'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Tedium of Hillary Clinton 

As frequent visitors to this blog know, I don't play the liberal blogosphere game of keeping score of the runs, hits and errors accumulated so far in the presidential campaign. My general belief is that presidential campaigns, at least for liberals, serve the enervating purpose of deemphasizing the importance of numerous social justice campaigns by inducing people to believe that, if we just elect the right person, then we will walk down Pennsylvania Avenue into the Garden of Eden.

Every now and then, though, something happens that brings the process, or, at least, some of its participants, into sharp relief. Last week, it happened with Hillary Clinton during the YouTube debate:

The rival camps of Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama clashed today over the meaning of Obama's claim in a Democratic presidential debate that he'd be willing to meet with leaders of rogue nations such as Cuba, North Korea and Iran.

Clinton supporters characterized it as a gaffe that underscored the freshman senator's lack of foreign-policy savvy while Obama's team claimed his response displayed judgment and a repudiation of President Bush's diplomacy.

In a memo from Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton, the campaign contended that Obama's comments played well with focus groups that watched the debate and "showed his willingness to lead and ask tough questions on matters of war."

Obama "offered a dramatic change from the Bush administration's eight-year refusal to protect our security interests by using every tool of American power available — including diplomacy.

Clinton's campaign, meanwhile, portrayed Obama's response as naive — and scheduled a conference call for reporters with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to reinforce the contention.

In Monday's two-hour debate from Charleston, S.C., Obama was asked if he would be willing to meet — without precondition — in the first year of his presidency with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea.

"I would," he responded.

Clinton said she would not.

"I don't want to be used for propaganda purposes," she said. Her campaign quickly posted video of her answer online, trying to show she has a different understanding of foreign policy than her chief rival.

Obama adviser David Axelrod said today that Obama would not just meet blindly with such leaders but only after diplomatic spadework had been accomplished.

Americans "are sick of the Bush diplomacy and aren't interested in continuing it," said Axelrod.

In this brief exchange, Hillary revealed that, if she becomes President, her administration will develop and implement policy in reliance upon the most reactionary attitudes, the most fossilized notions associated with the arrogant display of power. Of course, there is no harm in engaging in diplomatic communications with the leaders of any country, unless, of course, you share the values of a leadership class that believes that the best way to deal with conflict is through ostracism.

And, you guessed it, the neoconservatives loved it:

Since when is Hillary Clinton the idol of conservative pundits?

After Clinton delivered a foreign-policy haymaker to Barack Obama's head during a Democratic presidential debate Tuesday:

• Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard, a neoconservative weekly, wrote that she answered the now-famous "would-you-meet-with-despots" question "firmly and coolly."

• Rich Lowry of National Review, a conservative weekly, gushed: "She excels. ... Clinton has run a nearly flawless campaign and has done more than any other Democrat to show she's ready to be president."

• David Brooks, conservative columnist at The New York Times, wrote that Clinton "seems to offer the perfect combination of experience and change" and is changing perceptions in a way that may persuade voters to give her a second look.

• Charles Krauthammer, conservative columnist at The Washington Post, summed up the Clinton-Obama smackdown: "The grizzled veteran showed up the clueless rookie."

All this from a crowd that has spent the better part of two decades demonizing Clinton and her husband, former President Clinton.

As a matter of political strategy, she is just subjecting us to more of the same triangulation nonsense that marked her husband's presidency. If she puts Obama to rout after this, it may be recalled as her Sister Souljah moment. MoveON.org will no doubt look the other way as she steps forward to accept the Democratic Party's nomination for president.

But I think that there is something more to it. Engaging Venezuela would mean abandoning an emerging bipartisan consensus that Chavez should be removed. Engaging Iran is considered threatening to Israel, and there is even the implied prospect that Obama, through his own reasoning, might find himself, as President, opening a dialogue with Hamas (and, don't doubt that Hillary and her staff haven't pushed these themes strongly within the Jewish community after the debate).

Given this exchange with Obama, and its implications, the prospect that Hillary would break ranks with the foreign policy elite, and withdraw from Iraq, strikes me as improbable, especially given her public statements on the subject. Four years of Hillary would be dreary beyond all comprehension.

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