CAMPAIGN 08: You can’t lick the boot that kicks you

The only way to fight the Clintons

joann-wypijewski.jpgTalk about the “kitchen sink”! If Barack Obama wanted to throw it at the eight years of First Lady experience that Hillary Clinton has made central to her resume for “the job” she says she wants us to “hire” her for, there is plenty there. People on the left who say he won’t, he can’t because he’s just like her, a creature of capital and empire, may be right in the grand scheme, but they shouldn’t be smug, because there aren’t exactly models of successful radical or even liberal fights against the Clintons. There are barely models of noble but failed fights. And Hillary’s own revamped self-presentation as the populist fighter, sworn foe of big corporations, friend of the little people, ultimate underdog, makes clear that Obama’s ties to Wall Street should be no more an impediment than hers are in the game of political fisticuffs.

Already it looks like Obama’s advisers are getting it completely wrong, though, challenging her for her First Lady papers and her tax returns and, implicitly, the source of her and Bill’s immense wealth. Obama can no more beat the Clintons at this kind of game than the right could. Every small, personal complaint looks petty or desperate or sexist, and only allows Hillary to play the part she likes best, after mud slinger and policy wonk, which is survivor. She played that part in New Hampshire and in Ohio, and she’ll play it again any time she wants to put on the show that “for anyone who’s ever been counted out”, for anyone who’s ever had to struggle against the odds, for anyone who’s ever been treated unfairly, she’s their gal. It’s as phony a show as can be imagined, but it’s the one the Clintons perfected against the right, and their hard core supporters are on autopilot now to respond to it. Likewise, Obama can’t beat the Clintons in pure bloviating wonkery. Some of his advisors are saying he should quit the big inspiring rallies and do small tedious meetings of the type that Hillary’s supporters walk out of, even as they’ll later pull the lever for her at the polls. It’s not her “plans” that draw voters; like Blanche McKinney, most people don’t even know what those plans involve even after reading them. It’s her aura of dogged competence, based on the entirely fraudulent story of “putting people first” and thus widening the circle of peace and prosperity during the Clinton years. It’s also her skin color, and if anyone doesn’t think Bill Clinton knew what he was doing in South Carolina, locking up the white racist vote for his wife, they should talk to some of her supporters in Ohio.

Obama can’t do anything about that last “asset” of Hillary Clinton, and maybe it is her ultimate chip, but it would make for a more interesting campaign going forward if he would challenge that First Lady experience by implicitly challenging the myths on which it stands, projecting an idea of the future unmoored from the Reagan-Clinton continuum, something Hillary is locked into. What drew so many people originally to Obama’s campaign was its call to “turn the page” on past Republican and Democratic politics alike, and its recognition that people are just fed up. But that call could never sustain itself purely on some attacks on lobbyists and the usual timid party nods toward health care, education and the environment. It was always going to need more meat on its bones. [complete article]

Never been afraid to talk about anything

I came across something interesting while doing some research on public diplomacy for an unrelated project. Since at least the 9/11 Commission Report, almost every foreign policy blueprint or platform has for better or for worse mentioned the need to fix American public diplomacy and to engage with the “war of ideas” in the Islamic world. I expected all three remaining Presidential candidates to offer at least some boilerplate rhetoric on the theme. What I found was different.

Barack Obama’s counterterrorism plan, as I already knew, prominently features the need for better public diplomacy and engagement with the “crucial debate.. taking place within Islam”. He has advanced some bold ideas such as convening a summit with the leaders of the Islamic world early in his administration and the “America’s Voice Initiative” modeled after the Peace Corps (an idea which I love for all kinds of reasons). He’s making rebuilding America’s relations with the Muslim world a real priority, while putting forward a sophisticated reading of the politics of the Islamic world. Indeed, his discourse about this the other day during a potentially difficult meeting with Ohio Jewish leaders is possibly the best I’ve ever heard from an American politician:

The question, then, is what do we do with the 1.3 billion Muslims, who are along a spectrum of belief. Some extraordinarily moderate, some very pious but not violent. How do we reach out to them? And it is my strong belief that that is the battlefield that we have to worry about, and that is where we have been losing badly over the last seven years. That is where Iraq has been a disaster. That is where the lack of effective public diplomacy has been a disaster. That is where our failure to challenge seriously human rights violations by countries like Saudi Arabia that are our allies has been a disaster. And so what we have to do is to speak to that broader Muslim world in a way that says we will consistently support human rights, women’s rights…. Those all contribute to people at least being open to our values and our ideas and a recognition that we are not the enemy and that the clash of civilizations is not inevitable.

Now, as I said, we enter into those conversations with the Muslim world being mindful that we also have to defend ourselves against those who will not accept the West, no matter how appropriately we engage. And that is the realism that has to leaven our hopefulness. But, we abandon the possibility of conversation with that broader Muslim world at our own peril. I think all we do then is further isolate it and feed the kinds of jihadist fanaticism….

To me, that’s great stuff. It exemplifies the reasons why I’ve supported Obama, and to the extent that it incites the radical fringe against him, all the better!

John McCain, for his part, talks about creating a “single, independent public diplomacy agency” to reverse our “unilateral disarmament in the war of ideas” (a phrase I seem to recall from the Kerry campaign). He calls understanding foreign cultures a “strategic necessity”, and advocates helping moderate Muslims against extremists. While I think that his vision of public diplomacy is overly militarized, really more about strategic information operations than about dialogue or public diplomacy, at least he’s got well-developed ideas about the subject. We disagree, but there’s something there to have an argument about.

But Hillary Clinton…. nothing. [complete article]

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