The Big Dog Barks

Bill Clinton, once known as President William Jefferson Clinton, is now called the Big Dog, affectionately. When he talks he takes over the room. He can explain incredibly complex matters with grace and humor – he knows his stuff, in detail – and suddenly everything is clear. At the 2012 Democratic Convention he gave a stunning speech that explained Obamacare and the Democrats’ economic policies so clearly, and with such good humor, that Obama would laughingly call him the Explainer-in Chief. He was a lot better at that than Obama ever was, and damn, that made Obama happy. This guy was good, and his record as president wasn’t bad either. Except for that at-a-distance dust-up in Kosovo, we didn’t go to war anywhere to transform the world. We found other ways to advance our national interests, and at home, Clinton actually pulled off the rarest of feats. He actually balanced the budget. No one ever does that, but Clinton did, working with the key budget guy in the House, John Kasich, oddly enough. There was the Monica Lewinsky business of course, and the subsequent impeachment, but Clinton was cleared – no conviction on anything – and throughout that whole thing his approval numbers soared. No one approved of what he and young Monica had been up to, but that seemed a minor matter compared to the gleeful sniggering priggishness of the Republicans. He had been a bad boy, but they came off as thoroughly unpleasant sanctimonious sex-obsessed jerks. Then, of all things, when he left office, we had a federal surplus, not a deficit. The economy had boomed for eight years – not his doing, actually – but wages had risen for those eight years and there had been jobs for everyone. He really was the Big Dog.

The second George Bush took that massive surplus out for a spin and crashed it into a tree – two unfunded major wars in the Middle East, massive tax cuts for the rich offset by nothing at all, and then the completely unfunded Medicare Part D will do that – and then in 2007-2008 the economy crashed and burned. Major important banks were failing, the credit markets seized up, we were losing eight hundred thousand jobs a month, millions of Americans were losing their homes, and there was only one thing to do – pump seven hundred billion dollars into the banking system immediately, or sooner.

Where would that money come from? We put that on the tab. We sold treasury bonds to anyone who would buy them – a promise to pay interest on those and to pay back the principle at a fixed date, ten or thirty years out. We were good for that. This is America, not some flaky South American joke of a country. Everyone knows that, and anyway, we could always sell more bonds to pay the interest and then the principle on those first ones – but that’s a vicious cycle. We were deep in the hole again. The deficit spending was necessary – forget anything like a balanced budget – and the massive new debt was inevitable. George Bush had ruined everything.

It was obviously time for another Clinton, so Hillary ran in 2008 and deployed the Big Dog to explain why she, and not this young upstart Obama, should be brought in to set things straight again. She was a Clinton, right?

That was a disaster. The Big Dog explained, on a black talk-radio show, just before the South Carolina primary, that everything Obama had been saying was a big fairy tale – and then she lost that primary to Obama. The black voters of South Carolina didn’t want to hear that “Hope” was a fairy tale. What were they supposed to do, sit quietly for another hundred years? And there was more – it really was unwise to imply that sure, Obama would win South Carolina, but he was kind of a boutique candidate, like Jesse Jackson who had once done well there, so it didn’t matter much. The black voters of South Carolina didn’t matter? That is actually what he seemed to be saying. He complained that everyone was playing the “race card” on him but that only made things worse. He shut up for the rest of the campaign, and yes, four years later he was saying that Obama was wonderful. He’d learned his lesson, or Hillary had learned her lesson. The Big Dog is dangerous. His bark is worse than his bite.

Maybe she didn’t learn her lesson:

Bill Clinton launched a sustained attack on Bernie Sanders at a New Hampshire campaign rally Sunday, tearing into the senator’s rhetoric against Hillary Clinton and picking apart his spending plans.

The former president appeared angry as he poured scorn on his wife’s opponent, portraying the Sanders campaign as dishonest and his healthcare proposals as unrealistic.

Bill Clinton said Sanders’ message was “hermetically-sealed” from reality and ridiculed its implication that “anybody that doesn’t agree… is a tool of the establishment.'”

Yes, he’s barking again, because she’s far behind in New Hampshire and that ticks him off:

Bill Clinton appeared visibly frustrated at criticism over his wife’s ties to Wall Street as he spoke to a crowd of about 300 at a middle school in Milford, New Hampshire.

“She’s getting it from the right, she’s getting it from the left,” he said. “If she were really so weak on Wall Street, would there really be two hedge fund managers setting up two super PACs and spending millions of dollars to attack her? No, they’d be attacking her opponent. But they’re not, they’re attacking her. Because they know that she’s got a stronger plan and they know that when she says she’s going to do something, she’s going to do it,” Bill Clinton told the crowd.

That’s one thing and this is another:

He also called Sanders’ healthcare plan unnecessary, saying that even progressive experts agree the costs “don’t add up.”

“You can’t offer a healthcare program if you don’t know what it costs,” Bill Clinton said. “And we don’t need to do it … just implement the law we’ve got, fix the payment systems and get the drug prices down.”

He’s still talking about fairy tales:

The former president also hit out at the Sanders campaign for “looting information from our computers” – likening the episode to stealing a car with the keys in the ignition – and sent a message to young voters, who polls have suggested currently favor Sanders over Hillary Clinton by as much as two to one.

“Free college for everyone sounds better than what I said … [but] we can’t afford everything,” Bill Clinton told the audience.

He seemed to be telling the Sanders crowd that hope was bullshit:

He set out his wife’s record of achievements, contrasting them with the rhetoric of the Sanders campaign. “It makes you feel good to condemn but it makes more difference if you make something happen,” he said.

He was actually insulting the intelligence of the Sanders crowd, which might not have been wise, and he seems to sense that:

Not letting up his attacks on Bernie Sanders the day before New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary, former President Bill Clinton suggested he was biting his tongue in going after his wife’s Democratic opponent.

“Here is what I want to say. The hotter this election gets, the more I wish I was just a former president for just a few months, not the spouse of the next one because I have to be careful what I say,” Clinton said at a get-out-the-vote rally here for Hillary Clinton Monday afternoon.

But they’re tag-teaming this:

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, played the good cop to her husband’s bad cop. “To all the people who are supporting my opponent, I thank you too,” she said. “You may not support me now, but I will always support you.”

It’s a role reversal for the former first couple.

In Iowa, it was Clinton who delivered withering critiques from behind the podium in early January, while Bill Clinton stuck to softer terrain of vouching for his wife qualifications as president, as well as a spouse and mother.

Still, this is troubling. Watch the video:

Chris Matthews reacts to former President Bill Clinton telling NBC’s Andrea Mitchell young voters are mad and apprehensive, and they should be, but should listen to someone who will empower them, like his wife former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“I have to tell you, this is a hard call, but I think Bernie Sanders right now is a better campaigner than Bill Clinton,” MSNBC’s Matthews said.

“Bernie is on his game while Bill is rusty,” Matthews added.

And it only gets worse:

On Bill Maher’s show Friday night, Gloria Steinem suggested that young women are backing Sanders’ campaign because “when you’re young, you’re thinking, ‘Where are the boys?’ The boys are with Bernie.” Maher promptly told Steinem that she’d “smack” him if he suggested the same thing.

Executive director of Progressive Democrats of America said in response to Steinem’s comments that if you’re pro-choice “presumably that includes the right to our own political decisions as well.”

Steinem apologized on her Facebook page. “In a case of talk-show Interruptus, I misspoke on the Bill Maher show recently, and apologize for what’s been misinterpreted as implying young women aren’t serious in their politics… Whether they gravitate to Bernie or Hillary, young women are activist and feminist in greater numbers than ever before.”

Oops. Don’t insult the intelligence of the people on your side, but that wasn’t the end of it:

While campaigning with Hillary at a Concord rally on Saturday, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright proclaimed, “Young women have to support Hillary Clinton. The story is not over!”

“They’re going to want to push us back,” she said. “It’s not done and you have to help. Hillary Clinton will always be there for you. And just remember, there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”

Then late Sunday, former President Bill Clinton accused Sanders’ backers of launching sexist attacks on his wife.

“People who have gone online to defend Hillary and explain – just explain why they supported her – have been subject to attacks that are literally too profane, often – not to mention sexist – to repeat,” he said during an event in Milford, N.H.

The Big Dog is losing it, but the other guy remained calm:

Sanders told MSNBC in an interview aired today that Albright’s comments were “unfortunate.”

“I think women should women, women should help men. Men should help women. Men should help men. That’s what life is about. But we’re now talking about electing the president of United States and people should make their decision based on who they think can do the job best,” the senator said.

Sanders stressed that “anybody who supports me who is engaged in sexist attacks is unacceptable.”

“I don’t want that support. But you know, we have millions of people out there and we cannot control every single person, but I don’t want anybody, anybody to be supportive of me who is engaged in sexism,” he said.

But that’s life:

“I know every day, Hillary Clinton’s people send out ten e-mails telling the world how terrible I am.”

It’s best to shrug, not snarl and bark – chill, Bill, chill. That’s what Josh Marshall recommends:

As someone who’s just loved Bill Clinton since I was right out of college, I feel like this is about to get painful. He’s now going after Bernie Sanders. And he’s (rightly) saying he needs to be careful about what he says as the election gets “hotter.” Yes, you do, Bill. You really do.

The attacks I heard yesterday don’t seem terribly out of line. I think there’s a good argument that Sanders somewhat one-dimensional diagnosis of the country’s ills doesn’t capture the fullness of the challenges we face as a country. But now we’re also seeing the inevitable rumor mill about a post New Hampshire Clinton campaign shake up. This is starting to feel a lot like how 2008 did when Barack Obama started to look like he was an existential threat to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

If so, barking, again, may not be wise:

I want to be clear that there are few better campaigners than Bill Clinton. And virtually anyone would want him speaking and campaigning on their behalf in a tight race. Look at the speech he gave on behalf of President Obama at the 2012 convention. But when I say ‘virtually’ Hillary Clinton may be one of the few who shouldn’t.

No, I don’t expect she’ll take him off the trail and she probably shouldn’t. But I remember how this went down eight years again and man, the pitched battle with Barack Obama just got Bill all unhinged. He said a bunch of things he never should have said and I think he probably realized he should never have said. As you’d expect, when Bill is campaigning for Hillary it’s personal. And he doesn’t quite think straight. So it’s not that I think Bill shouldn’t campaign for Hillary or that he shouldn’t be allowed to. But I have real doubts about whether he helps her when he gets in that mode.

There’s something especially combustible about Bill campaigning for Hillary in a Democratic primary… I think the unique dynamics of personal and political just sort of unhinges the guy. It didn’t start too bad with Obama in 2008 but it got real dark real quick.

It’s already dark – Politico talked to early-state strategists, operatives, and activists about the economy, and a majority agreed that Sanders was winning on message:

Among Democratic insiders surveyed this week in the early states, 60 percent said Sanders is winning the economic argument – an assessment with which more than three-quarters of Republicans agreed.

“Bernie Sanders is saying what Democrats want to hear – that there is a cause to their economic uncertainty (Wall Street and the billionaires), and that the remedy is a revolution,” said one New Hampshire Democrat, who, like all insiders, completed the survey anonymously. “Unless Hillary can re-pivot her messaging on the economic insecurity so many of us (even her supporters) feel, Bernie will continue to win the argument and dominate the conversation when it comes to economic issues.”

“Clinton’s message is a laundry list of center-left specific proposals, with little universal theme,” added another New Hampshire Democrat. “Sanders is the opposite – he focuses on a universal theme of a rigged system of crooked capitalism and campaign financing to explain why people should feel as angry as they do.”

And that drives the Big Dog crazy, so he barks, and this video interview with the Atlantic’s Molly Ball might make him scream:

“Bernie’s supporters are much more personal against Hillary Clinton than he is,” she says. “We’ve talked to supporters – these young women that you meet at Bernie Sanders rallies. It is a really interesting phenomenon where, there is this really strong feminist consciousness in young liberal women on college campuses.”

“I went to a Bernie Sanders rally on a college campus here in New Hampshire yesterday, and these women all say, I’m a feminist, I’m concerned about rape culture, I share all these liberal feminist views, and I think Bernie is the better feminist in the race.”

“They look at Hillary, I had one young woman say to me she thinks Hillary is only there because of her husband, and I want a strong independent woman [in the White House] – so there’s a real scorching attitude against Hillary Clinton.”

And there’s this report from the road:

Donna Manion of Bow came to Clinton’s nearby Concord rally still trying to make up her mind. Even though she likes Clinton and voted for her in the 2008 primary, Manion said there’s just something special about the 74-year-old Sanders that reminds her of a young John F. Kennedy.

“I can, in my mind, think I’m pro-Hillary all the way, and then Bernie Sanders’ ideas that he exposes me to really cause me to think in ways I hadn’t thought before,” she admitted. “I think in terms of ‘us’ a lot when I listen to Bernie talk. Whereas, when I listen to Hillary, even though I respect so much of what she has done and the person that she is, I hear the word ‘I,’ ‘I, ‘I’ a lot.”

Of course she does. After all these years this is now all personal for Hillary Clinton. She’s taken a lot of shit over the years. For her husband it’s ultra-mega-super-personal. He was a good president, damn it! Why are these people not listening to him? They’re fools! His wife would make just as good a president – and Bernie Sanders, damn him, doesn’t talk about himself. What’s he hiding? Why is he always talking about what’s good for the country. He’s as irritating as Obama was back in 2008, doing just that, and so on and so forth. Perhaps there’s too much history here.

It’s no wonder voters find this tiresome. It’s tone-deaf and their personal issues aren’t really our problem, or rather, the series of problems we all face. Slate’s Josh Voorhees gives an example of that:

Pressed during Thursday’s Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton said that she would “certainly look into” releasing the transcripts of the paid speeches she gave in private to Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street institutions. By Sunday, her promised careful consideration was apparently complete. “Let everybody who’s ever given a speech to any private group under any circumstances release them – we’ll all release them at the same time,” Clinton said on ABC’s This Week, noting that her opponents from both parties have also “given speeches to groups.” Her conclusion: “These rules need to apply to everyone.”

That was a bad move:

The answer was both tone-deaf and disingenuous. Clinton’s six-figure speeches are a point of contention in the Democratic race not because she was paid to give them but because of who paid her to give them. Bernie Sanders is running on the idea that Washington and Wall Street are too cozy and that the former will never be able to effectively regulate the latter as long as the status quo continues. He’s not challenging Clinton because he thinks she rigged the game; he simply contends that she is playing it like everyone else in politics.

Bernie says it’s not personal, because it isn’t really, but Hillary makes it personal as she always does:

Clinton’s decision to ignore the transcript controversy in hopes it will go away is hardly a surprise. She deployed a similar strategy early last year in the face of questions about the overlap between her family’s financial interests and those of the Clinton Foundation’s global donors, and to defend her use of a private email server to conduct official government business while secretary of state. Hillary responded to those controversies like she is responding to this one: by suggesting they are not controversies at all. Most politicians, she says, do the same thing, but she alone is treated differently.

That’s called whining, and it misses the point, and it’s coldly calculating, and calculated badly:

In a vacuum, the transcripts are a relatively minor issue. She is under no legal obligation to release them, and no one is seriously accusing Clinton of promising a roomful of bankers that she’d do whatever they want if she ends up in the White House. The worst anyone would probably discover from reading the transcripts is that Hillary said some relatively nice things about the financial industry while talking of the need for Washington and Wall Street to work together, a message many politicians might give in the same situation. But Clinton knows that’s not a message many progressives want to hear right now. She has every reason to fear that snippets of her Goldman speeches would be quoted in attack ads and on cable news shows for days and weeks to come. She’s betting that it is better to risk reminding voters of her less-than-transparent ways – which have been well-documented – than it is to provide tangible evidence that she says one thing in public to working-class voters and another in private to the 1 percent.

Her more immediate problem, though, is that she’ll continue to pay a price for keeping the transcripts under lock and key. The media’s coverage of the controversy will only remind voters that Clinton was paid millions from people working in the very industry she promises to reform. The questions will also keep her on the defensive at a time when she needs to be going on the offensive… and making matters even more awkward is that her but-all-politicians-do-it defense actually plays directly into Sanders’ larger argument, which is that too many politicians do it.

And Bill Clinton barks – “If she were really so weak on Wall Street, would there really be two hedge fund managers setting up two super PACs and spending millions of dollars to attack her? No, they’d be attacking her opponent. But they’re not, they’re attacking her. Because they know that she’s got a stronger plan and they know that when she says she’s going to do something, she’s going to do it.”

Yeah, those two hedge fund managers probably should be worried about her, she probably will crack down on the likes of them a bit, and of all the folks running on both sides, she’s the most likely to end up in the White House. They’re hedging their bets. That’s what they do for a living – but no one really knows what she’ll do. She’s being very careful, and she has an attack dog. And it’s personal this time. And that really is tiresome.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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