Election 2008 Obama Politics The Clintons

The process of change and changing the process

This is a response to the thoughtful and reflective comments written by the Floria on my posts about Hillary Clinton here and here.

I will try to respond in general to her criticisms and to specific allegations she makes.  This is written as a specific response to Floria’s comments:

I…do not blame Hillary for pointing out that Obama has been inconsistent with his past positions. Edwards goes on to say that this is not a time to be discussing those things, but with Obama’s perfectly PC nature and almost messiah-like campaign, we are obliged to hearing the both sides, beyond the glittering facade he and the media portray of himself.

First, I don’t agree with your characterization of what Hillary was doing. She was not pointing out that Obama was inconsistent – she was telling a lie, or at best, distorting the truth, in order to attack one of his strengths: the fact that he has been remarkably consistent. On health care, Obama has said he would be in favor of a single-payer health care system if he was designing it from scratch, but that he realizes that this isn’t feasible at the current time, and so he proposed a system which Hillary largely copied when she put out her plan. ((I do not mean to suggest she directly copied from Obama – more that their plans are both based on the policy work of the same groups of Democrats.)) On the Patriot Act, although Obama said he would oppose it’s reauthorization, he supported the compromise that introduced some measures of accountability into the bill. I do not believe Senator Obama ever campaigned on a promise to block the Patriot Act  – rather he voiced concerns over the bill; he still had concerns when he signed it, but he believed the compromise was an improvement, and so begrudgingly, supported it.

Hillary was distorting Senator Obama’s statements and record to suggest that he had been inconsistent – because she knows that his consistency is part of his appeal, and one that stands in stark contrast to her entire persona.

Second: turbo-charged phrases like “Obama’s perfectly PC nature and almost messiah-like campaign” and “the glittering facade he and the media portray of himself” are difficult to respond to specifically because they reflect feelings rather than substance – this is not to denigrate them, but to place them in a context; I’m certainly guilty of expressing my feelings on political subjects as well. I’ll try to in the last few paragraphs, but let me say that I agree that it is important to hear both sides – but that each of us must be ready to acknowledge that one side might just be entirely, or mainly, wrong.

I think it takes an even bigger and more compassionate person to be able to dedicate yourself to helping others simply out of feeling of responsibility and empathy. Hillary dedicated her life to helping children and the less fortunate, but she didn’t need a touching story about rising out of poverty or whatnot, to drive her to do so or to attract more attention to it.

I agree that it takes a very compassionate person to dedicate themselves to helping others out of a feeling of responsibility and empathy. (Although I do not see how explaining what lead one to become compassionate, to understand particular problems, undermines it.)

But I don’t see how this applies to Hillary Clinton. Yes, she was on the board of the Children’s Defense Fund and the Arkansas Children’s Hospital (but she was also on the board of Wal-Mart and The Country’s Best Yogurt Company). In her professional career, she did focus on helping children after the health care debacle forced her to take a more traditional role in her husband’s administration – but it wasn’t what she set out to do.  And what First Lady hasn’t devoted significant amounts of time to helping children?

I’m not sure what in her record indicates that Hillary has “dedicated her life” to helping children or the less fortunate – other than the fact that she is a liberal, and that liberal policies tend to favor both groups. I am not saying Obama has selflessly dedicated himself to doing good in the world – but from his career, and his speeches, and his memoirs, I am left with the sense that the primary impetus behind his political career is the desire to create a movement to renew American democracy – whether as a community organizer, constitutional law professor, state legislator, senator, or presidential candidate – this has been his message.

Senator Clinton’s record indicates something different – as a presidential candidate, she has seen fit to use voter suppression tactics and other methods and messages that will hurt the Democratic party’s chances in November; in 1995, after the Republicans took back the Congress, she advised her husband to bring in the sleazy Dick Morris who advised the Clintons to co-opt the Republican agenda in order to maintain their own power, and Hillary supported this decision; in 2002, Hillary Clinton decided to vote to authorize military force against Iraq, and though her motives are impossible to determine, political calculation certainly played a role.  Throughout her career, Hillary Clinton has been willing to embrace tactics and policies that hurt the poor and the middle class and Americans in general if she thought it would further her career.

Clinton doesn’t have the cleanest campaign strategy – I can see that. But I am cynical and I don’t appreciate Obama’s strategy that is seemingly taking advantage of the young, liberal, less-informed, idealistic voters by alluding to “changing the status quo”, “not giving in to special interests”, and getting out of Iraq with little to no flexibility in timeline and approach.

I think I responded to the point about Clinton’s campaign strategy above to some degree. To reply to your point about Iraq: Senator Obama has repeatedly said that we must be “as careful getting out as we were careless getting in”. Senator Clinton actually made headlines this January by taking a more aggressive stand on getting troops out of Iraq by suggesting she will begin withdrawing troops within 60 days of her taking office. ((Her actual quote actually gives her more room to hedge though.)) In fact, Obama and Clinton have virtually the same positions on withdrawing from Iraq – including virtually the same language, as you can see if you compare Barack Obama’s position on “Bringing the Troops Home” and Hillary Clinton’s position.  To say that Obama plans on “getting out of Iraq with little to no flexibility in timeline and approach” is to demonstrate an ignorance of the actual positions each candidate has taken on the issue.

Finally, I think it is exceedingly cynical to suggest that Obama is trying to take advantage of “younger, less informed, idealistic voters”. Do you think Ted Kennedy has been hoodwinked by Obama as well? John Kerry? Janet Napolitiano? Tim Kaine?

I think I described the issue you are sensing in this post on “The Paradox of Barack Obama”.  To take that post a bit further: the heart of Obama’s campaign is not his policy positions.  Edwards, Clinton, and Obama all have similar policy positions, and though the minor differences reveal a great deal about how each candidate is positioning him or herself, and a little about each candidate’s approach to governance, the real contrast is in temperament and in the potential.

Hillary Clinton and John Edwards have are both policy-oriented.  Each of them has particular goals they want to achieve as president, and they discuss how they will try to achieve this goals mainly to prove their seriousness.  Barack Obama, on the other hand, sees the particular policy goals as secondary.

  • He believes that the problems America is facing today are the result of deep-seated problems in the processes of government, in the processes of innovation, in our politics;
  • He believes in making the government more accountable to the people (with ethics reform, with databases of federal funding, and by opening up as much of every government agency’s deliberations as possible to the public);
  • He believes that a large part of the reason that so many Americans are apathetic about politics is because they do not feel engaged with power and they are tired of the mudslinging (which is why he has refrained from egregious smears, despite great provocation);
  • He believes that partisanship is the cause of political gridlock – and that more partisanship will not solve the major problems we face (and if you think that sounds like common sense read Paul Krugman or look at some of Hillary Clinton’s aides);

The core Obama belief – the one which sells me on his potential – is that he believes that the integrity of the process matters as much as the end result of the process.  You can see this principle in every position he takes, in his entire public career, and in his campaign.  Hillary Clinton believes that the ends justify the means – or else she could not reconcile many of the actions she has taken publicly with her professed beliefs.

A president who believes that the ends justify the means – the thought frightens me.  After George W. Bush has enlarged the powers of the presidency beyond recognition, it frightens me even more.  Having Democrats defend the precedents Bush has established because a President Hillary believes she needs to take advantage of them in order to pass some bill frightens me.  ((And there would be a kind of poetic harmony to this – as Hillary’s actions in the first Clinton administration were used by Cheney and Bush to expand executive power further.))

I believe we need a president who will focus on fixing the processes that keep our society, our environment, and our polity healthy.  The problems we face as a nation will not be fixed with the marginal improvements that would be the goals of a Hillary Clinton presidency, as helpful as those improvements might be.  They might not be fixed even with greater transparency, consensus, and innovation.  But at least with that approach, we might have a chance.  Global climate change; terrorism; the turmoil of globalization; immigration; failing educational and health care systems.  A polarized polity will not be able to begin to fix these problems; as a nation today, we are incapable of fixing these problems because the processes of our government and our politics are broken.

Barack Obama is not a messiah.  But he sees the problem; and unlike Clinton, he sees the beginning of a solution.  Clinton is campaigning on the promise of competent management; ((Which is quite debatable when you look at her record; the two biggest initiatives she has run so far have been mismanaged – health care reform in the 1990s and her campaign today.)) she is campaigning on her goals and policies; she is campaigning on the idea that she will be able to get change done.  But look at Obama.  He is running on the theory that he can spark a movement; and that the people, being moved, will change; and that if many, many people are motivated and empowered, real change – and real improvement – will be inevitable.  As Grace Lee Boggs said, Obama will only become a great president if we become a great people.  While Clinton sees change as top-down, imposed by Washington; Obama sees change coming from the bottom-up, from a motivated citizenry.

It might sound like bullshit.  But it’s something real.

In essence, Obama is betting his candidacy on the ideals that America was founded upon, on the possibility of a democracy and a republic that works, on an informed and active citizenry, on hope in a better tomorrow.  It might be a sucker’s bet.  But something are worth losing over.

3 replies on “The process of change and changing the process”


I came across your very interesting journal and have linked to it. I am an Obama supporter and I caucused for him in Nevada. Your writings are great and very interesting to read. Thank you.

In essence, Obama is betting his candidacy on the ideals that America was founded upon, on the possibility of a democracy and a republic that works, on an informed and active citizenry, on hope in a better tomorrow. It might be a sucker’s bet. But something are worth losing over.

Brilliantly written! Some things are worth losing over, and they’re usually the only things truly worth winning.

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