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

10 July 2016

Rehabilitating Hillary

[There is nothing lacking in Hillary’s competence as a political thinker. In my last essay, I explained why she has a character problem. This essay explain how it hurts her and how she might fix it.]

Background: the defensive crouch

1. Graduate from law school.
2. Put the PR junkies under adult supervision, where they belong.
3. Pick a “Team of Rivals” for the ages, like Lincoln’s.

Background: the defensive crouch

Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton has bad advisors. How do I know? I don’t know her or any of her advisors personally. But I can see the results. So can we all.

It’s strange, really. On anything that doesn’t involve herself personally, Hillary does what you would expect of a graduate of Yale Law School and a student of politics for decades. She studies. She analyzes. She thinks. She synthesizes and articulates. She comes up with a public statement that is balanced and pitch perfect.

That’s what she did last week after the massacre of police in Dallas. She told us the unvarnished truth. The only way we can get through this nightmare as a nation is to have complete empathy for both sides—the innocent, hard-working police who risk their lives daily to protect us, and the equally innocent people of color who are stalked, profiled, harassed, manhandled and sometimes murdered because they have the wrong color, dress wrong, fail to react coolly, or live in the wrong neighborhood.

So Hillary is good to excellent when working on problems that don’t directly involve her or her career. When they do, she invariably assumes a secretive, defensive crouch.

That defensiveness is invariably counterproductive. Sometimes it can be catastrophic, both for Hillary and for the nation.

Virtually every bad decision in Hillary’s political career, and every single so-called “scandal,” was like that. The scandals, in particular, were practically self-generated. Let’s run through them quickly.

Hillary’s most serious error of judgment was supporting Dubya’s unnecessary and disastrous invasion and occupation of Iraq. Self-protection—i.e., protecting her chance to become the nation’s first female president—appears to have been foremost in her mind.

How do we know? Because this lifelong policy wonk didn’t read the National Intelligence Estimate—the top-secret executive summary prepared jointly by our several intelligence services. That document contained page after page of vehement top-secret dissents to war and vehement disputes about the “factual” basis for war. But Hillary didn’t even read it; she just attended slanted briefings of Dubya’s war-bent administration.

And don’t think her staff read it. As a new senator, she had no one on her staff with the appropriate security clearance. Two special, guarded reading rooms were set up in the Senate Office Building, with access to sitting Senators only, and no one on Hillary’s staff.

The report was 90 pages long—a light evenings’s homework assignment for a Yale Law graduate. Yet Hillary didn’t even read it. She self-evidently made her decisions on political grounds. If the war had been a success and she had opposed it, she would forever have been tarred as “weak.” Yet if it got bogged down, as it has, she could “change her mind” along with the nation’s, as she has.

The rest of her so-called “scandals” don’t rise nearly to that level of importance, even all put together. But let’s look at them anyway, just to see how much her reflexive and counterproductive crouches have cost her politically.

After Iraq, the next most telling is Benghazi. There the substance of what Hillary did was unambiguously good. The Tripoli Gestapo, under the command of the madman Qaddafi, had cornered the Benghazi rebels—members of different tribes—and was about to wipe them out. The President was hesitating. He would not use force without UN authorization. So the world came close to witnessing the worst genocide and ethnic cleansing since the Balkans and Rwanda.

Just in the nick of time, Hillary and her team got the necessary UN authorization and convinced the President to use it. We stopped the incipient Benghazi genocide in its tracks, and the Libyan people ultimately deposed and murdered Qaddafi. You can argue about whether deposing a mad tyrant is a good thing, at least without a good backup leadership plan. But it’s hard to argue that stopping a genocide, without significant losses or casualties, was a mistake.

So Benghazi—the actual foreign-policy deed, not the farce of an “investigation” that followed the subsequent murder of American diplomats—was undoubtedly Hillary’s single greatest substantive foreign-policy achievement. Yet she gets no credit for it because of her defensive crouch.

What difference does it make whether the later surprise attack that killed four diplomats morphed out of an otherwise peaceful demonstration or was a carefully planned and executed terrorist attack? In either case, the attack was unforeseen and unforeseeable. Yet by putting out a premature press release with a hasty and incorrect assessment, Hillary and her team seemed to be dropping into a defensive crouch.

The attack dogs smelled fear, and they lunged. Trey Gowdy, the Attack Committee’s chair, even looks like a Doberman, an ill-groomed one at that.

The appropriate response was to condole the families, express sorrow and regret, commission a thorough and prompt internal investigation (to pre-empt any by Congress), and stonily await its conclusions. It was not to issue press releases with premature and ultimately false conclusions. As I wrote, bad advisors.

All the other Hillary “scandals” had much the same cause. From the Vince Foster suicide, through Travelgate and l’affaire Lewinski, past withholding the Wall-Street speech transcripts, to the current e-mail gate, Hillary’s defensive crouch has done her no good. In every case, withholding key information from the public and stonewalling just made the attack dogs strain at their leashes and the public wonder and doubt.

And to cap it all off, there’s Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Who was the best debater in the entire presidential field, in all parties? Hillary. Who tried to limit Hillary’s debates with Bernie? Schultz. Yet another useless, counterproductive defensive crouch, leading voters to believe that Hillary is scared, has something to hide, or wanted to beat Bernie by unfair means.

Of course a lot of this defensive crouch has to come from Hillary. She tries to project confidence, but she must be one of the most personally insecure candidates ever to undertake presidential politics. If that’s so, isn’t that precisely why she needs better advisers, who can tell her when she’s making a mistake, support her, and convince her?

So Hillary needs to clean house, big time. She’s likely to be our president in a little over six months. She needs a presidential team, now, not a bunch of protect-your-ass amateurs. She should clean house and announce her new team, or most of it, at the upcoming convention.

Here are three concrete ways she could form a winning team and make her presidency one for the ages:

1. Graduate from law school.

At long last, Hillary must “graduate” from law school and discover the wider world out there. Virtually all of her defensive crouches and “hide the ball” secrecy come from lawyers. There are too many of them in our government, in our Congress, and on Hillary’s team.

That’s why our nation is stagnant. Lawyers dominate its leadership. They are not trained to get things done. They are trained to protect clients and advance clients’ interests and points of view. Hide-the-ball and stonewalling are standard (and much overused) tactics in litigation. Lawyers are simply not trained to see cause and effect, let alone to shape effect in the medium or long term.

Hillary needs people who can see beyond preparing for depositions, managing evidence, and winning at trial. She needs people like Elizabeth Warren, who knows as much math and finance as she does law. She needs people like Cory Booker, who rushed into a burning building to save a woman, without stopping to calculate how success or failure might look on his resume.

2. Put the PR junkies under adult supervision, where they belong.

Second only to lawyers, Hillary needs to put PR folk in their proper place—subordinate to people who understand the real world and can get things done in it.

Hillary should study up on the 1982 Tylenol crisis. Some maniac put cyanide in extra-strength Tylenol tablets, killing seven people in Chicago. Tylenol sales plunged. The PR folk wrote wonderful apologies, pointing out how minuscule was the chance of getting killed. Lawyers prepared to defend lawsuits.

But like Hillary protecting the real-world Benghazi rebels, the top managers decided to protect innocent customers and their brand. They halted all advertising, recalled the entire nation’s product—about 31 million bottles—and produced new bottles with tamper-proof seals. Today, 34 years later, Tylenol is still a leading brand among over-the-counter pain killers. Not only that: the entire over-the-counter industry, and much of the food and drink industry, has adopted Tylenol’s customer-protective tamper-proof seals.

Hillary needs to act more like Tylenol’s managers in the early eighties, who spent $100 million of short-term losses to win in the long term. She needs to downplay and demote the lawyers and PR folk who focus only on the risk of a trial that may never come, or on the next news release or the next local election.

3. Pick a “Team of Rivals” for the ages, like Lincoln’s.

Hillary’s present advisers are self-evidently bush league (pun intended). She needs to pick new ones: powerful people with independent constituencies, who can tell her forcefully, with the weight of years and experience, when she is wrong.

Today, “Stronger Together” is just a PR slogan, another bit of flotsam in our endless stream of meaningless political babble. But Hillary can make it real by putting Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders in her Cabinet. (Obama cannot be president again, but he can hold any other office, including on the Supreme Court; and he’s decided to stay in Washington for family reasons.) She should also find places for Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, who apparently is languishing in the Senate. He’s a doer, not a debater, who needs executive wings to fly.

Think of the draw of such a cabinet for progressives! Think of the party unity! Think of the FDR-like “brain trust”!

Most of all, think of the future. Throughout her political career, Hillary has made the defensive crouch, with secrecy, her standard response to adversity. She might still become president while maintaining that leadership style. But she won’t win the mandate that the GOP’s division and disarray promise, and her presidency would be wounded from the start.

If she drops the defensive crouch and picks a team of powerful, household-name rivals, she could not only beat Trump. She could crush him. And in the process she could become the transformational president for whom progressives have been yearning since 2007.


The custom of presidents serving no more than two terms was begun by George Washington and broken by FDR. Today it is enshrined in our Constitution, in the Twenty-Second Amendment. That Amendment is very specific in imposing the two-term limit; it says that “No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice . . . .” (Emphasis added.) Thus it prohibits any former president, such as Obama, who has been elected twice, from standing for and being elected president a third and subsequent time.

By its terms, the Twenty-Second Amendment does not preclude a former president from being elevated to the presidency a third time by any non-elective process, such as the elevation of Cabinet members in the event of death or disability under the Succession Act of 1947. And even if it did do that, it certainly wouldn’t prohibit a former president from being appointed to and confirmed to a Cabinet post on the off chance that some unforeseen and unforeseeable disaster might elevate him or her to the presidency.

As for the Supreme Court, there is already a precedent for an ex-president serving not just as any Justice, but as the Chief Justice. William Howard Taft served a single term as president from 1909 to 1913; he was appointed Chief Justice in 1921 and served as such until shortly before his death in 1930.



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