Sandy Berger, have been strong supporters of globalization, some even being architects of it, Senator Obama’s advisors have raised questions. Susan Rice, an Obama advisor and an expert on Africa in the Clinton Administration, has emphasized how globalization has led to uneven development that has contributed to destabilization and extremism.
Stephen Zunes, a foreign policy analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus, comparing Senators Clinton and Obama, has written:
On balance, it appears likely that a Hillary Clinton administration, like Bush’s, would be more likely to embrace exaggerated and alarmist reports regarding potential national security threats, to ignore international law and the advice of allies, and to launch offensive wars. By contrast, a Barack Obama administration would be more prone to examine the actual evidence of potential threats before acting, to work more closely with America’s allies to maintain peace and security, to respect the country’s international legal obligations, and to use military force only as a last resort.
For those voters who want American foreign policy to continue to trend in the direction of muscularity and intervention, they have their candidate — Hillary Clinton. For those who want change in American foreign policy, who think American militarism and interventionism need to be scaled back, Senator Obama, and his foreign policy advisors, appear ready to begin those changes.

Hillary is Nasty But She is Not Tough

Hillary Clinton’s current ads seek to portray her as the tough leader who is ready on Day One to handle crises. Borrowing from a line made famous by Harry Truman, the tag line trumpets, “If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.” The sub-text, of course, is that she will dish out a full plate of heat and if Obama can’t respond on her gutter level, he can’t handle heat.ᅠ
The truth is almost exactly the opposite. Hillary is nasty, but she is not tough. In fact, Hillary is a classic whiner. She and Bill whine about everything that doesn’t go well for them. Unlike Harry Truman, who also said, “the buck stops here,” she and Bill accept responsibility for nothing and blame others, especially the media, when things go wrong or their deceptions are exposed.ᅠ
Hillary and Bill whine about Democratic Party activists, young voters, running as a female, the media in general, the media catching her fabricating her history (bringing peace to Ireland, opposing NAFTA, facing sniper fire in Bosnia, etc.), the appeal of hope, Obama’s eloquence, money, donors, Democratic Party rules. Last week, Hillary blamed the “activist base” of the Democratic Party — and MoveOn, in particular — for many of her electoral defeats, claiming, without a shred of evidence, that activists had “flooded” state caucuses and “intimidated” her supporters. Rather than accept responsibility for her campaign’s well-documented failure adequately to plan for the caucus states, and despite her repeated claim she is the candidate “ready on Day One,” she attacked core Democratic Party supporters. Rather than take responsibility for her inability to inspire the activist base with her ideas, she whined about their support of a more thoughtful, inspirational candidate. Candidates normally celebrate high levels of voter activism in the primaries, knowing these activists will work for the party’s nominee in the general election, but Hillary is willing to burn the peasants in order to win the village for herself.

Hillary and Bill whine about young voters. Last week, Bill said in Pennsylvania that young voters are easily fooled and older voters are wiser — too wise to be fooled by Obama’s inspiring rhetoric. Of course, he forgot to mention that the most well-educated voters — young and old — heavily favor Obama over Hillary. Most candidates, and both political parties, yearn for support from young voters because young voters represent not just the present, but also the future. And, certainly if young voters were supporting Hillary, she wouldn’t be whining about them. But since she is not very good at inspiring young voters, she chooses to whine about them. Thankfully, she has not yet proposed raising the voting age to 60, but that could be next.

Hillary whines about being a female candidate, as though it’s harder to be female in America than black. Said Hillary, “It’s hard. It’s hard being a woman out there.” [Add some tears and the picture is complete] Her surrogate, Geraldine Ferraro, even made the wholly implausible claim that the only reason Obama was succeeding was his race — a claim Hillary never repudiated. Of course, at the same time the Clintons whine about misogyny, they argue to super-delegates that Obama is not electable because he is black and that, as a woman, she is the electable candidate. Neither Bill nor Hill can explain why all the white male Democratic Presidential candidates are out of the race. Could it be that Obama has demonstrated qualities to voters that the others lacked? Could it be that Obama has come from more than 20 points behind in just a few months because he offers qualities, such as hope and honesty, which voters, by large pluralities, think Hillary lacks?

Hillary frequently whines about the media not being “fair.” This is an old Clinton complaint, going back to her stone-walling about Travelgate, Whitewater and the revelations of Bill’s many sexual shenanigans. How unfair of the press to remember that she supported NAFTA, falsely claimed to have been a key negotiator in peace talks in Ireland, and lied about her Bosnia trip.

Caught dead-on lying about being under “sniper fire” as she landed in Bosnia — when absolutely no danger existed — she claimed she simply had “misspoke” [seven times?], then claimed she was tired by “lack of sleep,” then Bill chimed in to attack the media for even covering the story. This was all taking place as she asserted her competence to answer that mythical 3 am phone call. So if we believe the Clintons, her “lack of sleep” caused her to fabricate a story about landing in Bosnia into hostile sniper fire and risking her life like a seasoned military veteran, but this fabrication should be disregarded because, despite her history of sleep deprivation, if a crisis occurs at 3 am, we can trust her to be awake and alert and respond truthfully and with good judgment. With leadership like this, we’ll all be awake at night.

Hillary whines about Obama’s inspiration and eloquence. Hillary whines about the very nature of hope. Despite the Clintons’ history of playing the Hope Card (we all remember Bill’s 1992 campaign biopic, “The Man from Hope”), when the other guy is offering it, all of a sudden, hope is suspicious. In fact, it is downright delusional. “I could stand up here and say, let’s get everyone together, let’s get unified and the sky will open, the light will come down, celestial choirs will be singing, and the world will be perfect,” she said in mock sarcasm of Obama’s message of conciliation and hope.

Hillary whines about the fact Obama has engaged more donors and raised more money than she. Of course, she didn’t think it was unfair in 2007 when she had twice as much money as any other candidate. But as soon as she fell behind, Little Miss $100+ million War Chest was whining about being outspent. But isn’t the ability to inspire donors and raise money part of being a successful presidential candidate? Isn’t that a measure of electability, not something to be disdained?
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Hillary now is whining about Florida and Michigan, piously claiming that failing to seat delegates from those states would be fundamentally undemocratic. But when the Democratic National Committee’s rules panel declared Florida’s accelerated primary date was not permitted under party rules, all of Hillary’s 12 representatives on the 30 member rules panel voted for Florida’s full disenfranchisement, which, under party rules, applied to Michigan, as well. In October 2007, when she was far and away the Democratic front-runner, Hillary told a New Hampshire public radio audience, “It’s clear this election [Michigan] is not going to count for anything.” Oh, the sting of hypocrisy, but rather than accept responsibility for the obvious — that she supported the very rule she now attacks — she plays the “poor me” card and digs the Democratic Party into a deeper hole.

Do we want a whiner to be President? Commander-in-Chief? Do we want to live through more chapters in the never-ending, but never-changing, Clinton Drama of Blame, Attack and Half-Truths? Or do we prefer a president who has demonstrated candor, who is willing to treat voters like adults, who takes responsibility for his behavior and offers thoughtful commentary on serious issues — as Obama did with his former pastor? Do we want a president who behaves like a mature adult or someone whose emotional intelligence is on the level of a spoiled, whiny teenager?

Please, No Obama/Clinton Nightmare

Now that it is apparent to all, except perhaps Hillary Clinton and some of her die-hard supporters, that Barack Obama will be the Democratic presidential nominee, the drumbeat for a “dream” ticket [Obama/Clinton] is starting. But before this goes too far, we need to ask, whose “dream” are we talking about? Our Republican opponent’s dream or ours?
John McCain is in deep trouble, and not just because of the legacy of George Bush. He is in trouble with much of the Republican base, particularly the religious Right, who never have trusted him. It is no accident that turnout in nearly all Republican primaries has been low, that McCain’s fundraising has been dismal and that in the North Carolina and Indiana primaries, nearly 25% of Republican voters voted against him, despite the fact that he clearly will be the Republican nominee.
While McCain was the strongest in a weak field of Republican candidates, his candidacy clearly is not galvanizing conservatives. There is only one candidate who can do that: Hillary Clinton. To the conservative base of the Republican Party, she is the Democratic demon and the candidate the Republicans’ want to face. She is Rush Limbaugh’s candidate of choice. She is the candidate who the Right would use to raise money and turn out volunteers. She is the only potential Democratic VP who would build Republican enthusiasm and inspire the grassroots Republican campaign.
She also is the candidate who consistently measures the highest “unfavorable” ratings of anyone who ever has run for the presidency. In an ABC News poll, Clinton polls 54 percent unfavorable; perhaps even worse, 58 percent of voters say she is not honest and trustworthy. Both Clintons stand out for the amount of voter antipathy they attract: Thirty-nine percent of voters have a “strongly unfavorable” opinion of Hillary Clinton; only 22 percent have a “strongly favorable” view. Thirty-four percent are strongly negative on Bill Clinton and 51 percent have an “unfavorable” opinion of him. And Hillary’s low-road campaign has had an impact: 41 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters describe the tone of the Democratic campaign as “mostly negative,” and by nearly a 4 to 1 margin, 52 percent to 14 percent, blame Clinton. Is taking baggage like this into the general election anyone’s “dream” but a Republican’s?
Worse than Hillary’s high unfavorables, a Obama/Clinton ticket would create a continuing crossfire — not between McCain and Obama, but between Obama and Clinton. Every one of Clinton’s interactions with the media would feature questions like, “Do you still think Barack Obama lacks experience to be Commander-in-Chief?” “Do you still think Obama is an elitist?” “That he doesn’t understand the problems of the white working class?” “Do you still think his past association with Reverend Wright is very troublesome?” Obama would be asked, “During the primary campaign, your VP said your healthcare plan sucked? Was she right? Does it suck?” “Do you want to obliterate Iran, too, like your vice-president?” And, when the press wasn’t asking these questions, John McCain would ask them. Or, maybe we all could be reminded of Bill’s talk of a Clinton v. McCain contest, where we would have a campaign of “two people who loved this country and were devoted to the interest of this country,” unlike Obama. Even worse than this scenario, Barack Obama would be cast in the position of having to defend his own VP’s past attacks on himself. By doing so, he would not simply look like a hypocrite, he would, in fact, be a hypocrite — thus putting into jeopardy his coin of the realm, his honesty and integrity. The general campaign wouldn’t be about Obama v. McCain, it would be Act Two of a very bad marriage, with Obama sacrificing his integrity trying to explain away his own VPs past attacks on him. If you think her snarky, negative primary campaign was a thing of the past, think again because the Republicans and the press would offer us deja vu all over again. Lost in this dialogue of the past would be Obama’s opportunity to explain how he wants to take America into a more productive future.
Those who “dream” of an Obama/Clinton ticket also fail to recognize something significant: Hillary has been a lousy candidate. I used to think that Al Gore and John Kerry ran the worst campaigns for president ever, but Hillary’s ineptitude set new records. Five months ago, Hillary had a 20+ point lead in Democratic polling, the greatest name recognition of any candidate, the most money, support from a popular former Democratic president who was actively campaigning for her, nostalgia for the Clinton era of “peace and prosperity,” a ton of endorsements, the aura of “inevitability” — and she squandered it all with an inexorable series of misjudgments, abetted by her, Bill’s and her campaign’s unrelenting arrogance. By contrast, Obama ran down and exposed the dinosaur for what it was not simply with a brilliantly executed campaign, but with a core understanding that voters were tired of the type of old-style politics and old-style campaigning Bill and Hillary so ably represent. Why should he now forge an alliance with one of the most ineffective old-style campaigns ever, not to mention take on the Big Dog [Bill] as his new pal — in this case, an uncontrollable pal who would try to run not only Hillary’s campaign, but Obama’s, as well? This is my definition of a Living and Breathing Nightmare — one with plenty of 3 am calls from Bill! Even worse than sharing a campaign with Bill and Hill, allying with the Clintons would undermine the very essence of the Obama message — that real change is needed in Washington. It would be seen as completely inauthentic, the worst type of marriage of convenience. And unlike the shotgun marriage JFK made with LBJ, Hillary brings nothing to the table; unlike LBJ, she can’t bring a swing state into the Democratic column. Obama could win New York with Daffy Duck as his VP.
Then there are the revelations to come. Does anyone think that a man with a documented 30-year history of philandering with a long list of bowling alley queens has magically stopped playing the field, or that the Republicans will not exploit this? Does anyone think the Republicans will not exploit Bill’s fundraising associations with some of the questionable people who have given him millions for his library and foundation in favor of his deal-making with oil oligarchs, or exploit his 11th hour pardons of some pretty disreputable characters, including two convicted bomb-carrying members of the Weather Underground? How much more baggage can Hillary sustain?
There are, of course, many strong Vice-presidential candidates for Obama to choose from. In light of Clinton’s and McCain’s challenging Obama’s national security credentials, a VP such as General Wesley Clark, Senator Jim Webb or Governor Bill Richardson would add substantial national security/foreign policy heft. General Clark is our last successful commanding general and a smart, attractive spokesperson. He comes from the Clinton camp, but is no hawk like Hillary; Clark understands not only the uses of military power, but also its limitations. He would fit well with the new direction in foreign policy we hope a President Obama would take the country, as well as add great credibility to new security initiatives. Jim Webb, a former Secretary of the Navy, has been perhaps the most out-spoken and effective critic of the War in Iraq and Bush/Cheney foreign policy belligerence. He won in Virginia, a swing state, against all odds and an incumbent Republican, and is a great campaigner. Governor Richardson has spent most of his adult life working in the foreign policy arena, he is a popular governor in a swing state and is a Hispanic to boot — a near-perfect trifecta of qualifications. He also has an incisive sense-of-humor, which politics and political combat could use a bit more of. Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown is another VP possibility many have mentioned positively.
And, there are solid women VP candidates: Senator Claire McCaskill won her Senate seat in Missouri, a swing state in any Presidential election; she has a tough law and order background as a former Attorney General, and is smart and articulate. Kansas Governor Kathy Sibelious has proven to be an effective governor who works well with the opposition and knows how to win in a Republican state.
This short list certainly is missing many other potentially good candidates, but the point is simple: There is no dearth of qualified VP candidates for the Democrats and there is no reason to take on the baggage and negatives of the Clintons, let alone try to work closely and cooperatively with them for 4-8 years.
Hillary, Bill and surrogates like James Carville have graphically challenged Obama’s toughness, even his “cojones.” I recognize that Obama is a conciliator, but conciliation should not come at the cost of getting rolled by the Clintons. That first act of a Demcratic Presidential candidate would show strength to no one [including the Clintons] at a time when voters still need to be convinced that Obama not only is an inspiring leader, but a tough and strong leader, as well.

Secret Clinton Memo Revealed

I am a close personal friend of Mark Penn and Harold Wolfson. Recently, I was permitted to read, but not copy, a secret campaign memo co-authored by Hillary and Bill Clinton addressed to their demoralized campaign staff. The memo lays out many possible paths to victory still remaining in the Democratic nomination process for Hillary. My best recollection of this memo is as follows:
1. Assassination is still on the table, but it is only one possibility out of many. In light of the public furor in response to Hillary’s assassination comments, for the time being this possibility will be de-emphasized.
2. Astrophysicists are predicting an increase of meteor showers between now and the Democratic Convention. It is possible that a small meteor could hit Barack Obama in the temple at any time.
3. The most common place where people suffer fatal injuries is in their bath tub and shower. Obama is rumored to bathe every day.
4. It has been reported that Obama likes tofu; it is a little-known fact but many people have died choking on tofu.
5. We are engaged in secret conversations with George Bush and Dick Cheney to encourage them to move up the Iran invasion date from mid-October to the first week in August. We will jump all over this issue in support of the invasion and our brave troops. America likes invading other countries. That peacenik wimp Obama won’t stand a chance.
6. Obama uses an airplane to fly to many of his campaign appearances. With the soaring price of jet fuel, there is a chance his plane will run out of fuel in-flight. It is not a glider.
7. Obama plays basketball every morning. It is possible, even likely, that he could suffer serious damage to his knees and not be able to walk between now and November without a walker or wheelchair. No one wants a President in a wheelchair. We know there is the precedent of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, but that was before TV.
The Obama campaign only appears to be strong. Obama actually is quite vulnerable, as this memo has made clear. This is no time to feel bad, be nice or stop attacking [pandering to voters is still OK]. We are in this to WIN so stop grousing about the crappy campaign you all think we have run, think like a pit bull, not a poodle, buck up your spirits and your rhetoric and continue to ATTACK!

What Next for Democrats?

The first thing Democrats need to do is stop feeling sorry for themselves and stop issuing idiotic statements like the one they issued today that they cannot “mathematically” do anything. They still control the Presidency and have large majorities in the Congress. With a bozo who won the Presidency with a minority of votes and thin majorities in Congress, the Republicans in 2001-6 still aggressively pushed their agenda. “Mathematics” didn’t stop the Republicans and there is no reason for the Democrats to act impotent and paralyzed now.
What could they do to turn momentum in their favor?
1. Pass the House’s $154 billion job creation bill. Find more TARP money to add to the House bill. Talk about job creation every day.
2. Pass Obama’s proposed bank tax. Talk every day about excessive bonuses, how the banking industry failed America and how Republican economics collapsed the economy and transformed a $250 billion federal surplus in 2000 into a $1.3 trillion deficit in 2008.
3. Order the Department of Justice to investigate the financial manipulations and inept regulation which led to the financial collapse for possible criminal violations. The conflicts-of-interest were rampant; surely, there must be criminal violations somewhere in this gigantic mess of profiteering and greed.
4. Publicize the hearings and findings of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission and develop legislative proposals to rein in Wall Street and prevent their gambling with our money. Point fingers and assign blame and if some of the blame touches Clinton, Summers and Geithner, be honest about it. The public sees too little honesty from politicians. Use the findings to dump Summers and Geithner.
5. Make the federal foreclosure agency work to reform mortgages [it has been close to dysfunctional for nearly a year]. It is estimated that between 20-25% of all mortgages now exceed the value of the properties. There are tens of millions of homeowners who need help and most of them vote.
6. Pass the Consumer Protection Agency and blame every politician who opposes protecting consumers for being tools of banks. Get Elizabeth Warren on TV every day. Have her make the State of the Union speech. 🙂
7. Fire Tim Geithner and Larry Summers. Replace them with Joe Stiglitz and Elizabeth Warren. Withdraw Ben Bernanke’s nomination for the Chair of the Federal Reserve and replace him with Paul Volcker.
8. Pass healthcare reform with a public option and the surtax on the wealthy and no excise tax through reconciliation. Bend the reconciliation rules as much as necessary and let the Republicans howl. There is no judicial review and the public doesn’t give a shit about the nuances of Senate procedures, they just want to see action. Accuse the Republicans of being pawns of the insurance companies.
9. Announce that the Democratic Party will stop accepting donations from the banking and insurance industries and demand that the Republican Party do the same. They won’t, of course, which would provide many opportunities to accuse the Republicans of being the party of the banks and insurance companies — the message would be, “If you want to empower banks and insurance companies, vote Republican.” Whatever money the Democrats give up by this gesture would be more than made up by a surge of small donations, a surge in integrity and a surge in credibility.
I’m sure I am missing many other good ideas, but this list would keep the Democrats busy for at least a few months.