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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Here We Go

President Obama:

Obama said Saturday... that Clinton was a "formidable candidate" before, and that should she run again, she would have some "strong messages to deliver." He mentioned her work on foreign policy, as well her having domestic policy views of "one [who] cares about working families." "She was a supporter of mine in the general election, she was an outstanding secretary of State, she is my friend, I think she would be an excellent president[.]" Clinton is reportedly aiming to portray herself as a "tenacious fighter" for average Americans.
The struggles and hopes of "Average Americans" were obviously the focus of her announcement video, and while it is easy to roll one's eyes at such pablum it pays to consider how different this diverse patriotic vision of people of color, working moms, retired women, queer couples, working folks differs from the white-racist nostalgia, resentment, and rage of the contrary "take back our country" Republican "Real America" vision of patriotism. I have no trouble at all choosing between these animating visions, and these are indeed the visions we will have to choose from when the time comes to elect the President. There is, of course, much more to politics than electing a president, but electing a president remains a political act it is utter folly to disdain.

I am heartened that Clinton is emphasizing her political continuities with the Obama administration (I daresay had more Democrats done so last year, the mid-term elections would not have been such a catastrophe). I actually appreciate very much her choice to emphasize that she is running as a grandmother, assuming the legitimately feminist role of experienced and empathetic older woman as a  worthy leader for a society in which leadership has long been confined to the demoralizing contours of masculine competitiveness, athleticism, and gut decisions. As she has also done in her tweets the last few weeks on carefully selected issues, it is clear that Clinton is framing her run as something like an Obama third-term in mildly Elizabeth Warren-esque cadences.

Clinton says little in the video, leaving everyday people to do most of the talking, and this aligns nicely with the "listening tour" that inaugurates the campaign. I hope this will make for a few months more of vapid feel-good stories rather than a series of whomped up faux scandals from pundits coughing up the usual hairball of "the horse race narrative," and hence eager to distract s much attention as possible away from Republicans serially belligerently disqualifyingly declaring war on all facts and on the whole world, including the majority of the diverse, precarious Americans they hope to preside over.

The few words Clinton does say in the launch video are pretty much what I need them to be: "Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times, but the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top. Everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion, because when families are strong [these words over a succession of images representing the real demographic diversity of American families], America is strong."

I agree with Robert Reich (quoted below) that Clinton's capacities and values are more or less as good as America is capable of offering up for a candidate for the Presidency -- in her primary contest with candidate Obama, Clinton was campaigning from his left at least as often as she was from his right, and in the substance they occupied much the same policy space. Hillary Clinton seems politically more like Obama than she ever did like Bill Clinton, and given the times it is unlikely that even Bill Clinton would sound much like Bill Clinton were he running today. When Reich declares that Clinton must exhibit some fight, I think she has set the stage for such rhetoric, though I don't expect, nor do I think Clinton would be particularly suited for the role of a happy class warrior.

What will matter more than the choreographed performance of "fight" are the specific policies and positions Clinton proposes -- which is why Reich proceeds to list policies at that moment in his piece. I cannot say whether Clinton will campaign for precisely the policies Reich proposes (most of which I heartily approve), but of course their realization would depend on flipping the Senate back to the Democrats and getting enough Democrats in the House to enable working coalitions (I fear the gerrymandered House cannot be regained this time around, even by a Presidential electorate, but one wonders if another conspicuous loss will chasten some of the GOP into better sense, otherwise prospects will be bleak come what may given crazytown obstructionism).

Robert Reich:
Some wonder about the strength of her values and ideals. I don’t. I’ve known her since she was 19 years old, and have no doubt where her heart is. For her entire career she’s been deeply committed to equal opportunity and upward mobility... The more relevant concern is Hillary Clinton’s willingness to fight. Politicians usually seek to appeal to as many voters as possible, eschewing controversy. After a devastating first midterm election, her husband famously “triangulated” between Democrats and Republicans, seeking to find a middle position above the fray. But these times are different. Not in ninety years has America harbored a greater concentration of wealth at the very top. Not since the Gilded Age of the 1890s has American politics been as corrupted by big money as it is today. If Hillary Clinton is to get the mandate she needs for America to get back on track, she will have to be clear with the American people about what is happening and why -- and what must be done.


Lorraine said...

One thing I don't worry about is the strength of Clinton's ideals. I worry a little about what those ideals might actually consist of, and I worry about what might be the fundamental principles from which "stands on issues" are derived in Clinton's case. I understand that Hillary Clinton is not Bill Clinton, but I also understand that "finger in the wind" and "trial balloon" are part of the leadership style of both. I understand that this can be an advantage as well as a disadvantage to our side. Things indeed are different now. Just as in the era of DLC charter member Bill Clinton, there was a limit to how populist or progressive an office seeker could afford to be, I can only hope that we have now reached a point where there are limits to how pro-corporate, plutocratic (and dare I say, neoliberal) a candidate can afford to be.

Let's say I'm someone who was rooting for Obama (over Clinton) during the 2008 primary season, or at least the last 3/4 of it, when it was clear that the field had been narrowed down to those two.* Let's also say I've had moments of "buyer's regret." Even assuming Clinton is at least a little right of Obama on the venerable spectrum, perhaps an assertive center-right president is a lesser evil than a mild-mannered center-left one, when facing take-no-prisoners tactics from the other party, which has also achieved a level of party discipline that is the envy of parties in parliamentary systems, and a level of message discipline capable of organizing grass roots supporters into wolfpacks who will eagerly shout down any attempt at sportsmanlike debate from a left-leaning private citizen.

* Naturally, my rank order of preference at the outset was Kucinich > Dodd > Richardson > Edwards > Obama > Clinton.

Lorraine said...

Part of sucking it up, getting practical about elections, etc. is of course recognizing which fights can't be won and irrevocably (or at least for another generation) writing them off as losses. I see this rather assertively stated in the blog of Frank Moraes, who makes no bones about considering the "right on social issues, left on economic issues" a lesser evil than the complementary alignment. Until quite recently I was very firmly in the "purple quadrant is a lesser evil than pink quadrant" faction, but as my prospects for salvaging a livelihood out of a resume damaged by decades out of the workforce get dimmer and dimmer, it's becoming painfully obvious that the yuppies, the hipsters, the PME (professional-managerial elites) will never in a million years invite me into their world of professional esteem, cultural creative designation, etc.** I simply can't afford to argue their case against the haters because it's becoming increasingly clear they won't argue my case against the temping out of the workfarce, the sharecropping of the long tail, the "only purple squirrels need apply" policies of the tech sector and the Uberification of the service sector. Like you, I'm at least as queer as a 37 dollar bill, and I'm also an atheist, so this is no intellectual exercise. The demagogic element that somehow seems impossible to pry apart from economic populism is a gun aimed directly at me.

** I got a taste of their world (and its intoxicating lack of nationalism and religion), despite my lower-working-class background, because I'm old enough to have had the opportunity to go to a somewhat elite university thanks to the Pell Grant, before the great grant->loan shift in college financial aid policy, combined with the skyrocketing tuition rates. I do NOT envy the younger generation.