Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

18 May 2008

Where are the Adults?

Update on May 18, 2008

As well-informed readers will recognize, the post below is becoming outdated. Adults are in fact beginning to step in.

Last Wednesday John Edwards endorsed Obama and promised to campaign for him. So many superdelegates are now jumping on Obama’s bandwagon that he may have the nomination numerically wrapped up by next Tuesday, with help from an expected win in Oregon. No less a Clinton supporter than the New York Times today speculated as much.

Edwards’ endorsement was inevitable. I had predicted it over three months ago. Hillary’s lame policies, tolerance for corruption, divisive style of campaigning, and imperial style of governance were and are incompatible with everything that Edwards stood for. As Spock of Star Trek would say, Edwards supporting Obama was “logical.”

So why did Edwards take so long? Therein lies the rub, and therein lies the Democrats’ challenge in general election campaign now upon us.

Although Elizabeth Edwards was careful not to state her preferences, she hinted that she favored Hillary. In order to endorse Obama, Edwards had to ignore the apparent preference of his spouse, who herself is engaged in a difficult and public battle with cancer. Obviously that was not an easy choice for him to make.

Maybe Elizabeth changed her mind after seeing how often Hillary’s ambition trumped what was good for the party and the country. Maybe John had decided to refrain from endorsing until some predetermined time. Maybe the pressure of Hillary’s divisiveness and pandering finally forced his hand, despite his wife’s preferences. Maybe, like other politicians, he simply wanted to give the democratic process as much time as possible to work.

We may never know why it took him so long. But we do know that the Democratic party’s dilemma now is John Edwards’ writ large.

There are millions of women in America—especially young ones—who have not yet understood how disastrous Hillary would be as nominee for the party or as president for the country. Some may never make that realization.

Yet somehow Obama and the party much reach out to them. We all need them to return to the Democratic cause and the enterprise of restoring our nation after seven years of disastrous misrule. Carrying the gender politics of the campaign into the general election would spell disaster.

To say that Hillary could be helpful in avoiding that disaster is an understatement of Obama-esque proportions. Whether she undertakes the effort—and the enthusiasm she brings to it—will tell us a lot about what Hillary is really made of. Much louder than her words, her actions (after she finally acknowledges defeat) will tell whether she cares about the party and the country or was in it for herself all along.

Original essay of May 7, 2008 follows:

In several essays (1, 2, 3, and 4), I have analyzed why Hillary Clinton’s interminable candidacy is bad for our party, our country, and the world. I’ve tried to be as abstract and dispassionate as is possible under the circumstances. I’ve tried not to succumb to my feelings.

But the truth is my feelings toward Hillary are strongly negative. I have an absolute conviction that she lacks the basic competence and leadership skill to be a good president. I find her utterly devoid of grace, humor, and humanity. I cannot fathom how someone so devious and self-serving can earn the nation’s confidence and heal the deep wounds made by Dubya and Rove. And how would the rest of the world react to a person whom her own people cannot trust?

I didn’t always feel this way. I once admired Hillary for saving her marriage. I once marveled at her bid to become the nation’s first female president. Although male, I felt a weak reflection of the gleams of women yearning for gender equality in the White House and beyond. I, too, thought a female—any female—could hardly do worse than our latest male had done.

But then I watched Hillary in action.

I saw her use every cheap trick and throw every dirty punch to win the nomination. I saw her exploit racial prejudice while hiding under the veil of gender equality. I saw her turn debates into a game of “gotcha!” and foreign policy into pandering to domestic interest groups. I saw her campaign by trashing her opponent with trivia. I saw her debase the science of economics by pandering with voodoo. I saw her demolish every principle of honor and competence that once made our party admirable and our nation great. And I began to despise her for constantly tearing others down to build herself up.

Now my reaction to Hillary has reached the point of loathing.

I am not alone. Who do you think jump-started Obama’s campaign and primed the pump of his unprecedented fund-raising? It was this country’s largely hidden intelligentsia. It was professors, teachers, doctors, lawyers, engineers and scientists. It was people with decades of training to think abstractly and dispassionately. It was people who spent their entire adult lives learning how to solve problems, without favor or prejudice. It was people who value competence, reason and expert knowledge above all else. It was people, like me, who saw those same qualities in Barack Obama.

The politicos and pundits laughed at us. They told us we were naïve dreamers. No one these days gets elected, they said, on extraordinary brains, talent and competence alone—least of all an African-American. The days of the Kennedys and King are gone, they said. We have to get down in the mud and nominate the best demagogue, principles be damned. We have to beat Dubya and Rove at their own game. So they anointed Hillary.

But we professionals don’t believe that, and we never will. We will not give up our country’s fundamental principles of competence, honesty, honor, and equality. We will not settle for a scoundrel just because she is female and skilled at demagoguery.

Those of us who are teachers are familiar with the Hillary type. We’ve seen many like her. They can quote all sort of facts and figures to dazzle the impressionable. But they cannot reason; they cannot predict consequences; they can lead only by intimidation; and they don’t know right from wrong. They have no perspective, honor or virtue.

Lest we forget, Robert S. MacNamara—the architect of the War in Vietnam—was just such a person. He could dazzle anyone—including the Kennedys—with his command of facts and figures. Yet he got us mired inextricably in our worst foreign debacle until Dubya.

Now Hillary has thrown her last Hail Mary pass. She has said with pride and defiance that she does not listen to economists. (Her exact words were “I’m not going to put my lot in with economists,” in speaking of her ridiculous proposal for a gas tax holiday.) She tried to prove that she is the top alpha male.

After seven years of Dubya, she apparently believes we Americans want more machismo, instead of competence. Like Dubya, she wants to make her own reality. But we all know how that reality turned out. Sadly, we are living it every day.

Hillary has already done our party and our nation tremendous damage. She has been the most divisive national political figure next to Dubya himself. She has tried to cleave worker from professional, black from white, women from men, well-off from poor, and old from young.

And she has had the gall to insult our intelligence by insisting that she is doing nothing of the kind. She says she is doing it only to toughen Obama up for the Republicans. But John McCain is far too honest and honorable to stoop to Hillary’s tricks. And no Democrat in my lifetime has done to another Democrat what Hillary has already tried to do (mostly unsuccessfully) to Obama.

This willful, selfish child must be stopped. The only adults who can stop her are the superdelegates and uncommitted party leaders like Al Gore, John Edwards and Howard Dean. They must convince her to step aside. If they cannot do so in private, they must go public.

The hour is already late. The breaches in our party and the country are growing larger by the week. Soon they will be irreparable.

If we don’t stop and heal the multiple and growing rifts that Hillary has created, we will not only lose the general election, whomever we nominate. We will forfeit a unique opportunity to remake our society. And we will lose our Democratic soul for another generation.


For a narrower perspective on this same point, focusing on the black-white divide that Hillary and Bill exploited and widened, see Eugene Robinson’s piece in the Washington Post May 9. If you like visuals, see Ann Telnaes’ brilliant animation of April 16.


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  • At Mon May 12, 03:38:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hey Jay,

    You're right on with your assessment of Hillary. However, you omit what I think is the most infuriating of her many sins: her opportunistic, enthusiastic embrace of right-wing anti-intellectual talking points. It can't be good for the long-term success of our educational system to have a President, and now an aspiring one from the other party, who treat "intellectual" as a dirty word in their campaigns. What message does it send to kids when major national leaders in "serious" jobs are deriding anyone who's gone to college as an effete, elitist snob?

    My late grandfather was a hard-working, blue collar guy with a work ethic out of the 1930s. He never had the chance to go to college. But he read the newspapers and books and tried to stay well-informed about the world. He felt it was important to always try to learn and improve yourself, and he passed that value on to his kids and grandkids. He spoke of getting a good education with a sort of reverence that instilled in me, very early, the idea that it was the best thing I could do with myself.

    It seems there was a sense among his generation that a good education is a noble thing to aspire to, and something worthy of respect (as well as something to be humbly grateful for, once you've got it). Where did that go?

    Going to an Ivy League school used to be a good thing. The title of professor used to command respect. Toiling in grad school, working in the lab til 4am night after night and going back at 9am, used to be considered hard work. Now many people view an Ivy League education as a vice, and if you dare to use an occasional big word you're stuck in an "ivory tower" and know nothing of the "real word." "PhD" has become an acronym for "Prius-driving latte-sipping elitist snob," and if you noticed that those first letters don't spell PhD, you're one of them.

    Politicians have an obvious reason to trash intellectuals: you can't pursue a self-serving stupid idea if the public respects to the experts who say it's absurd. That's one of the more cynical and nasty tactics a politician can use, and it made sense in the hands of Karl Rove. But it's horrific to see a prominent Democrat undercutting one of the core values that makes America great, in a desperate grab for short-term political gain. Infecting the Democratic party with anti-intellectualism may be the worst thing Hillary Clinton has done.

    It's not just intellectuals who suffer from these tactics. Isn't turning the poor against the educated going to stifle upward mobility? How many of the people Hillary and Bush have touched are going to refuse to send their kids to college because they don't want them turned into intellectuals? How many kids who learn those values will slack off in school because they don't value their education? How many blue collar workers are there today who, like my grandfather, value learning and teach their kids to work as hard as they can on their education?

    I'd like to see you write a post on this subject. As an educator you must have some interesting insights.

  • At Fri May 16, 06:37:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Dear anonymous,

    Your comment is well-written and important.

    I particularly liked your remembrance of your grandfather's attitude toward education. He exemplified what made our nation great and powerful: societal improvement through individual self-improvement, whether or not in the Ivy League.

    Harry Truman was a similar example of a self-educated man. Legend has it that he read all the books in the library in his home town of Independence, Missouri, before becoming an adult. He didn't attend an Ivy League school, but he was an educated man.

    In Europe and Asia education was (and largely still is) a privilege of the elite. In the U.S. we tried to make it a right of citizenship. We didn't always succeed, but trying hard once made us the wealthiest and most powerful society on earth.

    So far our collective reverence for education has spared us the worst pangs of history. The greatest tyrants used popular envy and distrust of the "elite" to destroy, rather than save, their civilizations. Caesar turned Rome into empire. Robespierre turned enlightenment France into a nightmare. Lenin and Stalin turned a decaying autocracy into a perverted, brutal and socially bankrupt kleptocracy. And after brilliantly unifying China, Mao turned it into an economic and social basket case for two generations.

    All these horrors had one thing in common: ambitious leaders who turned the "common people" against the intelligentsia that, for better or for worse, were the repositories of their civilizations at the time.

    I'm not comparing Hillary to Caesar---yet. But it's foolish to think the same thing can't happen here. The veneer of civilization is thin, and popular discontent can quickly reduce it to tatters. The last century taught us that. The spark of Hillary's ambition could start a conflagration that, once begun, might be hard to contain.

    Imagine a religious fundamentalist, anti-intellectual, anti-scientific society with a sense of historical entitlement and uniqueness ("American exceptionalism"), a contempt for other peoples and cultures, and 10,000 nuclear weapons. That's what the U.S. could become if the process begun by Bush and Rove and threatened by Hillary reaches its logical conclusion.

    I don't think that will happen. But every educated person must work as hard as possible to see that it doesn't.

    That's why virtually every professional I know is highly invested in the Obama campaign. With nuclear weapons spreading, the globe warming, supplies of fossil fuel dwindling, our biosphere slowly extinguishing, and a few global leaders arguing that we should act like rats in a box and "obliterate" our adversaries, the know-nothings can't be allowed to win. Nor can any politician who panders to them. Not this time. There's far too much at stake.



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