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Archive for the ‘Clinton’ Category

The tenor of current political discussion suggests that the masters our preparing us for the possibility of undoing Obama’s win:

  1. The superdelegate freeze (why not decide this now and spare us the pain?); claims by Gov Rendell and others that party officials need not respect the pledged delegate count; superdelegate claims in a New York Times article to the same effect; despite the fact that Clinton will need 65 percent of superdelegates to overturn the popular vote; the bizarre talk of “buyer’s remorse” and “electability,” as if elections can be undone and despite the fact that all the data shows that Obama is a far better candidate in the general election
  2. The “dream ticket” line–where Obama gets to be VP as prize for winning the superdelegate count, state count, and popular vote
  3. Talk of seating Michigan and Florida as-is because re-dos are too expensive or may lead to lawsuits, despite the fact that Obama was not on the ballot in one state and the candidates didn’t campaign in the others
  4. The overwhelmingly negative Obama press coverage in the last two weeks: the hysterically positive coverage of Clinton’s marginal Texas and Ohio wins according to the lame “change of momentum” narrative; the attempt to Dean and Whitewater (Rezko) Obama, pretending an issue in which there is not even a theory of wrongdoing, much less a question, is a scandal; the bogus NAFTA story; hit-jobs in the New York Times parroting the Clinton experience argument; the gleeful (and delusional) anticipation of Obama lowering himself to Clinton’s level; the scant acknowledgment of Obama’s caucus and delegate victory in Texas; the downplaying of Obama’s 11 wins, the significance of Mississippi, and then the Wyoming victory (Clinton “almost split” the delegates in Wyoming is a line worth pushing, in contrast the silence on Obama’s delegate victory in Texas); the press’ parroting of the Clinton line on the election as a whole–“it’s essentially a tie,” “superdelegates will decide the nominee either way”

It’s time to float this threat: if they take it away from Obama, he makes a third-party run in the national election.

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manyfacesofhil.jpgThe Obama campaign has avoided negativity and gratuitous attacks. That’s a matter of integrity, and it’s nice that someone has finally proved that it works.

On the other hand, it’s time to put Hillary out of her misery. It’s important that these attacks be fair, not be made directly by Obama himself, and that they stem from the nature of her own campaign–i.e., that they point out the implications of her own nastiness.

Some things I’d like to see:

  1. Hang McCain around Clinton’s neck the way Bush will be hung around McCain’s. If she thinks that after her, McCain is the next best commander-in-chief, then she ought to bear the burden of that view. Run ads showing her and McCain together. Point out similarities in their voting records and views–especially on Iraq, Iran, and NAFTA. Call her McCain Light. Show her with Liebermann as well, just for texture.
  2. Because Clinton is a whiny victim, ask voters whether they really want someone with a victim-mentality as commander in chief–someone who is thin-skinned and so brittle that she can’t fight a fair campaign; highlight her instability, her bizarre range of moods–from condescending scold to tearful victim, from bitter complainer to euphoric winner, from pandering flatterer to angry fear-monger, from solemn admonisher to sarcastic fool. All that takes is editing together a few clips in a way that shows her to be the bi-polar (multi-polar!) candidate that she is
  3. If Clinton counts being next to Bill Clinton at 3am when he picks up the phone as commander-in-chief experience, ask voters to compare this absurd notion to a husband having experience in law because he’s around when his lawyer wife picks up phone calls in front of him or discusses his day with him. Ask voters if we want someone who dramatically overestimates her own experience and seems unaware of her own shortcomings. Dissect her “35 years”–again, a series of images and clips are all that’s required. Her she is in law school; as a corporate lawyer; on the board of wal-mart; contrast this to Obama’s career in public service–again, visually.
  4. Clinton as an experienced manager: simply highlight the way she’s run her campaign–the short-sighted strategies that damage the party; the financial mismanagement; the internal discord
  5. Claim that Clinton cares more about herself and her power than about the party [this a very borderline strategy that if it can be done at all would have to be done well–important for Obama not to appear to be complaining or implying that he’s already won and that future primaries aren’t important]
  6. Create an ad that alternates between Clinton’s attacks and her complaints about Obama’s attacks and media coverage. One attack clip, one complaint clip. No voice-over. Just a quick line as summation at the end, something like “whether she’s on the attack or thinks she’s a victim, is Hillary Clinton in touch with reality?” It’s important that these attacks merely highlight all the inconsistencies and contradictions internal to her own logic

Update: (1) is already being rolled out:

“For seven years she aligned herself with Sen. McCain in putting all our eggs in General Musharaf’s basked,” Craig said. “And she aligned herself with Sen. McCain when they both criticized Barack Obama for taking action against al Qaeda leadership, which has taken safe havens in Pakistan. She aligned herself with Sen. McCain in supporting the Kyl-Lieberman resolution”

They need to keep this up in earnest–in public statements and in ads. There needs to be a concerted take-down of her character and emotional stability. My suggestions aren’t very nice, but a knock-out punch is required to keep her from damaging the party and Obama any further.

Update II: Larry David’s hilarious version of (2) here:

How is it that she became the one who’s perceived as more equipped to answer that 3 a.m. call than the unflappable Obama? He, with the ice in his veins, who doesn’t panic when he’s losing or get too giddy when he’s winning, who’s as comfortable in his own skin as she’s uncomfortable in hers. There have been times in this campaign when she seemed so unhinged that I worried she’d actually kill herself if she lost.

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The latest from the Clinton campaign:

  •  McCain and she are read to be commander in chief, Obama isn’t
  • “I won’t accept a caucus” in Florida (Hillary)–meaning, she would be comfortable seating delegates in a state where there was no campaigning (not to mention Michigan, where Obama was not on the ballot)
  • The Obama campaign’s request for Clinton to release her tax returns means he is like Ken Starr

We know that Clinton is a hawkish and pro-business establishment politician, so it should be surprise that Obama is so threatening that she prefers McCain. But saying that either she must be the Democratic nominee or she would prefer a Republican is a remarkably destructive to her own party. In light of the fact that she can’t possibly win pledged delegates or the popular vote, it is all the more wanton.

A  few conclusions:

  1. Clinton either is a conservative Democrat, Liebermann style, or she thinks pretending to be one will help win against Obama
  2. Clinton believes she is a victim
  3. Clinton is essentially unethical

These are a dangerous combination – (3) the most dangerous of all.

(Incidentally, it turns out that it was the Clinton campaign that reassured Canada over NAFTA).

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Rescuing Maiden Hillary

This will sound like sour grapes, but here goes.

It’s a measure of the delusion of the press that they treat Clinton’s comeback as a resurgence. That’s largely a function of a taste for drama, no matter what the realities–the desire to tell a story of ups and downs, wins and comebacks. It’s also a function of a post-SNL guilt over Hillary’s “negative” press coverage, despite the fact that that coverage was caused by eleven straight losses and her extremely negative campaign. But worst, it’s a function of of a form of politically correct sexism which demands we treat a campaign that is dead in the water as if it were alive–that we extend our chivalry to a forlorn maiden whose entitlement masquerades as distress. She went through so much. The first dragons were alternately Bill Clinton and the Republican attack machine. Now it’s simply Obama; or, more fundamentally, the brute reality of what it means to lose. Ultimately, we’re being asked to make an exception for Clinton based on her sex, by a press that suddenly became worried that it had been making an exception for Obama based on his race, charisma, high-mindedness, or all three.

The reality is this: barring an assassination, scandal, or the overturning of the popular vote/pledged delegate count by party officials and activists (“super-delegates”) , Clinton cannot win. Her campaign is simply delusional, and can only result in ripping apart the Democratic party before Obama goes on to the general election.

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While Anderson Cooper does his vacuous deer-in-headlights-who-cares-about-people routine, Keith Olbermann (who’s show Countdown is actually very good), approaches yesterday’s debate with the same dreary cynicism as his mischievous mentor, the meat-headed Tom Sawyer of politics, Chris Mathews. The debate was “9 to 6,” says Olbermann, who unlike most political sports analogists knows something about sports: three field goals for Obama and two for Clinton. What pundits mean when they say “touchdown” or something similar, is an “Oh SNAP!” tabloid-making moment. It’s little schoolyard comebacks like “there you go again” that win points. It’s all there is. Adam Nagourney speculates that Clinton failed to produce a “ground-moving moment,” as if voters are just searching for and dumb enough to be moved some clever “Oh SNAP!” line.

And in the same vein, all the pundits weigh in (more summary here): it was a boring tie. To Mathew Yglesias, “the whole thing seems tedious.” To Joe Klein, who could not hold an independent-minded opinion if it had nailed itself to his forehead and who can’t even keep up with this week’s punditry fad, Obama wins “by not losing,” but not on “substance.” To Todd Beaton, Obama didn’t “project confidence.” To MissLaura, it was Hillary’s body language that was at issue. To Newsweek, Obama is a “brand” (he that line of thought has never been tried before!–everything is a brand!). Ariel Alexovitch equates “aggressive” and “strong.” Patrick Healy and Jeff Zeleny, like most pundits, assume everything must be a strategy: “front-runner’s strategy of nonconfrontation” and talk of “even tones.”

here is a word for all of these sighing Madam Bovaries of the political world, these political deconstructionists. They are nihilists. And because nihilism dominates our public discourse, Obama is incommensurable with it. He is a mystery. Here our the nihilistic premises that underly everything the political class in the United States has to say today:

  • Nothing is significant beyond the question of whether it titillates us, whether it is fuel for our wankery. Everything is a matter of appearances, fashion, style. Nothing is about the signified, for there is no such thing as the signified. We skate lightly over the surface of things, and there is nothing underneath beyond self-interested motives.
  • All is Will-to-Power. Therefore all motives are attributable not to sincere belief but to strategy. Everyone’s intentions are transparent. We live in a war of all against all. We are sophisticated because we are cynics who see that beneath the appearances to see that there is … nothing … except will-to-power.
  • Yawn. When we are not stimulated by the appearances or by conflict, we quickly get bored.

Let’s take one case from the debate to further illustrate this point. Russert, for whom being a “tough” questioner means trying to create “Oh SNAP!” moments, tries to imply that Obama is guilty by association, that he is an ant-semitic black militant, because he hasn’t sought out every high-profile supporter, vetted their positions, and then issued an acceptance or rejection statement.

Clinton’s “meaning of is is” response to this–“reject” vs. “denounce”–is just another example of her cynicism. Obama’s response is about as classy and devastating a smackdown as any thinking person could ever hope for: “But if the word ‘reject’ Senator Clinton feels is stronger than the word ‘denounce,’ then I’m happy to concede the point, and I would reject and denounce.” Clinton’s oblivious response “good” misses the fact that “I concede the point” is a way of saying “you’re an idiot for lawyering this distinction” with ironic magnanimity. Far too subtle for her, and for today’s pundits, who must simply marinate in the drool of their own open-mouthed confusion when reading Oscar Wilde or anything similar (Roger Simon of The Politico wonders if it means “lacks an instinct for the jugular,” and Andrew Sullivan thinks it’s “Weak, weak, weak.”) Of course, they would probably laugh in derision at the thought that such subtleties have anything to do with public discourse in the first place, and would probably initiate this line of analysis: is Obama too witty to be president, and for the voters (meaning “us pundits”)? Too intelligent? Too classy?

There is a clear implication to talk of jugulars and football scores: nothing of substance matters to a debate. “Politics is a fashion shoe, or an Oscars red carpet,” they imply. “We are here to make catty, superficial remarks about whether politicians can score points by making catty, superficial remarks. We are here to enforce the fashion of the times, the conventional wisdom, with our own obsequious pandering to what we think our audiences want to hear–and this is precisely what we are looking for in a politician.”

Obama is a mystery to this cynicism, but Clinton is a lacuna. Because she fights her fight precisely according to their expectations. Clinton sighs just like them–they about the lack of “Oh SNAP!” moments, her because her “Oh SNAP!” attempts don’t work. That Clinton shares their cynicism is clear. When asked about her obviously opportunistic vacillation in tone, Clinton responds that “this is a contested campaign.” The implication here is that it was indeed a game, and that that’s just politics. It never occurs to her–or the pundits–that her authenticity might be question just for having outbursts as a kind of political ploy.

How can voters be so unsophisticated as not to share this cynicism? To honor this experience?

The nihilism goes deeper, of course, than the search for these gotcha moments. Take the analysis of the otherwise intelligent Andrew Sullivan. We merely need to look at his language: “Obama’s push-back on the war was strong.” Not, “Obama is right about the war.” The pundit must characterize, signifier, not referent, in order to looking so naive as to believe there are referents at all. (In Sullivan’s case, it is certainly an unconscious adherence to today’s style, and not a consistent approach, but I’ll continue to pick on him anyway). Pundits must frame the debate only in terms of the expected result when applied as a cattle prod to the ruminative masses: “I agree more with her than him. But he cleaned up. In Ohio, this is a big deal.” I’m not saying that speculating about how an argument will be received in Ohio is off limits. I’m saying this kind of analysis–the analysis of the marketing executive–as almost all there is today. Who won the debate? Whoever pandered the best. Whichever Sheltie did the best herding job. There is no talk about one candidates arguments actually inducing some sort of spontaneous rational reaction in the minds of their audience. About them creating new convictions. About them being leaders of any kind.

That’s not only a shame, it’s a form of stupidity, the kind of thing that makes Obama incommensurable with their form of reasoning–a rhetorical absurdity, a UFO sighting, a singularity, a rockstar. Whatever he is, he must be irrational. Today it not clever mindlessness that is irrational but substance. No wants to know whether one candidate is better when it comes to a) policies b) decision-making ability c) authenticity of character. They want to know not whether Clinton’s sense of victimhood is something we really want in a president, but whether Clinton “flubbed” a line. Not whether she fails as a person, but whether she fails as an actress.

So ironically these horserace analysts don’t even know how to handicap the race. They cannot see that Clinton is consistently vague on her policy explanations and Obama thoughtful and specific. Here I venture into partisan grounds of course, since I am a “Hillary-hater” and Obama-maniac. I might say that this partisanship is an extension of my thoughts about nihilism, but one might question my gut sense about what is authentic and what is fake. On the other hand, I find it indisputable as to who was more thoughtful a debater. Whose language is more indicative of having a serious grasp of issues and their nuances. Who actually thinks about what he says when he gives answers. Who believes what he says, is who he is. Who does not feel flustered when under pressure. Who is not driven towards political conciliation to the convential wisdom (the Iraq war is one example). Who would be a better decision maker.

I’d like to do one blow-by-blow analysis (yes, of actual debate content!) that I think bears this out. Let’s do the entire healthcare exchange in yesteday’s debate:

  1. When first asked about healthcare, Clinton resopnds that Obama has distorted her position on the mandate (no explanation of why and how the mandate would be enforced); healthcare reform is a passion of hers, and she’s met suffering families; debates should be good and use accurate information.
  2. Obama responds into detail about what a mandate means, why it might be a bad idea (penalties in Massachusetts as an example), the fact that she has not provided specifics on mandates and affordability subsidies, how he conceivable could be wrong about that approach, but this difference has nothing to do with the desire to provide universal healthcare. And it doesn’t.
  3. Clinton responds with verbiage about the importance of the issue to her, how his attacks are unfair and Republican-like and Truman-unlike, how it “goes to the heart of whether or not this country will finally do what is right.” She makes the point that Obama has a mandate for children, meant to imply that … the mandate must be universal (a logical fallacy). She goes on to say that she’s work on this for many years. She makes one substantive point about insurance cherry picking.
  4. Obama responds that while it is fair for Clinton to argue that a mandate might be superior, it is unfair to say that he is not trying to provide universal healthcare. And that her lack of information about subsidies and penalties are a problem. He responds to the cherry picking point by noting that insurance companies would be happy to have a mandate that forces people to purchase from them.
  5. Clinton re-raises her logical fallacy–the mandate on children. Now this means, bizarrely, that “there’s no difference.” She then claims that parents getting sick is bad for children, implicitly conceding Obama’s theory that a mandate on children is necessary because children depend on their parents and cannot act on their own behalf. She then compares a lack of a mandate to voluntary social security and medicare. She makes a point about the mechanisms of signing people up. She claims her plan will make insurance more affordable. Experts agree with her.
  6. Obama claims that his plan is better at controlling costs, that experts agree with him. That a mandate for children is premised in its greater affordability; that a mandate for adults is premised in the uncertainty about affordability for all adults. He reminds the audience that the plans are virtually the same in every other regard. That the debate is not about the intention to achieve universal healthcare but the means. Medicare incidentally is voluntary, and an example that illustrates that when affordable, people will purchase healthcare voluntarily.
  7. Clinton makes a point about young people not purchasing and so driving up costs
  8. Obama points out that young people are covered until the age of 25 under their parents’ plans

    Clinton spends a great deal of time trying to direct the debate away from the details of plans and too:

    • The unfairness of Obama’s attacks
    • The idea that Obama has no intention of providing universal healthcare, rather than that he just differs on the means, and the betrayal of democratic values
    • Her passion about the issue and compassion for the suffering
    • Her logical fallacy concerning the mandate for children

    Clinton’s rhetoric is a tangle of logical fallacy and ad-hominem. Obama consistently shows a willingness to debate the actual substance of the plans. Her substantive points–about coverage and costs–are always vague, and consistently countered by Obama. She never talks about how the mandate will be enforced. Obama provides the one past-performance example, Massachusetts. Neither candidate gets into the nitty gritty of plans–why one will cut more costs than the other, for instance. But there is a clear tension that explains this fact–Clinton’s pulling the debate in the direction of meta-narrative (Obama’s unfairness, lack of commitment to universal healthcare; her victimhood, passion, compassion); and Obama’s unsuccessful attempts to bring it back to substance (and specificity, e.g. Massachusetts).

    There are a few things that this exchange illustrates, without any doubt:

    1. That Obama is far better spoken and has a greater grasp of substance than Clinton
    2. That Clinton has some serious problems with her character–that she is intellectually dishonest, that she is narcissistic (in her attempts to define the issue in terms of her own victimhood), and that she is more interested in turning the debate towards logically flawed ad hominem political rhetoric than discussing details (in other words, that she is much more interested in winning)
    3. That Obama is much calmer under pressure than Clinton, that he is far more decent in his approach to politics, far more self-aware, and that he is far less narcissistic and power hungry (notably, Obama makes the unheard of admission that there’s vanity and ambition in politics)

    I’m afraid I have little patience for people who cannot sus out these differences. If this is not a clear slam-dunk for Obama on what counts, then nothing is.

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