Hillary Clinton

You're Pushin' Too Hard About the Things You Say

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Can Hillary Clinton actually lose a campaign scuffle? At the start of last week a YouTube user at the Democratic debate asked Obama if he'd meet with the leaders of rogue nations "without precondition, during the first year of your administration." Obama said he would and Clinton said she wouldn't: you don't "promise a meeting at that high a level before you know what the intentions are." Advantage: the woman who spent eight years sleeping in the White House.

And then, eager to press her advantage, Clinton told an Iowa newspaper (in a recorded interview, perfect for TV news consumption) that Obama's response was "naive and irresponsible." The surprise wasn't that Obama punched back and called Clinton "naive" for okaying the Iraq War. The surprise was the Clinton campaign's Defcon 1 response. The rundown:

– Clinton gave CNN a rare, brief interview with a packaged one-liner: "What ever happened to the politics of hope?"
– Clinton adviser and former Secretary of State Madeline Albright held a conference call to push the slam with reporters.
– After Obama defended his stance by saying Clinton's position amounted to "Bush-Cheney light," Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson went on CNN, MNSBC (the two cable channels that aren't owned by Rupert Murdoch) to take the attacks even further, locking horns with Obama guru David Axelrod and intimating that Obama might be plotting secret deals with America's enemies at this very second, while your children sleep.
– On Saturday—usually a dead zone for campaigns—former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack held another conference call to attack Obama and offer yet more one-liners: he's "certainly audacious but not particularly hopeful."

(That last attack seemed particularly desperate as the doughy former governor briefly ran for president, dropped out of the race, endorsed Clinton, and then had his campaign debts wiped out by Clinton donors—a completely coincidental sequence of events.)

It's taken for granted that Clinton is a brilliant brutal campaigner. Conservatives, especially, have speculated about the damage "the Clinton machine" would do to Obama once he got uppity. Here's the first full-bore assault by that machine, and who got damaged?

– Clinton, for giving Obama an opening to attack her war vote again after months where the frontrunner finessed her position.
– Clinton, for taking a stance that isn't actually popular among Democrats. Pollster Scott Rasmussen found that primary voters sided with Obama over Clinton by a 33-point margin, 55 to 22 percent. (A plurality of all voters agree with Obama, too.)
– Obama, who still had to fight on his weakest issue—experience—and spent part of the week on the defensive.

As to the substance of the fight (which might roll into this week, if the candidates want it to), here's Clinton from January talking to MSNBC's Keith Olbermann:

OLBERMANN: Would you reach out immediately to the Syrians and the Iranians, even with the tensions between this country and Iran?

SEN. CLINTON: Absolutely. I don't see it as a sign of weakness. I see it as a sign of strength. You know, our president will not talk to people he considers bad. Well, there are a lot of bad actors in the world, and you don't make peace with your friends. You've got to deal with your enemies, your opponents, people whose interests diverge from yours.

You can argue that she's talking about diplomatic meetings and not presidential face-to-faces, but the point is that Clinton's and Obama's previously-stated positions are close. This was about politics, not policy.

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  1. Actually, Obama can frame this very nicely as a “hope” issue if he chooses to.

    Clinton’s position is the classic “midlevel State Department bureaucrat” position, where talks are considered a reward for other diplomatic acts, and not a part of the diplomacy itself. “We’ll talk to country X when they do Y”. Y typically ends up being ultradetailed, also, which enhances job security for midlevel State Department bureaucrats.

    Obama’s position seems to look at diplomacy on the Reyjavik model, where all that State Department stuff is just to kill time and keep a lid on low-level disagreements until leaders can get together and cut through the Gordian knot with a single act of visionary diplomacy.

    I tend to think that there’s a place for both viewpoints, but that the last thing Hillary should want to do is take the faceless technocrat position. That plays to one of her key weaknesses.

  2. I tend to think that there’s a place for both viewpoints, but that the last thing Hillary should want to do is take the faceless technocrat position. That plays to one of her key weaknesses.

    But doesn’t the fact shes a woman mean she has to be tougher on diplomacy to avoid looking weak. I think that a male candidate can more easily get away with Obama’s statement than a woman could.

  3. We didn’t send a bunch of bureaucrats to Yalta or Potsdam… it’s the President’s job to talk to other foreign leaders.

  4. Uppity? Leave it to Reason to play the race card.

  5. Hugo Chavez in a pants-suit.

  6. Hilary loses here because she appears to be adopting the stubborn rigidity of neocon politics. There may be times where it’s appropriate to talk to evil foreign leaders without preconditions, there may be times when it’s not. But why put yourself in a straitjacket by making “no talks” an unbreakable rule? Limiting your own options is true weakness.

  7. Uppity? Leave it to Reason to play the race card.

    Leave it to certain folks to lift one snarky word out, brush all the context off of it, then play offended.

  8. Cesar,
    Maybe for the average woman candidate, but I don’t think that a lack of toughness and ruthlessness are considered Hillary’s weaknesses. Those attributes are part of her core competencies.

  9. Yeah, Hillary has brought a toughness and ruthlessness to the political process that has never been seen before. Until now politicians have been soft and meek.

  10. Is Vilsak “doughy” or “doughty”? I get confused. In any event, the important point is that the New York Times figured out another reason to run their beloved shot of coed Hillary in her tight, tight “fuck me” slacks. When Miz Hillary does take over, there’s going to be a real housecleaning, and it won’t be pretty.

  11. I gotta say this was the only thing Hillary ever said that made me think better of her. She’s right that you can’t uncoditionally extend the hand of the president to America’s enemies as a way of thanking them for biting at your ankles for years. Obama’s response was naive.

  12. You can argue that she’s talking about diplomatic meetings and not presidential face-to-faces, but the point is that Clinton’s and Obama’s previously-stated positions are close.

    Sure, but “without preconditions” and giving a time frame are big, blinking red lights to anyone who knows anything about international diplomacy or politics.

    Most people, not knowing very much about either, probably didn’t think Obama was saying anything extraordinary. Obama clearly didn’t.

    But the guy who asked the You Tube question certainly did. You don’t accidently stumble upon the phrase “without preconditions, in the first year of your presidency.”

  13. This was about politics, not policy.

    Agreed. Hillary saw a chance to score some cheap points against Obama, and moved. Her answer at the debate was quite Clintonian: she began by saying that she would not promise to meet with the leaders, thus generating the implication that Obama had so promised (which he didn’t. He merely said that he would be willing to meet with them.). The media has uncritically picked up this claim and run with it–several news stories that I have seen have reported that Obama promised to meet with the leaders in his first year as Prez.

    In the rest of Hillary’s answer she outlined a view not much different from Obama’s. It was a great answer in terms of making herself seem different without actually being so.

  14. Mo, Cesar,

    It’s funny, but all of the right-wing demonization of the Hildebeast over the past 16 years has served mainly to shore up her credentials as a tough guy.

    Now, she can play as many victim cards as she wants – look, girls, they’re belittling me by talking about my clothes; the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy has always had it out for me – without looking weak, because, hey, she’s the Feminazi Hildebeast. She’s eat your testicles on toast points, then go on the Today Show.

  15. maybe i’m naive or slightly blind from all this coffee but hillary always struck me as a tuff guy manque.

  16. Is Vilsak “doughy” or “doughty”?

    Both, Alan, both.

  17. I don’t think either Hillary or Obama came out of this looking very good, but I suppose that Hillary did the better job of “looking presidential,” for whatever that’s worth.

    Personally, I take whatever comes out of candidates’ mouths as so much meaningless carbon dioxide.

  18. POTUSwise, my adult life has gone like this:

    Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Clinton, Bush, Bush….

    Clinton?

    No way…

    Americans are getting weary of our belligerent hubris laden leadership begging us to embrace fear as our nation’s defining trait.

  19. Yeah, children of the 80s have a strange frame of reference: Reagan, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Clinton, Bush, Bush,

    RON PAUL!!11!!1!

  20. I tend to think that there’s a place for both viewpoints,…

    Yes, and with Hillary one only needs one politician to get both viewpoints on any given issue.

  21. joe,
    That’s what I was saying. Hill doesn’t have to worry about covering the “She’s just a girl, she’s not tough enough flank,” because she already, rightfully, is seen as a tough SOB (I guess DOB would be more accurate).

    I don’t get why visiting other nations’ leaders, no matter how much we disagree with them, is seen as appeasement. Reagan met with the Soviets, Nixon met with the ChiComs, heck Israel regularly meets with Palestinian leadership. It’s not like meeting them provides any more PR for the disliked leader than meeting with them. How much propaganda mileage have Chavez and Castro gotten out of los Yanquis refusing to meet with them?

  22. Hillary might bring some really useful ideas away from a tete-a-tete with Exhalted Despot Kim.

  23. the line’s familiar & i can even recall the melody “You’re PUshin’ too hard” but can’t quite place the song. something from the late 60’s?

  24. sooo…what is the libertarian view?

    Can an free trade isolationist tell a rogue state to go fuck itself and not talk to it?

  25. (I guess DOB would be more accurate).

    I don’t actually know anything about Hillary’s mother, so I would hesitate to insult her.

    On the other hand, I do know what Hillary is.

  26. tarylcabot,

    The Seeds. 1966.

  27. The Democratic horse race is just an entertaining distraction. Hillary owns the controlling shares of the Democratic Party Corporation. Nothing can prevent her from becoming the Nominee.

  28. Can you tell me, Isaac?

    Just between us?

    (Anyone remember this?)

  29. Can an free trade isolationist tell a rogue state to go fuck itself and not talk to it?

    I’d never claim to speak for all libertarians, but I’ll take a shot. Whether or not a representative of a libertarian country should talk with its foreign enemies is one of those things that libertarianism is neutral about. It’s purely a matter of game theory; is negotiating more likely to bring about a good result than not negotating?

  30. Nothing can prevent her from becoming the Nominee.

    Except…maybe…Al (Hollywood) Gore!

    And, uh, joe, I think you know exactly what I’m talking about. 🙂

    Although, I confess, I don’t know what you are talking about.

  31. My Quaker upbringing prevents my from betting on the outcome of this race on religious grounds.

    My mathematical upbringing prevents my from attempting to handicap this race on practical grounds. 🙂

    For the lapsed Quaker that which is practical and that which is religious is frequently an intersection of sets. 🙂

  32. Aw, no one remembers Connie Chung’s interview with Newt Gingrich’s mother?

  33. My apathy prevents me from giving a shit…

  34. Sorry, joe, no.

    But, what do you think. My nose tells me that the smart money’s on Al.

    Caution urges to me to restraint and what is left of my religious scruples tells me to avoid the hope of easy gain in placing a bet here. 🙂

    But I would conjecture that that’s where the winner is. And if he wins the primary he’ll win the general.

    And this time he won’t even have to try to steal it. 🙂

  35. I want my jealousy
    But he’s fast asleep

    I cry for my sadness
    But he’s too tired to weep

    I confront my antagonism
    But he only agrees

    I wish for my vision
    But he’s not telling me
    What he sees

    I’m pissed at my anger
    But he don’t want to fight

    I turn to my conscience
    But he just thinks I’m right

    My insecurities
    They got nothing to hide

    My emotions are my enemies
    For being on my side

    (credit Ian MacKaye for the words and Taktix? for reminding me of it)

  36. Davey, that’s truly a great headline but I would be surprised if even your grandparents are old enough to remember the Seeds. 🙂 Okay, so the Bangles did a cover…

    I’m buying you a glass of red.

  37. Isaac,

    I think Gore would very likely beat her, but it’s getting late. I don’t think he’s going to run.

    I hear he’s doing a lot of work on the house.

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