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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Hillary's story

As I noted below, Hillary Clinton grabbed some headlines this morning with some very pointed comments yesterday about the Bush Administration. While giving a speech in Harlem honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, she said the House of Representatives is run "like a plantation" and added: "I predict to you that this administration will go down in history as one of the worst that has ever governed our country." That is one hell of a thing to say, so it's obviously raised some eyebrows and makes great political theatre (in addition to probably being accurate). So what's going on here? Why would Hillary Clinton, who has been so careful and coy as she approaches running in '08, who has slowly worked her way to the perceived political middle by mostly supporting the war in Iraq, an anti flag-burning law, and restrictions on violent video games, who only seems to be strongly critical and vocal when it's an easy win issue, who is smart enough and experienced enough that her every public utterance will be scrutinized, dissected and criticized, suddenly argue that the Bush Administration is so bad that it should be consider among the worst? (more in expanded post)

Here's how the story goes...

President Bush governs by being moderate in tone ("compassionate conservatism," affable good 'ol boy demeanor, etc.) and far-right in policy (intelligent design, global warming doesn't exist, we can invade whoever we want whenever we want if we want, massive tax cuts for the wealthy). That way, he can use his PR machine to make him seem moderate, but keep his base happy with the realities of his actions. That system seems to work so long as the moderates are comfortable with the direction the country's going so that they don't start to look through the PR to the policies and the far right is happy with quiet victories. Neither of those two things is any longer true; moderates unhappiness with the war and wiretapping and corruption have pushed Bush's trust and approval ratings way down and the Right appears to be increasingly vocal and demanding (ex. Harriet Miers). So Bush is having some serious trouble.

Clinton appears to be trying to do exactly the opposite. The Right would have marginalized her by accusing her of being a radical feminist and an advocate for huge government, so she's moderated her politics, focusing on policies that avoid these pitfalls and staying essentially in the center-right of her party. This enables her to diffuse the argument that she is philosophically of the far Left. The only problem is, the Left is getting frustrated with her over her support for the War in Iraq, and people like Russ Feingold are testing the waters to run against her in a base-driven effort ala Howard Dean. So Clinton becomes weak in the base. How does she fix this?

She becomes the most effective and aggressive political opponent of the Administration. She becomes vocal, critical and unabashed in her willingness to call Bush to task. While Bush appeals to the base in politics and the middle in tone, Clinton does the opposite and appeals to the middle in politics and the base in tone. This, of course, only works so long as the middle is not alienated by her criticisms in the long run (after the Democratic primaries), so Clinton is gambling that it's far enough away and the Administration's approval is low enough that she can get away with kicking some ass and still come back to the middle later by refocusing on her own moderate self.

Assuming I'm right in this analysis, which is of course speculative and may be doubtful to some readers, the interesting thing about this is that it exposes two things: 1. how much smarter Hillary Clinton is than most of the other Democrats and 2. how important the mainstream media's narrative is. Clinton's move to the middle has been widely documented and turned into a lovely story line. Most people have no idea how she's voted on the bulk of her politics, but the war and a few symbolic issues allow her to create a story line that others will follow, therefore allowing her to remake herself. With Feingold entering the race and building a challenge from the left, the media narrative turned to "Hillary has a Left problem" probably without much in terms of actual polling and factual basis. The story line is speculative in that way, but becomes reality because of its speculation.

Hillary Clinton proves her effectiveness as a politician here because she is able to throw fresh meat to her base by embroiling herself in something of a controversy, quiet the "Hillary has a Left problem" story line, and get good coverage all at the same time. In other words, she regains control of the narrative without being obvious about it.

12 Comments:

At 1:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe, but do you have more to base this on than this single statement?

 
At 1:24 AM, Blogger andrew golis said...

Nope. It's a guess based on the belief that Hillary is smart enough to be intentional with every statement. Might be wrong, only time will tell...

 
At 1:28 AM, Blogger andrew golis said...

who's winning this back and forth? from the NYT:
"The White House said on Tuesday that Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton was "out of bounds" when she compared the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to a plantation and harshly criticized the Bush administration.

Mrs. Clinton, speaking at a ceremony in Harlem honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, said that Republicans had run the House "like a plantation" in which dissent or ideas from the minority party were not tolerated.

Republicans responded within hours, accusing her of trying to score political points with divisive and racially charged language. But several prominent black leaders quickly came to her defense, saying they agreed with her."

 
At 2:02 AM, Blogger andrew golis said...

and wow.

 
At 11:43 AM, Blogger wannatakethisoutside said...

I think that's an interesting analysis.

 
At 12:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you're conflating several aspects of Bush's politics:

Traditionally, Republicans have used your "Hillary" approach: paying lip service to the Christian Right but mostly governing from the center-right. The Republican control of the Government left no excuse for REpublicans not to begin implementing Christian right policies, which has made them much more vocal (this explains the Harriet Miers ordeal).

But Bush's policies aren't at all about satisfying the Christian Right. They're a mix of ideological stultifications of conservative ideals: tax cuts for anything, government spending for businesses, hard-line unilateral defense foreign policy: in the end, it's an intersection created by many different Republican interests, without coherence.

The only coherent lenses in which to understand Bush's policy is 1. expansion of the executive and 2. pro-business: All of his appointees have these qualities, and as long as he is in power, number 1 is good for number 2.

Hillary, I believe, is banking on the "Culture of Corruption" message combined with her moderate stance allowing her to look not like a flaming liberal, but like the John McCain of the Democrats: Not bowing to any party orthodoxies, but able to make strong statements against whomever, whenever. Perhaps Clinton thinks that her assessment, because of her recent policy moves, can be perceived as non-partisan. (i.e., bush is bad because he is incompetent and corrupt, not because of his political views).

 
At 3:55 PM, Blogger andrew golis said...

To be clear, when I said that Bush was ideologically and in policy playing to the Right, I didn't say "Christian Right" specifically for the reasons you are outlining. "The Right" is, of course, not a unified ideological entity. It is the base of the Republican party, which consists of a variety of fervent ideological and political impulses: Christian fundamentalism, big business, neo-conservative foreign policy intellectuals, the things you point out. So I think we basically agree.

 
At 5:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think we do agree: what I'm saying is that using "The Right" for all of Bush's positions or calling it the 'base' of the Republican Party is imprecise, precisely because it is not cohesive. It's an oversimplification.

Where Bush has overstepped his bounds is not in catering to his various bases (supply-siders, libertarians--rather ignored in this admin, strong military types, Christian Coalition) while appearing moderate. It is in expanding his own power in order to benefit big business(is this the Republican party base? maybe...)--combined with a mostly rhetorical but (because this does form a very reliably republican constituency) more policy-oriented than ever implementation of Christian Right goals.

Hillary is not employing the reverse: she is not catering to the left with her rhetoric while catering to the center with her policy. Instead, she is legitimizing her criticism a la McCain--"you can't say i'm weak on defense for criticizing you cuz i'm pro-military; i don't have a problem with military, i have a problem with your incompetence and corruption."

If Hillary were aiming for a rhetorical grab for the left, she would talk about the war, or healthcare, or the poor, or "working people," in a non-policy-committing way. Instead, she just blasted the incompetence and corruption of the administration (and included a racial code word). While you see Hillary's strategy as an inverse of Bush's (and i have a problem with the way you conceive Bush's as well), I see her strategy as a parallel to McCain's. Seeing that McCain may be a likely 2008 candidate, it might not be a bad way to go...

 
At 7:20 PM, Anonymous Dark Twain said...

I wish someone would talk about how stupid so-called black leaders look in all of this. These bumbling idiots stumble all over themselves to applaud Hillary's use of the plantation metaphor, completely ignoring the fact that it's a disturbing misuse of that imagery. Bush is running the government like a plantation because he doesn't accept dissent? The plantation as an institution did a lot more that squash dissent-- it reduced the human beings enslaved there (whether by legal enslavement or economic enslavement aka sharecropping) to the level of chattel, and exercised a form of total domination that was uniquely suffocating of the potential for human flourishing and the development of the very capacities needed to mount dissent in any meaningful sense of the word. Bush did not make it impossible for these idiots in the government to voice their dissent-- their own pandering, paranoia, intellectual stagnation, and cowardice put them in a losing position it has taken them nearly five years and an near-collapse of the Bush administration to even show signs of crawling out of. Black leadership should demonstrate better guardianship of the legacy of slavery and not allow it to be prostituted for the political gain of any white politician who wants to impersonate Al Sharpton on Martin Luther King Day.

 
At 10:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

*applauds "dark twain" above*
People who know slavery was wrong for more reasons than a "concentration of leadership at the top" should be insulted by her comments, as well as by Barack Obama's shameless support of them. Until George Bush is whipping members of the Democratic party til they die and impregnating their wives via rape, let's steer away from the hyperbolic similes, shall we? I think Mrs. Clinton mistook the "minority party" for minorities as a race, Mr. Obama is hesitant to be controversial at all in his run to the top, and black people don't want to stand up against the only political party that even pretends to care about their vote.

 
At 4:12 PM, Blogger katie loncke said...

Hear, hear. Maybe it's about time Blacks in the U.S. refuse to remain a captured electorate and begin insisting that Democratic leaders actually address issues of race and class in meaningful ways (read: policy changes). It may not be politically smart, but at least it would be genuine and courageous.

Dark twain, anonymous, and others, if you became a Senator tomorrow (with no favors owed to anyone), what would you advocate for? I don't mean for this to be a snide "stop criticizing and say something constructive" jab--honestly, I would love to know your thoughts, as abstract or detail-oriented as you want to make them. Lobbying for a living wage, universal health care, affordable child care, and an overhaul of local estate tax funding for education are a few things that immediately come to mind for me. In fact, we don't have to be Senators to know what we stand for (indeed, it might help that we're not): so, as ordinary people engaged in anti-racist struggle, what changes would we like to see (or, to borrow from Natasha Alford's awesome speech at the MLK celebration in Mem Church, how do we envision fighting the enemy of normalcy?)?

 
At 9:51 PM, Anonymous Dark Twain said...

Two things off top would be two amendments to the Constitution, one advocating the positive right to an education and the positive right to vote. And under the auspices of the former, pass legislation to overhaul school curriculums nationally (f*** federalism), increase public school funding, and equalize funding across districts, per pupil. Plus cut all public funding for private elementary and secondary school. If you want to pay money for your kids to run away from poor black children, pony up the cash. The curriculum should not be this outdated 1950s Cold War bs, where science is talking about RoyGBiv, it should have as its goal to make people conversant and literate in the basic nuts and bolts of biology/biochem and genetics, US history and US FOREIGN POLICY, moral reasoning, statistics, basic math, multicult. lit., and computers. On the right to vote amendment, you make it easier for people to sue when their votes haven't been counted or unfair barriers have been erected, and you guarantee felons the right to vote. Those are two things off the top...not even considering criminal justice, overhauling aff. action, living wage, and univ. health care-- which would all go far. I just think those two are prob. most important because they help restore people's autonomy and agency, which has been suffocated in this disgusting political climate and by years of discrimination/racism, failed government programs and pathological cultural responses to these crises.

 

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