An Endorsement Follow-Up
By now, you have all read about the dust-up between Hillary and Obama at the CNN/You Tube debate over his answer to a question wherein he said he would meet with some of our usual adversaries (Castro, Chavez, and Ahmadinejad) within his first year as president, without apparent qualification and preconditions. Seeing a fresh opportunity to push the message that Obama is too inexperienced as compared to her, Hillary pounced by stating such a willingness to meet so early with these leaders without first seeing what was to be talked about amounted to talking for talking’s sake, granting these leaders a possible propaganda opportunity. This sounds way too Bush-like for many who have watched the train wreck of the Bush/Cheney foreign policy these last seven years. Since then, the Clinton team has initially had Madeline Albright and then Richard Holbrooke reinforce what Hillary said, and Obama has pushed back several times in the media by dragging her Iraq vote into this discussion, which is his default position.
Both Obama and Clinton were right in this case, and both tried to capitalize with post-debate spin. After seven years of Bush/Cheney rigidity, even the Baker/Hamilton ISG report suggested that we meet with adversaries to pursue opportunities for improving security. That was the point Obama was trying to make, but he got out on the branch a little too far by saying he would meet with our usual opponents in his first year without qualification. Hillary was correct that no president should do that, without having underlings determine what is to be accomplished first, so that the foreign leader can't use the face time for their own purposes without a benefit to America. Hillary hit Obama immediately on this as part of her ongoing effort to portray herself to the foreign policy establishment and security-conscious voters as a safe, seasoned choice over her rivals. Obama has since struck back several times by bringing up the problems of the Bush/Cheney years and clarifying that he wouldn't talk just for the sake of talking, which of course is what he should have said at the debate. But he is going a step further to marry Clinton's attack on him to her Iraq war vote, which is a stretch, but consistent with his game plan to mention her Iraq vote at every opportunity, as if this is her central disqualification for the presidency.
I made my preference in 2008 clear yesterday, but I wanted to explore a little further the Obama default position, which I think mirrors perhaps the main objection many in the blog community have against Hillary, aside from the fact that she is a Clinton or may appear too corporate and too Beltway for many of you. Clearly, Obama and Edwards will exploit Clinton’s 2002 vote and her unwillingness to apologize for it as Exhibit A against her because it resonates with anti-war voters and blog readers, and there is no reason why they should not. It is smart politics on their part to find a weakness and use it against her in appealing for support. But these criticisms against Hillary generally and for that vote specifically should be evaluated further.
The Iraq Vote
Hillary hasn’t apologized and won’t I think for several reasons. First, as has been noted elsewhere, she isn’t trying to appeal to the anti-war crowd by issuing an apology that she doesn’t really believe is necessary or reflective of what she believes. She has already said that after watching what the GOP did to Bill in trying to usurp his executive branch powers in such matters, and with an eye on her own potential future she was unwilling to vote to constrain the current executive just because it was Bush. She has said that her great failing here was in trusting Bush. But another great failing here, one that she shares with Edwards, was that she didn’t read the October 2002 NIE closely enough, a problem she shares with most of the Senate it appears. As I said yesterday, there is a legitimate judgment issue here that her opponents will exploit, but as a woman candidate she is facing a challenge that other candidates escape, which is the second reason for not apologizing. To me, Hillary decided that a predicate for her candidacy given her gender was to first build trust and credibility with the foreign policy and Beltway media crowd on matters of national security, to allow her over time to address her vulnerabilities with voters who are already predisposed against her, rather than build her appeal from the anti-war left first and then try the uphill climb to win those other voters with a hostile media and punditocracy working against her every step of the way. You can disagree with her thinking here, but I think there are two legitimate reasons for her approach regarding the war vote: she believes from her time in the White House that the president should be given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to diplomacy and the leverage behind it; and secondly she made a calculated decision to neuter the Beltway and foreign policy crowd to the degree she could, knowing that coming at this from the progressive left given her gender was a nonstarter.
Gender and Infrastructure Challenges
Hillary cannot change her gender, nor should she apologize for her ambition. You may dismiss my argument regarding her challenges due to her gender, but be honest and ask yourself this: do you really think that given our current media and the progressive left’s current infrastructure disadvantages a progressive or anti-war woman could be elected today? Would Barbara Boxer or any progressive woman be elected president today? Whether you like it or not, a purely progressive candidate, especially a woman could not be elected today without there first being a transitional period whereby we level the playing field with gains in the media, the think tanks, and the money, allowing us to get the message out there and to gain traction that there is a viable and more effective progressive alternative to the destructive corporate conservative politics that have destroyed the middle class. Tell me how a progressive woman running against the corporate conservative media, the think tanks, and the Beltway chattering classes could possibly win with an unequivocal anti-war message, without having the transitional period first that her husband’s presidency should have been, to build this progressive infrastructure? A Hillary presidency would be the opportunity to build that infrastructure. And for those of you who worry about her foreign policy, ask yourself who would have more access at the White House during a Hillary presidency: the Center for American Progress or the American Enterprise Institute? And if you really think it is AEI, you are mistaken.
Down Ballot Concerns
Several of you have brought up concerns about how having Hillary at the top of the ticket would hurt down ballot Democratic candidates next year. Others have concerns that Hillary is too corporate. If you bash Hillary for being the wrong candidate at the top of the ticket for down ballot Democrats in purple and red districts, tell me how a liberal or progressive woman, or for that matter a liberal or progressive man, black or white would also not be a drag in those same purple or red districts? You may not like how Hillary has positioned herself vis-à-vis the war vote and foreign policy in general, but there isn’t much space between her and Obama and Edwards in foreign policy, and the only difference is that she voted for the war resolution and hasn’t apologized for it. If you think that will hurt down ballot Democrats in purple or red districts, I believe you are mistaken. I am not convinced that Hillary will be more of a drag to down ballot Democratic candidates in key districts next year than Obama or Edwards would be, and we already know that she can raise money.
If you are upset at her corporate support, I would point you to my infrastructure argument. I hate to be crass about it, but our primary goal is to get a Democrat elected to the White House with a Democratic congress, not to run a more ideologically compatible candidate and lose on principle. The last seven years have proved to us that the overriding imperative is to win the two branches of government any way possible and then work to build a more lasting infrastructure to support Democratic and progressive candidates and campaigns. If taking Wall Street and corporate support helps that, then as long as the policies don’t reflect Wall Street over Main Street, I can live with using their money to help progressives.
Obama and Edwards are good, solid candidates with much to recommend them. To that end, I also think that Bill Richardson would make a good president, as would Chris Dodd and Joe Biden in that order. But Hillary can be elected, and can help the party and progressives get to where they need to be over the next 4-8 years without getting derailed by the right wing media and foreign policy fear machine during that time.