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Passing the Test

June 9th, 2008

Even among the sites that have been harsh on Hillary until now, there is a lot of graciousness and forgiving going on, even statements of expectation that people who don’t like Hillary should be doing an about face right now. All of a sudden, Hillary is the good guy again.

I have always believed in judging a person’s character not according to whether they’re doing what you want at the moment, but instead by the totality of their actions. I usually do not hold grudges; this is not a rationalization to support an emotional statement. I like what Hillary has finally decided to do, I hope we can get all the support from her that we can. But while I respect all that Hillary has done over her career, this campaign, more than anything else she has done, has revealed a great deal about her character–and it’s not very pleasant in many ways. Sure, she’s tenacious, fights for what she believes in, most of them things I believe in strongly, and she doesn’t give up easily.

However, this race has also shown that she has an ego that goes beyond even the gigantic egos normal to politics; her self-centeredness at times has been stunning. It has shown that while she fights for what she believes in, fighting for herself comes first and foremost, sometimes even to the detriment of those values. It has shown that she plays politics rough and dirty, and does not mind stooping to dishonesty. It has shown that she has no problem changing the rules, breaking the rules, twisting them to her advantage. It has shown that she is perfectly okay with base pandering, using voter-bait which is at the very best useless and meaningless. There is more, but I think you get the idea.

Much of this is reflected in her past record; the vote on Iraq is a good example, showing that she believed that political expediency trumped principles. But with a few possible exceptions during her husband’s tenure in the White House, nothing in her career has pressed her, put her to the test, pressured her enough to show exactly what she is made of more than this primary election battle has. This was the test of her lifetime, and she did not perform well.

Some might excuse her actions late in her campaign as an effort to strengthen the party–by continuing to run, she gave many Americans a reason to register and vote in the Democratic primaries, many of whom may never have registered. And had she run a clean campaign that did no damage, then I could have believed it. But her campaign continued to undercut the Obama campaign, virtually right up to the end. While increased Democratic registration may have been an effect, it was not a cause, in either sense of the word.

I can still respect her for her strengths and her accomplishments. I can still welcome her continued hard work as a senator as well as her support for Obama; she is still a bastion in the Democratic Party and can still accomplish a lot of good things. It is just that the weaknesses she has demonstrated when put to the test have shown that she is not the person I would want in the White House.

This is not about charisma, this is not about oratory skills, nor is it about experience. This is about how you act when things are at their worst. That, to me, matters much more than anything else. And quite frankly, Obama did a much better job than Clinton did when put to that test.

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  1. Tim Kane
    June 10th, 2008 at 00:07 | #1

    Great comments Luis.

    Two things about this cycle I’m pondering these days. First is the reaction of women. I have always had great faith in the intelligence of the womens movement. I am quite simply amazed at the extent they have endowed themselves into Hillary. Quite simply, there are many women who feel Hillary can do no wrong. But quite obviously many, many women have entrusted Hillary. I am amazed at how many intellegent women have entrusted so much on such obviously flawed leadership.

    Prior to this election, maybe I could understand. But after watching her behavior, there is simply no excuse for some of her actions, yet women still back her uncritically. Hmmm.

    The second thing is most profound. I believe that Hillary lost the election, well do to many things, but the biggest thing was that war vote (coupled with the inability to admit a mistake). I believe that war vote was part of the context that energized the youth to be so active for Obama – they are the ones that have to fight the war that Hillary voted to allow, and they will be paying for it for the rest of their lives.

    The youth were endowed with the right to vote during the Vietnam years: since 18year olds could be sent to die, they ought to have a right to vote. In those days the youth took their opposition to the streets. But under Obama, they worked within the system constructively to change things towards the way they want it.

    Nobody is talking much about that yet. But I think it was profoundly important. I think it might be a first in history.

    As for Obama, well, Oliver Wendall Holmes, once said of Roosevelt that “he has a second class intellect and a first class temperament”. It appears to me right now that he has both a first class intellect and a first class temperament. He kept an evil keel through all of this and was one step ahead of Hillary from the word go.

    I’ve always thought that Obama was a big risk, but one with a tremendous upside: meaning as an African-American candidate there was a chance of racist rejection, but also as the best naturally talented politician, perhaps ever, in American politics, he could trigger a big land slide in November. If that pattern starts to emerge, I fully expect McCain to do his own bit to self destruct by gaffe and by angry out burst. This could turn into a route of unheard of proportions. Which means we can have the kind of congress that can turn back the Bush years and build a renewed America. There will always be 30% against him, but these days I have high hopes for him.

  2. stevetv
    June 10th, 2008 at 10:15 | #2

    No offence, and I hope I don’t get flamed for this, but how many American political campaigns have you followed? Because historically speaking, the Clinton/Obama race was not all that nasty. In 1980, Ted Kennedy took the fight all the way to the convention, and he was considerably further behind in the pledged delegates than Clinton was ultimately. As far as nastiness goes, this race doesn’t even compare.

    The vibe I’ve been getting on most pro-Obama blogs lately has been “Clinton shouldn’t dare say things about Obama that aren’t positive.” But that’s what happens when you run for political office.

  3. Luis
    June 10th, 2008 at 23:28 | #3

    So? Does this mean that Hillary is a wonderful leader and should be president?

    I do not recall having said that Hillary was worse than Kennedy, that Kennedy was fit to be president, that this was the nastiest campaign on record, or that Hillary was worse than all other politicians–only that she has an ego that stands out even among presidential candidates and that she has shown qualities that I do not feel are even close to befitting a decent president.

    Do you feel that because you can point to someone you consider worse that this makes Hillary okay? Dubya was way worse than Hillary–look what he did to McCain in 2000–but that doesn’t make Hillary good.

    And if there is one rule that politicians should follow above all others, it is that your party and your principles are more important than you are; to deliberately undercut someone trying to achieve something similar to you is a betrayal of the people who support you; to praise someone who stands against all who support you and say he is better suited to lead is even more a betrayal.

    If Obama had gone negative on Hillary the way Hillary did on Obama, I would have been just as–if not more–disappointed and feeling that he was unworthy.

    I fail to understand how someone else being bad excuses Hillary, that somehow the fact that others have done damage to their own party makes it okay for Hillary to do so.

    If you have such experience that you can instruct me on how this is so, please by all means, do so.

  4. stevetv
    June 11th, 2008 at 00:40 | #4

    If one wants to find a campaign that was nastier than Clinton’s, one doesn’t have to search for some anamoly. Compared to primaries in general, Clinton’s campaign was mild. I was just using Kennedy by way of example.

    Another example: do you have any opinions about Al Gore? He was the one who originated the Willy Horton attack ad on Dukakis.

  5. Luis
    June 11th, 2008 at 11:02 | #5


    Sorry, but you just lost all credibility with me, for two reasons.

    1. You completely ignored the argument made and simply re-iterated the point it addressed; and

    2. You demonstrated that your sources are right-wing pundits whose “facts” you accept uncritically. Specifically, the Al Gore argument. Gore never mentioned Horton’s name, he simply asked Dukakis about the furlough program in general; when Dukakis said the program had been cancelled, Gore did not pursue it further.

    Calling this “nasty” is ludicrous, and to go from there to call it an “attack ad” simply demonstrates that you have no idea what you’re talking about.

    Equating the asking about an administrative police on criminal justice to a starkly racist scare ad campaign is, frankly, one of the more outrageous assertions I’ve heard for a while. While it is true that Republicans may have first heard of this program by listening to Gore mention it, that speaks more to their poor research and less to Gore’s “nastiness.”

    Furthermore, Gore’s question was not even comparable to what Clinton did; Gore asked about a policy and accepted the answer, simply introducing an issue that was already public. Clinton, on the other hand, made a direct statement that the Republican candidate was better suited for the presidency than Obama, giving the Republicans a video clip/sound bite they could simply cut and paste into their own attack ads, giving it the legitimacy of a direct Clinton assertion rather then their own contention.

    If you would like to (a) answer the arguments made and (b) check your facts instead of regurgitating right-wing talking points, I’ll be glad to continue this discussion; otherwise, I have better things to do.

  6. stevetv
    June 12th, 2008 at 04:16 | #6

    You are right about the “attack ad”, and I apologize. I knew he didn’t create any attack ads, either. That was because of my hasty typing.

    But as for the rest, you clearly misunderstand me. Gore’s attack wasn’t nasty because of racial issues. It was nasty because it called Dukakis’s judgement and ethics quite starkly into question. As you say, Gore was the one who brought the issue into the public’s attention. Until then, the Republicans never even thought of it.

    My issue is with the extreme Obama supporters bewailing about how Clinton’s nastiness split the party and hurt the Democrat’s chances. Saying she empowers attacks by the Republicans demonstrates a spotty knowledge of history, if not a haphazard application of their values.

    Clinton did what most anyone (including Gore) seeking office does. She seeked out weaknesses in her opponent and attempted to exploit them. And, if I may be totally frank, let’s come full circle to your original question, which is: why is there so much “graciousness and forgiving” going on? I say it’s because most people weren’t all that appalled with Clinton’s behavior to begin with. When the blogs went into “accuse Clinton of wanting to have Obama assassinated” mode, it’s not because they believed she wanted it carried out. It was just a tool to use when it was politically useful. THAT’S why they don’t hold a grudge.

  7. Luis
    June 21st, 2008 at 10:50 | #7

    Steve: sorry, I didn’t answer your post because I got caught up in other things. Let me try to answer now.

    Gore’s attack wasn’t nasty because of racial issues. It was nasty because it called Dukakis’s judgement and ethics quite starkly into question.

    If that were all there was to it, there would be no problem, so long as there was a fair and factual foundation for such an assertion. I have no problem with one candidate criticizing another; the problem comes with how one does so. If I were to criticize your logic and give a rational basis for doing so, citing evidence and so forth, that would be acceptable. But if I were to start slandering you, making false claims about what you said and what you did, that would be crossing a line.

    As for the Gore-Dukakis debate, I’d have to see the exact transcript. As I have heard it described, Gore simply asked Dukakis to explain the furlough system, and Dukakis explained that it had been terminated (and, I believe, that he had not even instituted it). There’s absolutely nothing wrong with one candidate asking another to explain their previous actions or policy positions; if all Gore did was say, “your state had a furlough system that had problems, you should explain that,” and then accepted Dukakis’ answer… well, what the heck is wrong with that? It would be wrong if one candidate smeared another baselessly, or if one candidate started undermining the party by claiming that the other part’s candidate was better than the in-party opponent. But I have seen no evidence whatsoever that Gore’s query to Dukakis in ’88 was in any way inappropriate. If you could dig up the transcript and show me where Gore was acting inappropriately, I’d be interested–but I suspect that you’re simply assuming facts not in evidence here.

    As you say, Gore was the one who brought the issue into the public’s attention. Until then, the Republicans never even thought of it.

    There is a huge difference between bringing up a subject and making a racist smear campaign based upon the subject. If I were to ask about your choice of browser and you answered “Firefox 2,” and that was it for the exchange between us, but then a reader of this blog found out that the cousin of the wife of the guy who helped design Firefox was a child pornographer and then started posting everywhere that you were supporting kiddie porn… would that somehow demonstrate that I was a nasty smear merchant? Of course not–the guy making the smears would be fully responsible for that, and my query, even if it prompted the smearer to dig into Firefox’s tree of relationships, would remain innocuous.

    Clinton did what most anyone (including Gore) seeking office does. She seeked out weaknesses in her opponent and attempted to exploit them.

    I have no problem with that, as I have said. My own point is that she did this in an unusually destructive way.

    Here’s a simple challenge: can you find any other presidential primary campaign, Democratic or Republican, where a candidate tore down another in their own party by directly and clearly claiming that the candidate from the other party was better qualified than the in-party opponent? Did Gore claim that Bush 41 was better qualified than Dukakis? Did McCain in 2000 claim that Gore would make a better president than Bush? You may be able to find such an instance, but it will be a rare instance, and one heavily criticized at the time.

    This is only one problem I have with Hillary, in any case, and as I have pointed out before, I never claimed that Hillary was the only politician to engage in nastiness, that I was OK with others who played dirty, or that Hillary’s was the worst ever.

    What I fail to see is why I should not be disappointed and critical of Hillary’s campaign.

    Ideally, in a party primary, the challengers will present their own policies and promote their own campaigns in a positive way; this is Reagan’s “eleventh commandment,” which for him was “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” Obama was running this kind of campaign–promoting himself, and keeping criticisms of the others down to friendly debate, even when he was way down in the polls relative to Hillary. But when Hillary found herself challenged, she immediately switched into high attack mode, something Obama never entered fully–he started to go negative in response to Hillary, and certainly gave a good fight, but never sunk to her levels, and that’s partly why I admire his campaign–and why i do not admire Hillary’s.

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