Tuesday, July 26, 2005

NYT: "Democrats Offer Lines of Attack for '08 Race" (Raymond Hernandez)

From Raymond Hernandez's "Democrats Offer Lines of Attack for '08 Race" in this morning's New York Times we learn that a number of hopefuls and cynicals showed up at the DLC press-the-flesh in Ohio:

But for all the criticism directed at Mr. Bush and his Republican allies on Capitol Hill, some of the prospective presidential contenders warned that Democrats had to offer the public more than criticism of the Republican Party if they hoped to begin winning again.
"We can't afford to be anti-, against everything," Mr. Vilsack said. "America is waiting for us. They are desperate to know what we are for."

They are desperate to know what we are for?

Maybe we're for opposition to the Patriot Act, maybe we're for the right of choice, maybe we're for an end to the war now (but the DLC's never listened to the Black Caucus).

Every now and then the failed "reinventing government" types try to come back. This is another such attempt. They don't have any new ideas, they never do. What they want is a tag sale.

In the past the DLC has tossed out crumbs. A luke warm pro-choice position, for instance. (The myth of the "red" states -- and remember which Dems pushed that nonsense -- changed all that.) But it's all about hop into bed with Big Business and no condom necessary.

You'll hear Clintonistas defend Hillary's appearance. (And you'll see newspaper editorial boards applaud her for being there because, let's face it, their "social commitment" has a fiscal line they shall never cross.)

Repubes, in the article, try to push Hillary as the great liberal. She's not. What is she? A one term senator currently. If she runs for president in 2008, she'll presumably be a two-term senator who runs prior to completing her second term.

Hillary's going to save the party! Some types push that.

Hillary Clinton can't save the party. One person, regardless of whom, can't save the party.

Various people push Hillary for 2008 for various reasons.

Some (though not all, especially those concerned with the conditions for women in Afghanistan) feminists push Hillary because they think it's time we had a female president. It's past time for that. But that doesn't mean Hillary's a lock for votes if she gets the nomination.

Some Clintonistas push Hillary because they remember a better time.

For neolibs, it was a wonderful time. For those with hazy memories, it was a wonderful time for other reasons.

For those with hazy memories, I'd refer them to Naomi Klein's recent article "Aristide in Exile:"

The dispute dates back to a series of meetings in early 1994, a pivotal moment in Haiti's history that Aristide has rarely discussed. Haitians were living under the barbaric rule of Raoul Cédras, who overthrew Aristide in a 1991 US-backed coup. Aristide was in Washington and despite popular calls for his return, there was no way he could face down the junta without military back-up. Increasingly embarrassed by Cédras's abuses, the Clinton Administration offered Aristide a deal: US troops would take him back to Haiti--but only after he agreed to a sweeping economic program with the stated goal to "substantially transform the nature of the Haitian state."
Aristide agreed to pay the debts accumulated under the kleptocratic Duvalier dictatorships, slash the civil service, open up Haiti to "free trade" and cut import tariffs on rice and corn in half. It was a lousy deal but, Aristide says, he had little choice. "I was out of my country and my country was the poorest in the Western hemisphere, so what kind of power did I have at that time?"
But Washington's negotiators made one demand that Aristide could not accept: the immediate sell-off of Haiti's state-owned enterprises, including phones and electricity. Aristide argued that unregulated privatization would transform state monopolies into private oligarchies, increasing the riches of Haiti's elite and stripping the poor of their national wealth. He says the proposal simply didn't add up: "Being honest means saying two plus two equals four. They wanted us to sing two plus two equals five."

The neolib Clintonistas (many of whom trashed Al Gore during the primary race and then during the general election -- a distant memory for some, apparently) will offer various justifications for "privatization" and "triangulation."

Knee-jerk reactions come hand in hand with Clintons. That's because they're so often attacked for things they didn't do (Vince Foster and other nonsense). As each scandal (the majority invented and not actual) gained traction, we (yes, I include myself) rushed to defend them. In many instances, they deserved it.

But as "Hillary for 2008" becomes more and more likely, people need to have an honest discussion about the policies of the Clinton years. An overly made up male comes out with a sleazy book on Hillary and we're once again in the knee-jerk mode. The book is trash, no question.

But serious questions, policy issues, are not trash and they need to be raised.

Another issue that needs to be given thought is this notion of "symnetry." That notions speaks of how "great" it would be if a Clinton replaced a Bush . . . again! Well tone down the excessive
panting for a moment and try to remember that we elect presidents and that no family should have a lock on the position.

Hillary gets elected, let's say that happens. She's smart enough to be re-elected. So that's eight years. At which point, which Bush is coming out of the woodworks to reclaim the "throne?" And will he or she be in place long enough for Chelsea's run?

The panting types (we'll leave out the neolibs) point out that Bill was elected! Yes, he was. And considering the 1992 campaign largely revolved around repeated attacks on Hillary, I find it hard to believe she's unelectable. As the right screamed about supposed co-presidents, Hillary handled herself with grace and dignity and it's doubtful she'd respond any other way in 2008.
She was not a co-president. She was an active, effective and dignified First Lady (yes, once upon a time we did have those).

But if she was unelectable all the fright wing hysteria about "co-presidents!" would have killed Bill's chances in 1992.

That's not to say she'd win in 2008. Voter disenfranchisement certainly has put any "win" in question (both in 2000 and in 2008). It means she'd be effective, she'd be a good campaigner and she's worth considering.

But considering her doesn't mean launching into breathless talk of Bill as a "co-president!" Or confusing her role (important as it was) with that of the president from Jan. 1993 to Jan. 2001.

It does mean examing her record (such as it is) and it does mean that she needs to answer tough questions that don't need to wait until a presidential debate in the fall of of an election year. We've played that game recently and we saw how it went.

Had John Kerry's campaign asked tough questions, we wouldn't have some of the problems we have now. (As Naomi Klein has rightly pointed out, torture wasn't an issue the Kerry campaign rasied.) So we're building from scratch now. With every issue that the Kerry campaign didn't want to touch and with every pass they were given on them, a national dialogue on a variety of issues never took place.

If Hillary wants to be president, voices on the left (or "left") better stop the clampdown. No one's ever doubted that Hillary can speak for herself. Playing bendy-spine to defend her choices or actions does no one a favor.

Her stance on abortion, her new stance, is constantly justified by Clintonistas (of the non-neolib set) as "She's always been that way! That's always been her stance!" No, it hasn't. There's a change in tone going on. Pretending it's not there doesn't do anyone any favors.

Crediting her with Clinton's domestic agenda means that questions need to be raised about the parts of the agenda she was a strong advocate for. (And not rushing to credit her, or blame her, for policies she didn't advocate to the public for.)

Playing clampdown doesn't make issues go away. Let Hillary speak for herself and don't distort her words or claim things for her that just aren't true.

She campaigned for welfare "reform" (to cite but one example). Let's hear her statements on that. Not some nonsense about how it had to happen or that it could have been worse.

"Could have been worse" is not a campaign slogan that will inspire anyone.

Strong Hillary supporters (and I fall into that camp in knee-jerk times) will want to dismiss any questions. That's not democracy. If she wants to be president she needs to offer positions and she needs to be able to explain them.

She inspires a passion among hard core supporters (and among others in knee-jerk times) that's a powerful reason for her to run. But there are other reasons for running as well. And her hard core supporters do her a disservice when they play clampdown (hopefully for the right reasons -- e.g. we're all sick of baseless attacks on her) and close off honest discussions.

She's got a teflon coating (more so than Bill) and she can handle herself so step out of her way and let her do so. When issues of stances and policy arise, quit rushing to her "rescue" when she's proven that she's more than able to handle herself and conduct herself in a dignified manner.

There were moments early on when John Kerry actually spoke of the cuff (not as much as Howard Dean did) or appeared to. As certain factions came on board the Kerry campaign, "risk assessment" meant that Kerry became less and less precise. Many of those factions will attempt to hitch a ride on "Hillary in 2008!" Questions need to be asked before the fall of 2008. Hillary's proven herself, in the past, to be far less prone to outside management -- which is intended as a compliment. She's not going to morph, if she runs for the nomination and wins it, at or after the convention into anyone else. Those who try to recast her as the young woman of 1965 will probably find Hillary laughing in their faces and stating that she can't run from who she is.

She is personable, she can communicate. Those are qualites that are encouraging should she decide to run for president. But surrounding her with a wall of "off-limits! You're wrong! She never said that! She never did that!" do her a disservice and do the party a disservice.

Right now, she's being criticized by some (rightly) for attending the DLC flesh-press in Ohio. She should be criticized for it. The DLC acts as a think tank and, in the beltway, the tendency has been to believe that they have all this power. They don't have power outside the beltway (and most would argue that after their repeated attacks on Howard Dean and repeated valentines to Joe Lieberman didn't pan out the way that they wanted, they truly have no power in the beltway).

The grassroots know that the DLC stands for whatever they think is easiest issue wise and for economic policies that aren't that different from Republican policies. There's probably a reason she went there -- let her state it. Clintonistas tied themselves in knots yesterday trying to justify the speech to the DLC. All the minimizing and justifying doesn't change the fact that she went. Nor does it change how people see the DLC outside the beltway.

But instead of a discussion, we got a clampdown. She hasn't even declared her intent to run and that's how we're going to operate for 2008?

I'm looking at an e-mail outraged by someone saying that we don't tear down other Democrats.
As the e-mailer wonders, "Since when is asking questions and noting facts, tearing down?"

It's not. And giving her a pass short changes and underestimates her.

If a campaign is run that way, popular or not, she's going to have a difficult road. But the thing is, Hillary herself has never shied away from discussion or hidden away in difficult times. When she made her (accurate) comment on The Today Show about a "vast right-wing conspiracy," various supporters rushed in to defend her with "what she was saying was . . ." She didn't need that. She spoke very elequently about the issue. She was very clear.

(And while we're on the subject, will Norah O'Donnell ever answer for her false "report" that in Living History, Hillary changed her stance? It was left to Katie Couric to mop up the next day. Possibly NBC "reporters" shouldn't be allowed to "report" on books that they haven't read?)

Her words are usually surprisingly clear. The misunderstandings tend to come along when people try to "fix" what she stated. For supporters that probably has a lot to do with the fact that they've seen her attacked unfairly in the past and they want to prevent that from happening again. But for some, there's also an element of sexism involved -- as though she can't be understood on her own and must be interpreted (due to gender).

Both camps do her a disservice. And if she wants to run for president, people better let her speak (regardless of their reasons for "rescuing") and stop distorting what she says.

At a time when even Nixon is starting to look good to some, it's not surprisng that Bill Clinton would be surrounded with a gauzy haze. That he was better than Nixon isn't in question. (He was also better than Reagan, better than George H.W. . . .) But his policies are worthy of discussion and examination. Those policies that Hillary actively campaigned for warrent questions about where she stands now, whether she thinks they were effective and how she defends them?

If she runs, an honest dialogue will be needed. People will need to put away their fan club cards, though it will be hard for some, and let her speak. As an undeclared candidate for an election three years away, it's already obvious that some can't curb their natural tendencies to shut down discussion and debate where Hillary is concerned. They better to learn to reign it in or we're going to have one candidate in a primary and another in a general election. We saw that with John Kerry, we don't need to see it again.

The attack from the fright wing, should Hillary run and win the nomination, will probably make the distortions of Kerry and Al Gore seem minor. But she can handle it if people will get out of her way and let her do so. Those supporters who already see the yard signs with Hillary's name on them need to grasp that although electable, she's yet to run a national race. It'll be tough but she could handle it provided her defenders don't box everyone into a corner as they rush to shut down discussion.

The e-mail address for this site is common_ills@yahoo.com.

[Note: There are huge computer problems on my end. We all installed the latest security measures but I'm the only one that's had problems with them. As the UK Computer Gurus work to figure out all the problems -- there are several -- and to fix them, posts will probably continue to be less frequent. There will, however, be a mid-morning post and there will be an evening post. Both of those will be e-mailed in if the problems haven't been fixed. Ruth does have a Ruth's Morning Edition Report ready but it's on hold currently due to computer problems on my end. Kat's working on two album reviews. Hopefully, the problems will all be fixed by tomorrow morning and we'll resume the normal schedule.]

[Note: Post corrected for typos by Shirley at C.I.'s request.]