Daily Archives: March 14, 2007

Just Hillary: publius v Eric Martin (Updated)

There’s an interesting argument/discussion/debate going on between Eric Martin of Total Information Awareness and publius of Obsidian Wings about Hillary Clinton that I suspect is a foretaste of the controversy that’s building in the Left Blogosphere as her candidacy intensifies and the primaries get closer. I haven’t been invited and have no business sticking my neck into this, so of course that’s precisely what I’m going to do. I haven’t made up my mind about Clinton yet, and the points brought up by each of them are the ones I’ve been debating with myself (mostly; there’s one element that bothers me that neither of them mentioned, at least not directly). And I don’t think I’m (we’re) alone in that.

publius begins with noting that he can’t get up any enthusiasm for Hillary and he’s wondering why.

I also don’t really care about her 2002 vote. A lot of smart people supported the war in good conscience. No, what bothers me is not her initial support, but her ongoing support in the face of obvious and ongoing failures. What bothers me is her prolonged post-war silence. As Yglesias has documented, she consciously played up an image as a war supporter and a hawk for years. In doing so, she essentially abandoned progressives on the foreign policy and national security fronts until very recently. “Abandon,” I think, is the most appropriate word to use. After all, the netroots’ skepticism of Clinton is rooted in the feeling that she left everyone out to dry when they could have really benefited from her speaking out.

Eric defines this as the standard criticism that she is “cynical and calculating”, responding:

The second criticism has been unfairly attributed to Clinton quite consistently throughout her political career – at least when compared to other politicians. It’s not that Clinton doesn’t possess these strategic imperatives, it’s that the groupthink has settled in such that Hillary has come to represent the conniving electoral gamesmanship of politicians in general. Let me divulge a secret though: ALL politicians have political aspirations, and the vast majority are looking to the next election, or next “promotion” available. Does anyone doubt that perennial candidate John McCain has wanted to be President for a very long time? That he has taken cynical, calculated steps to facilitate these goals. Yet, his career is not marked with the same level of suspicion as Hillary’s. How about George “clearing some brush on my ranch” Bush? Come on people.

But I’ll go further: since political power comes through winning elections, I actually admire Hillary’s desire and ability to play the electoral game. Good on her. Whereas the cold, calculating maneuvering of other politicians is greeted with praise and admiration at the skill and mastery at how they can game the system, with Hillary, for some reason, it’s viewed as unseemly and improper. It would be myopic to discount the influence of sexism on this rather obvious double standard.

(quote edited to correct one obvious typo)

While I think Eric’s characterization is fair and accurate as far as it goes, I also think, with all due respect, he’s missing the main point. What publius seems to be on about is less her maneuvering than her lack of leadership. Asking “Where was she?” is a fair question. While others were sticking their necks out and sometimes getting them chopped off, where was Hillary? Hiding in a bunker?

At the point when a political figure lets other people take all the risks and suffer all the consequences of an unpopular stand she will later adopt as her own, cynicism is not uncalled for. More importantly, it raises perfectly legitimate questions about what she would do as president. Continue reading