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

08 November 2013

Hillary 2016


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Introduction
Hillary’s growth
The competition
The gender factor
Changing times
Conclusion: her day has come
Coda: Why not start now?
Anecdote: My 2008 Poll-Worker Experience

“The times they are a-changin’.” — Bob Dylan

Introduction

Hillary Clinton is a natural segue to my recent paean to female leaders. So let’s cut right to the chase. Will she run and can she win? I think the answer to both questions is “yes.”

Actually, the two answers are related. She will run because, this time, she can win. And she can win because: (1) she’s a woman; (2) she’s a Democrat, (3) she now has more relevant national experience than anyone the GOP is likely to nominate, and (4) her name recognition easily eclipses that of any possible rival in either party. And she will run also because she has had an obvious drive to be president for about a decade; her current spate of public appearances attests to that.

As readers of this blog know, in her 2008 campaign I had no great admiration for Hillary. For most of her career before that, she had been a political groupie rather than a leader. Her actual experience was light, and her 2008 campaign against the President was dirty, self-aggrandizing and bordering on racism. (She herself is no racist, but evidently she had some poor political advice and would do or say anything to win.)

At times, her judgment on matters of foreign policy also had been poor. She supported our needless War in Iraq without even reading the National Intelligence Estimate, which questioned our reasons for starting it. And she continued to support it for far too long—mostly for self-evident reasons of domestic politics—pivoting only after her husband and key members of her party did.

Her judgment on Pakistan was equally short-sighted. She supported the dictator Musharraf and stiffed Benazir Bhutto, again (in my view) for domestic political reasons. Think how much different Pakistan and our relationship with it would be today with Bhutto as prime minister.

In that chaotic country, there was never a guarantee that Bhutto would survive or, if she did, lead well. But Bhutto was a smart, resourceful, courageous and quintessentially good woman. As a woman herself and small-d democrat, Hillary should have pulled out all the stops to support Bhutto, even as a candidate here. She didn’t. (Pakistani extremists assassinated Bhutto during our long presidential campaign.)

But people, times, and circumstances change. Four important things have changed since 2008, and all make Hillary a much better and more viable candidate for president than she was then.

Hillary’s growth

First, Hillary herself had changed. She has grown and paid some serious dues. A lawyer and fierce advocate for most of her life, she took the hardest diplomatic job in the world for over four years and succeeded.

The right wing has tried assiduously, with some success, to drown out news of her success in Libya with incessant lamentation about the tragic assassinations of Ambassador Stevens and his team members. But without Hillary, the mad tyrant Qaddafi would still be alive and very much in power.

Hillary and her diplomatic team managed to get Security-Council approval for use of air power in Libya, without which the President never would have acted to help the rebels. She did so at the last minute, under enormous pressure, without suffering a single dissent.

Hillary’s work was a minor diplomatic miracle and a triumph for self-determination and justice. If you want to know how much it meant, just look at Syria in comparison. Libya might be just the same today without Hillary’s good work.

And Hillary did it all without flamboyance, ego, self-aggrandizement or hogging credit, as a good diplomat should. Her success shows that she can be a team player and team leader at the same time. Before becoming our Secretary of State, she never had the chance.

The competition

The second major change is in Hillary’s rivals. She no longer faces the kind of politician who comes around only once every century or so.

Barack Obama rose like a rocket out of nowhere, overcoming a racial handicap in a still-racist society, for one reason only. He has absolutely extraordinary political talent: off-the-scale intelligence (both analytic and emotional), judgment, empathy, perseverance, and tactical and strategic skill.

From long before he became our President, Barack Obama was a “natural.” As President, he inherited a nation falling apart economically, deeply in debt, and bogged down in two needless, stalemated, bloody and hideously expensive wars. Now, six years later, our economy (if not our politics) is coming together again, one war is over (for us) and the other will be winding down next year. And our projected deficit for this fiscal year is about 40% what it was in 2009, the first year of Obama’s presidency.

Not only that, Obama is the first president in our history to give most, if not all, of us access to good medical care. He prevailed where others, including both Hillary and Bill, had failed for an entire century.

And that’s still not all. The President ordered a ninja attack that killed bin Laden and opened a treasure trove of intelligence on Al Qaeda. He has decimated Al Qaeda Central with drone and ninja attacks. He has kept us safe for his entire tenure in office, except for the minor attack on the Boston Marathon. In the fields of energy and global warming, he is phasing out coal (by far our dirtiest and most climate-unfriendly source of energy) with fair and sensible regulation; he has made a deal with automakers to double cars’ fuel efficiency; he has maintained subsidies for renewable energy; and he has allowed the “fracking” craze in oil and natural gas to continue, while placing it under close environmental scrutiny.

This is, to put it mildly, an extraordinary record. And our President has done all this despite the most adamant and extreme opposition that any president has had to face since our Civil War, based partly on the color of his skin. For these achievements alone, he will be ranked as a good president, if not a great one, in extraordinarily difficult times. And he still has over two years to go.

If we Yanks have the collective wisdom to give undivided government a try (for a change), and to put the House in Democratic hands next year, we will see lots more change we can believe in. And if that happens, Hillary herself will be the beneficiary of President Obama’s skill in exploiting the GOP’s extremism, obstructionism and extortion politically. Like a jujitsu master, he will have turned the momentum of the GOP’s self-evident overreaching against it.

So a large part of my opposition to Hillary in 2008 was based on a simple truth: Barack Obama was the better candidate. As his record in office shows, we win as a nation when we elect the better candidate, no matter how good or how bad both may seem.

My life’s proudest vote was not for Obama, although I cast it enthusiastically for him, both times. My proudest vote was for Hubert Humphrey over Richard Nixon in 1968. If more progressives had thought like me: (1) our pointless, losing War in Vietnam would have ended several years earlier; (2) we would not have devastated the region with napalm, unexploded ordnance and Agent Orange—permanently staining our national reputation and giving a permanent headache (literally) to many of our brave troops; (3) our military would have recovered its common sense and public support much earlier, perhaps giving it the confidence to resist misuse in Iraq and Afghanistan; (4) the Watergate scandal never would have happened; and (5) Richard Nixon never would have taught our Republican party the false lesson that demagoguery and negative advertising matter more than policy and ordinary people’s lives.

History matters. Elections matter. And we should never accept second best, whether for our top leader or our party’s nominee. Just think how much better off we all would be today, in every way, if a few hundred more disillusioned Dems and independents had voted for Al Gore in 2000, instead of staying home or voting for Ralph Nader.

But now Hillary will be the best. With the possible exception of Joe Biden who, in my judgment, will be too old and cannot win the nomination against her, she is better than any other candidate likely to run (let alone win) in either party. The only possible Republican exception, Jon Huntsman, Jr., the GOP will never nominate in its present extremist, fractured, and semi-delusional state. And no other mere governor or senator can make up Hillary’s vast head start in national and foreign experience—let alone national campaigning—in just three years.

Anyway, it will take several presidential election cycles, if ever, before the GOP reforms itself and becomes a serious national political party again. Instead it may fracture into two parties or go the way of the Whigs. So, barring war or other unlikely cataclysm, whoever wins the Democratic nomination in 2016 will likely win the presidency.

This prediction holds even if the GOP manages to nominate a viable, moderate candidate like Chris Christie, who just re-won the governorship of New Jersey by a near landslide. Christie is a good man—although not nearly as well qualified to be president as Huntsman. But he will have the same problem that Romney had and that Huntsman, being more moderate still, would have more acutely.

Neither Christie nor anyone else will be able to satisfy the GOP’s red-meat extremists and, at the same time, appeal to the general electorate. He will face the same problem that Romney faced: having to lose the nomination or spin like a weathervane between the primary and general elections, creating the image of a soulless, belief-less, lying salesman.

Romney was one of the smoothest salesmen I have seen running for president in my 68 years. He could say two different things to two different audiences on two separate days and sound convincing and credible to both. He was a master at that sort of “finesse,” which our lying professions (PR, advertising and political “consulting”) have perfected over the last generation, to our serious national detriment.

Yet Romney lost the general election, in large measure for that very reason. There are still enough voters in this nation who remember what happened the day or week before, and who object to a liar and weathervane in our highest office.

Romney was one of the best salesmen we ever had in politics. Apparently he perfected his skill early in his youth, trying to sell the Mormon Church to French Catholics on his mandatory Mormon mission abroad. If Christie or Huntsman tries the same tactics, he will get creamed, both because neither is as skilled (or as unscrupulous) a salesman as Mitt Romney and because everyone will remember Mitt.

The simple fact is that you can’t win our presidency when so vocal and adamant a minority of your party has an ideology and agenda that is so far outside the national mainstream as the Tea Party’s. You can put a good face on it. You can try. You can make lots of noise, as Mitt and his PR legions did.

But you can’t win. And if you can’t win in a down and dragging economy, in the midst of two inconclusive wars, and against a half-black president in a still-racist society, you certainly can’t do it in 2016, when the economy will be much stronger, we will be at peace (thanks to that selfsame half-black president), and the Dems’ candidate’s genetics will reflect not just a 12% minority, but an absolute majority of both people and voters.

The gender factor

Even in 2008, the vast yearning of women for one of their own in the top job was self-evident. And who could blame them?

That yearning has every justification, in both fairness and hope. Women have had the vote for 93 years now, and it’s about time they got a chance at top leadership. As for hope, I can’t say more about women’s potential as leaders than I did in my recent post.

Politically, the impact of Hillary’s gender is huge. Women put Barack Obama in the White House, twice. They helped save us from today’s clueless GOP taking both Houses of Congress. They even helped make Democrat Terry McAuliffe governor of Virginia in last Tuesday’s off-year elections.

As women become more prominent in politics and the news, their influence will only increase. When Hillary gets the Dems’ nod, women’s support and enthusiasm for her will be almost as solid, and every bit as strong, as African-Americans’ for Obama. But unlike African-Americans, women are not a minority; they are the majority, both of our entire population and of registered voters.

Finally, notwithstanding her earlier weak judgment in foreign policy, Hillary, as a woman herself, will know how to maximize the support of all women for her and the Dems. As we saw in 2008, she is a tough, resilient, relentless and skillful campaigner. With her understandable attraction for females, who have never yet seen one of their own in the White House, she well may be unbeatable.

Changing times

From Queen Hatshepsut, through Queen Elizabeth I, to Angel Merkel today, women have done superb jobs in top leadership, the few times they got the chance. But for evolutionary reasons, both biological and social, they never got the chance in wartime. And the sad truth about our species is that we’ve been at almost constant war, at least somewhere on our small globe, for most of our history.

Yet now, for the moment, our Yankee wars are over, or at least winding down. No one in this country (at least no one sane) wants another needless foreign military adventure. We will go to war now only if we or one of our close allies (such as Israel) is under attack or immediate threat. The risk of that happening exists, but it’s low.

The rest of the world has changed, too. The last century’s bellicose tyrants are gone. There are no more Hitlers, Tojos, Stalins or even Maos in charge of great powers today. Instead, there are only Merkels, Abes, Camerons, Hollandes, Putins and Xis. These are men and women who can reason and reason with others, and whose goals lie in preserving their people’s lives, stability, health and prosperity. That means avoiding war.

Even the lesser powers are changing. Iran has replaced Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a leader from the last century’s mold, with Hassan Rouhani, a leader for our more peaceful times. And it has done so in Iran’s first demonstrably free election since we helped depose its duly elected prime minister in 1953. Egypt’s military tyrants are conscious of strong pushback from within their own country (and not just from Muslim extremists!) and from ours. The Little Kim has fired his bellicose “defense” minister and softened his tune. Even the perpetually war-riven Congo seems to be approaching something like peace.

So by the time Hillary takes office, the world will be at peace, or at least more at peace than it has been for most of the last century, maybe in all history. Our police actions of ninjas and drones, awkwardly started by Dubya and superbly organized by our President, will continue to deal effectively with terrorists, as will our vast but now controversial counterintelligence effort. So now is a perfect time for a female leader, not just of the world’s fourth-largest economy, but of the first.

It’s also a perfect time for women’s evolutionary life-preserving instincts to prevail. Those were the instincts that pushed Hillary to work so hard to save the Libyan rebels trapped in Benghazi from slaughter. Those same instincts will now serve her well in a changing world in which even male leaders seek to preserve life rather than squander it. And those same instincts will continue a bold counter-terrorism strategy, which the globe’s great powers all now share.

Hillary can still make mistakes, at least in speech, if not in action. Her calling Russia’s and China’s policies toward Syria “despicable” made us feel good and self-righteous. Her outburst was sincere and probably accurate. But it was also undiplomatic and likely did no good.

What did do good was the President’s making a credible threat of military action, and then he and Secretary Kerry quickly following up when Russia grabbed at the chance of avoiding hostilities by ridding Syria of chemical weapons.

That wasn’t the main goal: Syria’s people are still subjected to Assad’s monstrous atrocities. But it’s a start. Neither Russia nor we want to see those chemical weapons fall into jihadis’ hands. And, after recent setbacks and wistful glances back toward the Cold War, the Russians and we have started to work together for peace, as we both should.

It’s a small step, but it’s a solid and important one. And that’s the way the world will progress from now on, small step by small step. Our species has a long way to go to establish a rational international order, but we’ve made a good start, in economics, in trying to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, and now in effectively outlawing chemical weapons almost everywhere.

The century before today saw Russia’s terrible revolution, two world wars, the first use of nuclear weapons (by us, their inventors), and a Cold War that almost culminated in our species’ self-extinction. Then there were three needless wars on our part: Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. After all those huge missteps, we humans might—just might—content ourselves with just putting one foot before the other—rational social evolution rather than bloody revolution or apocalypse.

It’s not yet clear whether Hillary has fully assimilated this invaluable lesson. But she appears to have come a long way from the woman of 2007-2008, who sought to be “one of the boys”—and consequently bellicose in debates—in order to get elected. If she can be her own woman now, and not try to ape the worst in men, she can be a good leader, maybe even a great one. As Shakespeare advised, “This above all: to thine own self be true.”

Now Hillary has a perfect opening. No sane person in America wants a bellicose president today. We’ve been there and done that, with Dubya. His policy was so “successful” that we fought two needless, decade-long, and inconclusive wars, at hideous expense. Long-term accomplishments, if any, remain to be seen. So Dubya’s own party didn’t invite him to its last convention. It wanted him hidden.

Anyway, foreign policy is no longer our nation’s main concern. Our ten (or eleven) gravest national problems are all domestic, and all of our own making. By 2016, they will have festered, on the average, for an entire generation. The current and probably continuing lull in grave international tension will give us a chance to clean our own house.

That is where Hillary shines. Her greatest strengths and greatest interest have always been in what happens inside our borders. She has the knowledge, the experience, and the empathy to take a nation that has drifted into bashing and even hating its poor and unfortunate (including undocumented immigrants) and put it on a new and better path. She has the passion, the perseverance and the rhetorical skill to replace selfishness as our chief national value with justice, equality and social cohesion, and to make us all, rich and poor, play by the same set of rules and put our shoulders to the wheel. Those are now, and for a few years yet should be, our most pressing concerns.

Conclusion

However desirable equality and parity between the genders may be, women and men are different. Their differences are a direct result of their distinct roles in human biological and social evolution.

Men and their needless wars have held human civilization back for centuries, although male leaders now appear to be wising up. For some deep, evolutionary reason, neither men nor women trust women to run a war.

But as needless wars wind down, it’s time to give women (besides Angela Merkel) a chance. They could hardly do worse than men, especially Dubya, and history suggests they can do a lot better. Hillary is now the right woman, with the right experience, at the right time.

In any event, as long as her health holds up, she has no real competition. In both experience and judgment, the gap between her and men like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio is an order of magnitude greater than the gap between Obama and her in 2008. Better GOP pols like Christie and Huntsman will have little chance to win (or to be nominated) because they evoke little enthusiasm from the GOP’s active and oddly dominant extremist minority.

So now, at last, is Hillary Clinton’s day. The only things that might stand between her and the presidency are her own stamina and health. Good health, Hillary, and good campaigning!

Coda: Why not start now? Why am I publishing this essay now, three years before the 2016 presidential election? There are three reasons, all of them strong.

First and foremost, we Dems have to get organized. Will Rogers once quipped, “I’m not a member of any organized political party. I’m a Democrat.”

It’s time for us to shed that image, get organized, and do what we have to do to win, take our country back from clueless extremists, and save it from further decline. That means picking a presidential candidate early and focusing laser-like on her winning and taking the House and Senate with her.

Anointing Hillary early, if only unofficially, might even help us in the upcoming 2014 midterms. Imagine her impact on women’s incentives and enthusiasm to campaign and vote for Democratic candidates for the House and Senate. Hillary could boost Democratic voter participation by several percent.

In some ways, even the mini-civil-war between Hillary and Obama in 2008 served our interests as progressives. Although a fast learner (about everything!) Obama was new to presidential politics and untested. The long, hard campaign against Hillary tempered him and assured his win against an aging but grizzled politician, John McCain.

But we don’t need that testing any more. Hillary has lots of experience in campaigning. She has strong memories of that mini-civil-war, in which she did the best she could against an unusually superior candidate. She’s married to one of the savviest campaigners in modern Democratic history. And elder-statesman Obama, his presidency about to end, would be glad to lend his advice and superb organizational skills.

For the first time in decades, we Dems would be united and organized against a political foe with a catastrophically dangerous extremist wing. With all this talent working for us, it might be like Johnson-Goldwater all over again.

We Dems could do exceedingly well. All we need is enough drama in our convention and campaign to draw and keep the public’s attention. (The GOP will have plenty of drama, nearly all of it destructive to party unity and general-election success.)

Joe Biden, a good and smart man but not a particularly brilliant speaker or campaigner, will be nearly 73 at the end of the 2016 campaign. He could provide that interest by making what ultimately would prove a token run. He then could take a high position in the third Clinton Administration and serve as long as he liked (and as his health held out).

Second, if we play our cards right, the general election might be a cake walk and a chance to talk about policy, for a change. Under any now-foreseeable circumstances, Hillary’s chances of winning will be so strong, and the GOP so divided, that some of the best qualified GOP candidates may decline to run. Even Christie might. Or he might just sensibly consider his first run a trial run, prepping for some future time when his party had shucked its extremism.

Finally, we Dems have two extraordinary new senators with great potential and (in different ways) great charisma: Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren. Both need seasoning for national office. For the next three years, and especially in 2016 and after, we must introduce them to the entire nation, strengthen their national name recognition, groom them for higher office, and give them experience in foreign and military affairs, which both lack. (Former Republican Senator Richard Lugar, now a casualty of Tea-Party extremism, did just so with a young Senator Obama. [search for “chief mentors”] Can you imagine any Tea Party member, such as Ted Cruz, doing anything similar today?) We ought to consider co-keynote speeches at our 2016 convention and give each of our two new, charismatic senators plenty of time to prepare.

In any event, we Dems should take a page from the Chinese, whose leaders serve five years or more on the top ruling committee before assuming the top jobs. Hillary will be 69 in 2016 and might not serve more than one term. So we must act fast and nurture our “comers” as never before.

If we do these things, we can take the White House and maybe keep it for a generation, as long as Hillary’s health holds up for the campaign and at least one term as president. Our party and our country deserve a long-range plan, something besides the selfishness that the GOP has preached with such political effectiveness—and such economic disaster—for the last thirty years.

With Hillary’s strong position and the GOP’s current disarray, we Dems have a good chance to prove Will Rogers wrong. Let’s take that chance and get to work right away.

Footnote 1: I sometimes call Secretary Clinton by her first name, “Hillary.” In doing so I mean no disrespect. Nor do I have particular affection for her. I use her first name only for style and clarity. I always try to choose the shorter word or shorter sentence to make a point, and using “Hillary,” rather than “Clinton,” distinguishes her from Bill.

Footnote 2: These facts will not be lost on savvy Republican strategists. So it is not impossible that we will have two female candidates for president in 2016.

There are, however, several obstacles. First, the GOP will have to find a qualified woman with more experience, brains and judgment than Sarah Palin—far more. Second, there is no one in the GOP with anything like Hillary’s name recognition, let alone experience in national campaigns or governing. Third—and most important—what makes women women and could make them better leaders than men today does not appeal to much of the GOP, especially its extremists.

The Tea Party and its follow travelers are not big on compromise, pragmatism, flexibility, or empathy. Instead, they prefer selfishness, self-righteousness and genuflection to ideological abstractions—characteristics not usually associated with females.

Getting a good female candidate past the gauntlet of the GOP’s dogmatic extremists will be about as easy as nominating Jon Huntsman, Jr., who will probably still be the best-qualified candidate the GOP could nominate. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for either event.

Anecdote: My 2008 Poll-Worker Experience


During the 2008 general election, I served as a Democratic poll worker—an observer—in a far suburb of Cleveland. (I had already voted early, for Obama.) My job was to advise voters of their rights and watch for and report any possible voter suppression.

The suburban precinct in which I worked was nearly all white. It seemed to be generally well and fairly run. I didn’t see any obvious attempts at voter suppression. I did have the chance to advise one or two voters involved in irregularities (such as trying to vote in the wrong precinct) of their rights.

Toward the end of the day, the GOP workers discovered that the Democrats who had trained me for this work over a week before had failed to get my name on the proper lists. I was ignominiously dismissed.

That was not my finest hour, and it made me think of Will Rogers. But that’s not the point of my story.

As I worked through the day, I noticed something strange. At various times, about a half dozen young white women came to the polls with an odd air of total determination. Head down, speaking to no one, they strode with a sober, purposeful air to the booths, voted and left the same way.

These young women were obviously on a mission. Some may have been voting for the first time. Some may have been voting for the seeming underdog after a dirty, racist campaign. Some may have been utterly disgusted at Dubya’s misrule and hell bent on a change in the ruling party.

I couldn’t ask any of them. That sort of contact by poll workers is strictly forbidden. My imagination went crazy, but I had no idea what was going on. I only had a vague sense that all this determination was good for Obama.

So I was not surprised when I enquired the next day. This lily-white Ohio precinct, in which I saw maybe half a dozen non-white voters while I worked, went for Obama by the same percentage that the nation did.

I then wondered—and still do today—whether these and other young white women would be even more determined in voting, at last, for one of their own gender.

STOPPING SUPERBUGS

As most readers of this blog know, antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” are winning the war against us humans. They killed 23,000 people last year.

The main reason they exist and are winning is our food industry. It gives antibiotics routinely to millions of healthy animals in their feed. So all the bugs that those millions of animals harbor, and which can infect us, are evolving antibiotic resistance, as you read this.

Our medical profession is slowly wising up. In two recent surgeries, I got no antibiotics at all. The docs used antiseptics instead. (These are chemicals that kill the bugs but are so strong they could also kill us if taken internally. Docs use them on our skin, bandages, instruments and equipment, but don’t give them to us internally.)

I didn’t complain because: (1) I got my surgery at elite medical institutions, including the Cleveland Clinic, which know what they are doing, and (2) as a scientist, I know how quickly bacteria can become superbugs. Bacteria reproduce every few minutes, about 3.5 million times faster than we do. So they evolve much faster.

For example, suppose a random genetic mutation makes a normal bug a superbug. If it divides every five minutes, it can become 4,096 superbugs in an hour, or 68.7 billion in a day. Superbugs don’t multiply quite this fast in our and animals’ bodies, but they easily outcompete normal bugs, which antibiotics kill off. That’s why superbugs are so dangerous: they can kick our medicine back to the nineteenth century, before the discovery of antibiotics, when kids regularly died of such things as scarlet fever, and life expectancy was much shorter.

Medical doctors can’t stop the onslaught of superbugs alone. The food industry has to cooperate. Unfortunately, it isn’t. And it won’t without federal regulation.

Consumers Union is one of the few organizations that has lobbyists to face down the food industry’s armies of lobbyists and lawyers. It thinks it has a chance to push for sensible regulation that could save you, your children or grandchildren from a superbug.

CU is mounting a political push right now. Please click here and give its effort just five minutes of your attention. The life you help save could be your own.

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