Monday, February 08, 2016

Hillary's pitch to the Democratic base

Charlie Pierce is looking at Hillary Clinton's seeming difficulty in catching fire with Democratic base voters in the primaries (The One Word Hillary Needs to Reckon with Before She Can Be President Esquire Politics Blog 02/07/2016):

There's no question that part of the Sanders campaign's appeal is its ability to engage young people as members of a kind of movement. (This has drawn more than a little condescension from people who really ought to know better.) It's not so much that he's trying to rebuild the Obama coalition as he's trying to recapture its spirit. HRC has struggled mightily, and not altogether unsuccessfully, to do the same thing. An era in which the first woman president followed the first African-American president would be one of the most remarkable periods in American political history — and the most remarkable period in American electoral history — and it would likely keep historians busy for the next couple of centuries.

But her primary strength, that in terms of a CV, she might be the most qualified presidential candidate that we've seen since James Monroe, by a curious kind of reverse English, keeps that enthusiasm spinning just out of her reach. She has been the wife of the governor of Arkansas, a gifted public interest lawyer and a successful corporate counsel, First Lady of the United States, a senator from a huge and important state, the Secretary of State, and now she's running for president, as the odds-on favorite, for the second time. She is unquestionably part of the establishment, but she's also undeniably a trailblazer in terms of women's rights. She's an outsider by birth and an insider by resume. It would take a formidable politician to be able to use both of those qualities to maximum advantage. (If she combined her background with her husband's natural political skillz, we'd likely wake up next November to find her Empress Of The Universe.) And she is not that pol. Not yet, anyway. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe next Tuesday.

It seems to me at this point that Hillary has a mixed message against Sanders in the primaries. On the one hand, she stresses that she's a progressive, and more progressive than Bernie on issues like financial regulation and gun proliferation, and she's got better experience to accomplish things.

On the other hand, her campaign calls Bernie out for being "extreme" and a "socialist," and suggesting by not-very-subtle innuendo that he's a commie.

Those messages contradict each other. If she's not only to the left of Bernie and more likely to get those left ideas enacted, and Bernie's a commie, what does that make Hillary? An anarchist? And the Republicans will make sure she feels the full force of the blowback from that accusation in the general election.

It's a muddled message, in other words.

But I think it also limits her ability to put across the kind of strong message to the Party base that Pierce is suggesting she potentially could.

But what frustrates the Democratic base about Obama and Democrats in Congress is really not so much that the Dems don't propose enough neo-New Deal measures. It more that they seem unwilling to fight for what they do propose. For the issues on which they run.

And it seems to me that Hillary's best asset among the base is that she's a fighter. But instead selling herself as the fighter who has no illusions about how crazy and intransigent today's Republican Party is, she comes off more like she's saying, hey, we we need eight more years of pointless efforts at bipartisanship and pre-compromised proposals that the Congress whittles down from there.

Going back to her appearance on Sunday's Meet the Press (Transcript: Meet the Press - February 7, 2016):


What's the difference between what you said about then Senator Obama and what you're saying about Senator Sanders?


There's a very big difference. In 2008, Senator Obama had really done his homework in the Senate. He'd been there, by that time, a few years. He had developed a network of advisors on national security and foreign policy issues. They were very diligent and focused on making sure he was ready, that he had as broad a set of views as possible.

And they really went toe-to-toe with all the people supporting me. That's not happening in this campaign. There really isn't any kind of foreign policy network that is supporting and advising Senator Sanders. I'll let him speak for himself. I think that what's important is this job requires you to be ready on all aspects of it on the first day. And we know we've got a particularly complex world right now. And the President's not going to have the time.

Maybe previous presidents in past years could have a little more leeway because of the, you know, way the world functioned. But now it's North Korea with its missile tests, it's Russian aggression, it's enforcing the Iran agreement. You have to do it all at once.
Chuck of course prefers to talk about the horserace, and Clinton obliged him there. She emphasized she has a lot of relevant experience, which she certainly does. But there is nothing in that issue that tells Democratic voters and I'll use that experience to accomplish things you want to see done.


Do you think the Iraq vote should still matter to voters?


Look, I think that voters are perfectly free to take into account anything they want to take. But I also hope they'll take the rest of the record. You know, I was involved in the biggest counterterrorism decision in the Obama administration, to determine whether or not to go after bin Laden. I did put the sanctions on Iran to get them to the negotiating table. I think that this is a debate that the voters really have to pay attention to, because it is choosing both a president and a commander-in-chief.
That part was a decent pitch. Although adding some criticism of what a mess Dick Cheney and Shrub Bush made of the Iraq War would have also fitted well here. And she's implicitly ceding that she has no regrets about her vote for the Iraq War. The questioning continued:

I'm curious. Do you believe if it wasn't for the Iraq War, we wouldn't have ISIS today?


Well, I think that's a hard conclusion to draw, because remember, we had Al Qaeda before we had ISIS. Al Qaeda attacked us in New York, Al Qaeda attacked our embassies in Africa.


But the argument is that the instability in Iraq is what has created this. And that if Saddam Hussein were still there, we wouldn't have ISIS.


Well, I think that's a lot of jumps in logic that to me doesn't really add up. The Iraq War, there's no doubt contributed to instability. I'm not going to in any way deny that. But you cannot draw a direct line. What you can do is to say that jihadist terrorism, starting with Al Qaeda, and moving onto its latest incarnations, most particularly ISIS, is in response to a number of forces in factors that are roiling up the Middle East and certainly fighting for what Islam means and how it's going to be presented and what people are going to mean when they talk about it. So yeah, we've got a much bigger set of problems. [my emphasis]
This is an odd answer, which also passes up a chance to blame the Cheney-Bush Administration for the gigantic cock-up the Iraq War became. But by virtually all accounts, the group now known as ISIS/ISIL/Daesh was an outgrowth of the Sunni militias that formed during the civil war after the Shi'a majority in Iraq took power. Yeah, it's a complicated thing. But to Democratic primary voters, it sounds like she's trying to defend the same kind of excessive hawkishness that led her to vote for the Iraq War in 2002.

So, if Clinton is asked about Wall Street, what would an appealing answer for Democratic primary voters be? I would guess it would be something along the lines of the Obama Administration accomplished and lot in bank regulation but there's more we need to do to protect the economy and ordinary depositors and investors. And with my experience I can get those changes enacted.

All right, another thing I wanted to follow up on the debate, Senator Sanders called the entire business model of Wall Street a fraud. We didn't get a chance to ask you to respond directly to that critique. I'd like to ask you to respond to it now.


Well, I think it's the kind of extreme statement that once you really take a hard look at it, it's hard to understand. You know, when you talk about Wall Street, are we talking about every bank or are we talking about a particular part of New York? That's never really clarified. What I believe is that there are good actors and bad actors in every part of our economy.

The job of the president is to weed out and prevent the bad actors from disrupting economic activity from amassing too much power and influence. But we live in a complex, global economy where we've got to have a good banking system that is able to service the American economy. And it needs to be more than just looking at the five banks that are the big banks.

We have to have a much more robust community banking system, regional banking system, other forms of credit access. And that's what I am advocating for. And I still do not understand why I'm having this problem getting Senator Sanders to join me in going after what are the potential problems that are out there, the shadow banking sector, and the investment and hedge fund sector. [my emphasis]
Why not lead with that last part? It fits well with the "I'm more progressive than Bernie" line of attack. But it steps on the "Bernie is an extremist" pitch.

But where in the world does a statement come from like: "You know, when you talk about Wall Street, are we talking about every bank or are we talking about a particular part of New York? That's never really clarified." At least since the days of the Populists in the late 19th century, "Wall Street" has been a staple phrase for those in both parties criticizing the forces of concentrated wealth. What she said there was a silly comment, one that reinforces the idea that she wants to minimize the problems created by "Wall Street."

From the trusty Encyclopædia Britannica's entry on Wall Street:

Even before the American Civil War the street was recognized as the financial capital of the nation. The Wall Street, or financial, district contains the New York Stock Exchange, NYSE Amex Equities, investment banks, government and municipal securities dealers, trust companies, the Federal Reserve Bank, many headquarters of utilities and insurance companies, and the International Cotton, Coffee, Sugar, Cocoa, and Commodity Exchanges. The district is the headquarters of many of the country’s brokerage firms.

Wall Street is a worldwide symbol of high finance and investment and, as such, has entered modern mythology. To 19th-century Populists, Wall Street was a symbol of the rapacious robber barons who exploited farmers and labourers. In prosperous times Wall Street has symbolized the route to quick riches. After the devastating stock market crash of 1929, Wall Street seemed the bastion of financial manipulators able to destabilize national economies. [my emphasis]
But Hillary Clinton is asking us to believe she's confused about whether Bernie Sanders means the physical street when he talks about Wall Street?

This from MTP also reinforces the notion of Clinton as overly friendly to "Wall Street":


Yes, there is, there is.


Six of the last Treasury secretaries either came from Wall Street or went to Wall Street after. I think there certainly right now isn't an appetite for somebody from Wall Street to be the next Treasury secretary. And yet, can you have a Treasury secretary if they don't understand Wall Street?


Well, you have to have a Treasury secretary who understands the economy, the American economy and the global economy. I think there are a lot more places where one can and should look for such a Treasury secretary.


Do you think you can pick one without having them have a Wall Street background?


Well, you know, I want somebody who can make a good commitment to work with me to get the economy moving, to get more good jobs created, to get incomes rising, to look out over the horizon at some of the economic problems that are out there. We've got to figure out what we're going to do with China.

You know, China is finally having to come to grips with the fact that a lot of its growth may have not been as on a firm foundation as we would hope. So we need people in government who have that kind of commitment and understanding. But we've got to put the needs of the American economy first. And that's going to be my commitment.
Not only does she soft-pedal her just-stated desire to do more on bank regulation than Bernie does. She hems and haws on the need for a Treasury Secretary independent of the financial industry. Even a Republican would be expected to claim with a straight face they wanted a Treasury Secretary who wasn't owned heart and soul by the industry.

And it would have been easy to both praise the accomplishments of the current Democratic Administration on the economy, which talking about the need "to get the economy moving" doesn't exactly do.


Before I let you go, I want to ask you about a comment. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said a comment that I've heard her say before. But it sort of rang differently to a lot of people. She said, "There's a special place in hell for women who don't help women." The implication is that somehow, if you're a Democratic woman and you're not supporting you, what's wrong with you? Do you want the vote to be decided on gender lines?


Oh look, you know, as you remember, Madeleine has been saying this for many, many years.


Right, Starbucks cups I think had it on there. I get that.


She believes it firmly. And in part, because she knows what a struggle it has been. And she understands the struggle is not over. So I don't want people to be offended by what she is expressing as her very--


Do you understand why some might have been offended by it?


Well good grief, we're getting offended by everything these days. Honest to goodness, I mean, people can't say anything without offending somebody. She has a life experience that I respect. I admire her greatly. And I think what she was trying to do, what she's done in every setting I've ever seen her in going back 20 plus years, was to remind young women, particularly, that you know, this struggle, which many of us have been part of, is not over. And don't be in any way lulled by the progress we've made. And I think it was a light-hearted, but very pointed remark, which people can take however they choose. [my emphasis]
Albright's comment sounded like she was saying women should vote for Clinton just because she's a woman. And how hard would it have been to say, well, I might have preferred she phrase that in a somewhat different way but ... and then proceed to give her explanation of how Albright typically expresses her strong support for women's right in those terms.

And what is the comment "Well good grief, we're getting offended by everything these days. Honest to goodness, I mean, people can't say anything without offending somebody" but a half-baked attempt to show she's not bound by "political correctness"? Which sounds like the DLC/"Sister Souljah moment"/triangulation approach that Democratic base voters don't want to hear from their Presidential candidate.

Also, stuff like this from prominent, politically savvy Hillary reporters doesn't help their candidate: Alanna Vagianos, Gloria Steinem Apologizes For Remarks About Young Female Sanders Supporters Huffington Post 02/07/2016.

And if you want to convince Democratic voters you might become the scourge of Wall Street, having your husband make this kind of case on your behalf (Amanda Terkel, Bill Clinton Accuses Bernie Sanders Of Living In A 'Hermetically Sealed Box' Huffington Post 02/07/2016): "'Hillary's opponent has a different view,'" Clinton said, declining to mention Sanders by name. 'It's a hermetically sealed box. It's very effective. The system is rigged against you by the big banks, and both parties are in the thrall of the big banks. Anybody who takes money from Goldman Sachs couldn't possibly be president.'"

And as cautious as one has to be about alleged Clinton scandals, it's entirely legitimate for the Sanders campaign to raise questions about donors' influence on Hillary Clinton. Simon Head looks at those issues in The Clinton System NYR Daily 01/30/2016. And it's not just Goldman Sachs, either. Head writes:

The record of the Clinton System raises deep questions about whether a Hillary Clinton presidency would take on the growing political influence of large corporate interests and Wall Street banks. The next president will need to address critical economic and social issues, including the stagnating incomes of the middle class, the tax loopholes that allow hedge-funders and other members of the super-rich to be taxed at lower rates than many average Americans, and the runaway costs of higher education. Above all is the question of further reform of Wall Street and the banking system to prevent a recurrence of the behavior that brought about the Great Recession of 2007-2008.

So far, Hillary Clinton has refused to commit herself to a reintroduction of the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act, which Bill Clinton allowed to be repealed in 1999 on the advice of Democrats with close ties to Wall Street, including Robert Rubin and Larry Summers. The reintroduction of Glass-Steagall, favored by Bernie Sanders, would prevent banks from speculating in financial derivatives, a leading cause of the 2007-2008 crash. With leading Wall Street banks so prominent in the Clintons’ fundraising streams, can Hillary Clinton be relied upon to reform the banks beyond the modest achievements of the Dodd-Frank bill of 2010? [my emphasis]
One of sources Head cites is this article from last year on the Clintons' very lucrative corporate speaking business: Andrew Perez, Firms Paid Bill Clinton Millions As They Lobbied Hillary Clinton International Business Times 04/28/15. It's worth stressing that although such fees and the contributions to the Clinton Foundation are legal, they can still have great influence on policy.

But speaking of Goldman Sachs ... (Wall Street Bankster On Bernie Sanders The Young Turks 02/07/2016):

Even though I think every vote for Bernie pushes Clinton in the right direction policy-wise and I'd like to see him be the nominee, I'd also like to see Hillary get into more of a fighting-the-Republicans mood than the kind of Beltway chatter she showed in her MTP appearance.

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