A little over seven years ago there was that Los Angeles Democratic Presidential Debate, on January 31, 2008, at the Kodak Theater over on Hollywood Boulevard. Kodak has pretty much gone bankrupt – everything went digital and Kodak didn’t – and that’s now the Dolby Theater. Things change, but that was the big faceoff between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. This was a big deal, and press credentials are cool. Having a friend high-up in CNN is cool – CNN hosted the thing. That meant live-blogging the debate on site – and then it was over – and the drive home was tedious. It would have been better to walk. The apartment here, just off the Sunset Strip, is only a little more than a mile west of that theater where they hold the Oscars, and only that one time, hosted a political debate.
The rest of the political year was tedious too. Obama was going to win. He was cool, and made amazing speeches, and then reverted to being calm and reasonable about every damned thing. That was reassuring, and that seemed to drive Hillary Clinton crazy. She gave her best approximation of being passionate about this and that, and when no one was buying it, she went on a rant about Obama’s big fancy speeches. He was all talk, damn it. She had been there, wherever that “there” might be. Obama smiled, made no comment at all, and kept giving the speeches. She seemed unhinged. He didn’t have to do a thing. He let her lose it all on her own, in public, perhaps as a calculated strategy, to show her passion and seriousness. It showed something else instead.
It wasn’t pretty, and he did the same thing to John McCain in the general election that year, when McCain tried to cancel that one debate because he had decided to fly back to Washington to solve the financial crisis, all by himself. Cancel the debate? “You know, it’s a funny thing, but presidents often have to be able to deal with two things at the same time.” McCain had no response to that. He debated Obama, on schedule, and he didn’t fix the financial crisis. When McCain finally got to Washington he made things worse – he blew up the deal on TARP by getting all passionate and confusing his own party. It took a week to fix that, but there was no fixing McCain’s reputation as an angry old man who just didn’t get it. Obama won easily. Obama knows how to play this game.
Hillary Clinton had other problems that year, of course. After her years as First Lady, in the Senate, she had voted for the authorizations that gave George Bush the war that he wanted in Iraq, and by 2008, no one thought that war had been a fine idea. She had to dance around those votes, and there was the matter of smugness. She and her amazingly popular husband controlled the Democratic Party – all the key people were their friends, and they seemed to have locked up the donor base. That made her “inevitable” that year. Maybe she should have been, but she shouldn’t have acted as if she were. A sense of entitlement just pisses people off. It was time for a woman? Perhaps it was. But why did she think it had to be her, by default? She was a driven and calculating and thoroughly unpleasant person, who happened to be a woman. The former outweighed the latter. Obama made her his secretary of state, where such qualities are useful.
But Obama will be gone soon, and it seems that Hillary Clinton will again run for president, again by default, again as inevitable – only as more inevitable this time, as Obama will soon ride off into the sunset and never be a problem for anyone ever again. It should be smooth sailing for her, but as David Graham reports in the Atlantic, she may be unable to be anything other than smug:
In her first public comments on a controversy involving her emails, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton answered questions from the press for 20 minutes, but her response amounted to this: You’ve just got to trust me.
Clinton revealed that she had sent and received more than 62,320 emails from her private account. Of those, 30,490 she deemed work-related and turned over to the State Department. The other 31,830 she apparently deleted. The central question of the jousting match between Clinton and reporters was how she distinguished the personal emails from those relating to her official duties. Her explanation was simple: She decided.
That may not sit well with voters, for good reason:
As Clinton pointed out, that may follow the letter of federal rules. Government employees are allowed to use their personal email, and they’re expected to choose which are professional and have to be turned over for public records, and which are personal. She said that even if she had used two devices or only a state.gov email address, she would still have made that decision. But that legalistic defense doesn’t necessarily do much to quash her political problem. The question at the heart of the scandal is what might have been hiding in the emails that were not put in the public record – dealings with corporations, with aides, and with foreign heads of state, for example – that may be relevant to her duties as secretary or her presumed presidential bid.
“I have no doubt that we’ve done exactly what we should have done,” Clinton said.
Is that so? Graham is not so sure:
On the trust question, however, there were troubling signs. “When I got to work as secretary of state I opted for convenience to use my personal email account, which was allowed by the State Department, because I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and personal emails,” Clinton said. “Looking back, it would’ve been better if I’d simply used a second email account and carried a second phone.” Yet as recently as two weeks ago, she told journalist Kara Swisher that she carried two phones during at least part of her tenure as secretary of state.
Clinton also argued that because most of her work-related emails were sent to other people using official government accounts, they were being recorded, anyway.
Something seems amiss here:
On two questions, Clinton offered surprisingly blunt and unequivocal answers: She said there were no security breaches on her email server, and she said she did not email any classified information.
But seldom were Clinton’s answers so straightforward and simple. Far from putting an end to questions, the press conference seemed to raise a whole new set of concerns. Three seem especially salient to her political prospects. First, do Americans buy her explanation that she used personal email out of convenience rather than as an attempt to shield her work from public scrutiny? Second, do they trust her to have sorted her emails honestly and correctly, dividing work from personal matters? And third, will any of this make any electoral difference, or is it a process-oriented Beltway brouhaha? The last question will probably be the easiest to answer.
Yeah, this may mean nothing. The party is behind her, even if it is by default. There’s no other serious candidate out there on their side, just a few interesting firebrands. She’s it, but Clinton served on the board of Wal-Mart between 1986 and 1992, when her husband was governor down there, and the law firm she worked for at the time represented the company. She sat on the Wal-Mart board for years, as the richest family in America fought any attempts by their workers to unionize and they fended off suit after suit about paying even less than minimum wage to those workers, many of whom, working full time, ended up on food stamps. Can she explain that?
She won’t have a primary challenger so that may not be an issue, but at least those folks have been good to her. Wal-Mart has donated nearly $1.2 million to the Clinton Foundation for a program that issues grants to student-run charitable projects, and also paid more than $370,000 in membership fees to the foundation since 2008, according to a Wal-Mart spokesman. That’s not going to help anyone somehow making less than minimum wage at Wal-Mart, but that’s how she rolls, as a background article in the Wall Street Journal explains:
Among recent secretaries of state, Hillary Clinton was one of the most aggressive global cheerleaders for American companies, pushing governments to sign deals and change policies to the advantage of corporate giants such as General Electric Co., Exxon Mobil Corp., Microsoft Corp. and Boeing Co.
At the same time, those companies were among the many that gave to the Clinton family’s global foundation set up by her husband, former President Bill Clinton. At least 60 companies that lobbied the State Department during her tenure donated a total of more than $26 million to the Clinton Foundation, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of public and foundation disclosures.
This is a sweet deal but with its dangers:
As Mrs. Clinton prepares to embark on a race for the presidency, she has a web of connections to big corporations unique in American politics – ties forged both as secretary of state and by her family’s charitable interests. Those relationships are emerging as an issue for Mrs. Clinton’s expected presidential campaign as income disparity and other populist themes gain early attention.
Indeed, Clinton Foundation money-raising already is drawing attention. “To a lot of progressive Democrats, Clinton’s ties to corporate America are disturbing,” says Jack Pitney, a politics professor at Claremont McKenna College who once worked for congressional Republicans. Mrs. Clinton’s connections to companies, he says, “are a bonanza for opposition researchers because they enable her critics to suggest the appearance of a conflict of interest.”
Yes, there is that, and unsavory connections:
Both Exxon and Chevron are supporters of the Clinton Foundation. Chevron donated $250,000 in 2013. A Chevron spokesman said the Clinton charity “is one of many programs and partnerships that the company has had or maintains across a number of issue areas and topics pertinent to our business.”
Exxon Mobil has given about $2 million to the Clinton Global Initiative, starting in 2009. Since 2007, Exxon Mobil also has given $16.8 million to Vital Voices, the nonprofit women’s group co-founded by Mrs. Clinton, according to the group’s spokeswoman.
An Exxon Mobil spokesman said the donations were made to support work on issues Exxon Mobil has long championed, such as programs to fight malaria and empower women. “That is the sole motivation for our support of charitable programs associated with the Clintons,” he said.
And back in the sixties guys only read Playboy for the articles. Hillary Clinton is working on this issue, hiring advisors, and David Atkins at the Washington Monthly wondered about that:
It’s hard to say what is more disturbing: that Clinton doesn’t know what she thinks needs to be said and done about the economy and needs 200 advisers working for months to cobble a plan together, or that she does know and is so fretful of offending wealthy donors and centrist voters that she needs to micromanage her economic policy.
One of the reasons that people love Elizabeth Warren is that she speaks from the heart with an instant authenticity that demonstrates a genuine understanding of what ails the economy, a knack for communicating progressive values in plain speaking, and a willingness to tell hard truths even if it offends Wall Street.
It’s more than likely that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee, and that tens of millions of Americans on the left will need to grow comfortable with her if they aren’t already. But Clinton herself would do well to learn the lessons of her own 2008 campaign, John Kerry’s failure in 2004 and Mitt Romney’s failure in 2012: that voters don’t relate well to safe, micromanaged talking points devoid of energy, inspiration or authenticity.
Approximations of being passionate about this and that just don’t cut it. She should have learned that seven years ago, and William Cohan – the author of Money and Power: How Goldman Sachs Came to Rule the World recently reported this:
Many of the rich and powerful in the financial industry – among them, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman, Tom Nides, a powerful vice chairman at Morgan Stanley, and the heads of JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America – consider Clinton a pragmatic problem-solver not prone to populist rhetoric. To them, she’s someone who gets the idea that we all benefit if Wall Street and American business thrive. What about her forays into fiery rhetoric? They dismiss it quickly as political maneuvers. None of them think she really means her populism.
They’re smart guys. They know she’s faking it, and they like what they see:
Although Hillary Clinton has made no formal announcement of her candidacy, the consensus on Wall Street is that she is running – and running hard – and that her national organization is quickly falling into place behind the scenes. That all makes her attractive. Wall Street, above all, loves a winner, especially one who is not likely to tamper too radically with its vast money pot.
According to a wide assortment of bankers and hedge-fund managers I spoke to for this article, Clinton’s rock-solid support on Wall Street is not anything that can be dislodged based on a few seemingly off-the-cuff comments in Boston calculated to protect her left flank. (For the record, she quickly walked them back, saying she had “short-handed” her comments about the failures of trickle-down economics by suggesting, absurdly, that corporations don’t create jobs.) “I think people are very excited about Hillary,” says one Wall Street investment professional with close ties to Washington. “Most people in New York on the finance side view her as being very pragmatic. I think they have confidence that she understands how things work and that she’s not a populist.”
She’s not something else either, if we go back to July 2007:
Barack Obama’s offer to meet without precondition with leaders of renegade nations such as Cuba, North Korea and Iran touched off a war of words, with rival Hillary Rodham Clinton calling him naive and Obama linking her to President Bush’s diplomacy.
Older politicians in both parties questioned the wisdom of such a course, while Obama’s supporters characterized it as a repudiation of Bush policies of refusing to engage with certain adversaries.
It triggered a round of competing memos and statements Tuesday between the chief Democratic presidential rivals. Obama’s team portrayed it as a bold stroke; Clinton supporters saw it as a gaffe that underscored the freshman senator’s lack of foreign policy experience.
“I thought that was irresponsible and frankly naive,” Clinton was quoted in an interview with the Quad-City Times that was posted on the Iowa newspaper’s website on Tuesday.
In response, Obama told the newspaper that her stand puts her in line with the Bush administration.
There was a great deal of back-and-forth on this idea that it is irresponsible and naïve to just talk to these folks. They need to fear you first. Make demands. If they don’t meet them they’ll be damned sorry. Put the fear of death in them – not that she put it that way. But that was implied. She was saying that Obama just didn’t get it, and the next April it was this:
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton warned Tehran on Tuesday that if she were president, the United States could “totally obliterate” Iran in retaliation for a nuclear strike against Israel.
On the day of a crucial vote in her nomination battle against fellow Democrat Barack Obama, the New York senator said she wanted to make clear to Tehran what she was prepared to do as president in hopes that this warning would deter any Iranian nuclear attack against the Jewish state.
“I want the Iranians to know that if I’m the president, we will attack Iran (if it attacks Israel),” Clinton said in an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
“In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them,” she said.
This was a continuation of the same argument. As president, she might negotiate with Iran, or she might not, but they should know she was ready to wipe out every man and every women and child there, and leave the place a desert of glowing radioactive sand-turned-to-glass if they did anything stupid, or even thought of it. She wouldn’t hesitate. That’s why people should vote for her, because everyone knows that the judicious application of death, or the fear of death, is real leadership. Dick Cheney said so. No, wait – she didn’t mention Dick Cheney.
She could have. Jacob Heilbrunn – the author of They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons – offers this look at that world:
After nearly a decade in the political wilderness, the neoconservative movement is back, using the turmoil in Iraq and Ukraine to claim that it is President Obama – not the movement’s interventionist foreign policy that dominated early George W. Bush-era Washington – that bears responsibility for the current round of global crises.
Even as they castigate Mr. Obama, the neocons may be preparing a more brazen feat: aligning themselves with Hillary Rodham Clinton and her nascent presidential campaign, in a bid to return to the driver’s seat of American foreign policy.
To be sure, the careers and reputations of the older generation of neocons – Paul D. Wolfowitz, L. Paul Bremer III, Douglas J. Feith, Richard N. Perle – are permanently buried in the sands of Iraq. And not all of them are eager to switch parties: In April, William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, said that, as president, Mrs. Clinton would “be a dutiful chaperone of further American decline.”
But others appear to envisage a different direction – one that might allow them to restore the neocon brand, at a time when their erstwhile home in the Republican Party is turning away from its traditional interventionist foreign policy.
They now see her as one of them:
These neocons have a point. Mrs. Clinton voted for the Iraq war; supported sending arms to Syrian rebels; likened Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, to Adolf Hitler; wholeheartedly backs Israel; and stresses the importance of promoting democracy.
It’s easy to imagine Mrs. Clinton’s making room for the neocons in her administration.
Maybe there’s a place for Dick Cheney. The inevitable Democratic candidate seems to be a severely conservative Republican, but that’s all they’ve got:
They shrug off questions about Hillary Rodham Clinton’s email habits. They roll with the attacks on her family’s foundation, the big checks from foreign governments, the torpid response of her not-yet-campaign.
They have little choice: As Mrs. Clinton prepares to begin her second presidential campaign, amid a froth of criticism and outrage, Democrats are not just “Ready for Hillary” – as supporters named one pro-Clinton SuperPAC – they are desperate for her.
Congressional Democrats are counting on a strong Clinton campaign to help lift them back into the majority. Party leaders at all levels want her fund-raising help and demographic appeal. And from the top of the party to its grass roots, Mrs. Clinton’s pseudo-incumbency is papering over significant disadvantages: a weak bench, a long-term House minority and a white middle class defecting to the Republican Party faster than the Democrats’ hoped-for demographic future is expected to arrive.
She’s too big to fail:
“There is no one else – she’s the whole plan,” said Sarah Kovner, a leading Democratic donor and fund-raiser in New York. “She is by far the most experienced and qualified person we could possibly nominate. Not even on the horizon but on the far horizon.”
Her party’s urgent need for her to succeed explains, in part, how Democrats have responded to revelations that Mrs. Clinton used a private email address for all of her government correspondence as secretary of state and skirted public and congressional records requests. But it also suggests the Democrats’ peril: Should Mrs. Clinton falter, the party has no easy way to replace her.
“Anytime you have all your eggs in one basket, it is a concern,” said Gov. Jack Markell of Delaware, acknowledging the risk Democrats were running by deferring to Mrs. Clinton – “although, if you’re going to have them all in one, this basket is a good place to be.”
She is a lock:
For two years, Mrs. Clinton has been the prohibitive favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination, keeping the party’s strongest alternatives on the sidelines and depriving those who remain of potential donors and staff. Senior Democrats have built a multimillion-dollar political infrastructure to pave the way for her candidacy, and while Republicans openly fretted about the need for a candidate of their own who could match her, Democrats gently tamped down concerns that the party was too heavily invested in a single flag bearer. For House Democrats, Mrs. Clinton’s impending candidacy has figured centrally in pitches to donors, who are skeptical of their chances to win the chamber back.
Winning matters, not what she believes, because there won’t be another young Obama:
Her broad appeal among Democratic voters has prevented liberal complaints against the party’s Wall Street faction from mushrooming into an electoral insurgency. Her star power – and the potential for a ceiling-breaking White House victory – has helped obscure a vexing reality for the post-Obama Democratic Party: As much as it advertises itself as the party of a rising generation, the Democrats’ farm team is severely understaffed, and many of its leading lights are eligible for Social Security.
Jerry Brown, perhaps the most successful big-state Democratic governor in the country, is 76. (He ran for president two decades ago – as the anti-Clinton candidate.) The top four congressional Democrats are all 70 or older. And as Democrats look for new recruits to run in 2016, there are fewer up-and-comers, and more prospects older than 60 looking to make up for losses in previous elections, including Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Ted Strickland of Ohio, who are all eying Senate seats.
They’ve got no one else. Hillary Clinton might win this time, actually by default. That would deny the Bush family its third president, presuming Jeb Bush is the Republican nominee. But then George W. Bush would get a third term. Obama is gone. It was nice while it lasted.