Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 21, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

BOLD STROKES....I was emailing with Matt Yglesias the other day and, among other things, suggested that one reason he didn't like Hillary Clinton was because she was too hawkish. But "hawkish" is pretty lazy shorthand, and he said his real problem with her (and her foreign policy team) was more specific. Today he explains:

The problem is that I think she's unlikely to try any of the bold strokes necessary to turn our situation around. I don't see her trying for a grand bargain with Iran, don't see her making the tough choices necessary to revitalize the NPT, don't see her taking political risks on the Arab-Israeli confict, don't see her acting boldly and decisively on Iraq, and don't see her accomplishing anything particularly innovative and interesting in terms of UN Reform.

By contrast, I think an Obama administration (and probably an Edwards administration as well) will include some people at high-levels who are pressing for those things, and will be led by a man who has some inclinations in those directions. I think Clinton and her people are too narrowly political, too complacent about the depth of America's problems in the world, and, yes, maybe too inclined to believe that if the shit really hits the fan all that'll happen is that public support for the use of force will revive and that under new, more competent leadership, the armed forces will resolve the situation by waging a new war.

This is unquestionably a better way of framing the issue. Arguing about whether someone is "hawkish" usually just ends up as an argument over semantics and temperament. It's not completely useless, but it's not very enlightening either.

By contrast, the "bold strokes" argument at least provides an opening for a more substantive conversation. There's still some mind reading and tonal analysis required, since the candidates haven't all spelled out clear positions on the issues Matt mentions, but it's a step in the right direction.

I'm not going to try to definitively take a side on this question, but I do think that this is a potentially productive way of looking at things. And while Matt's critique of Hillary is persuasive, here's the flip side: do you think the world is really likely to be moved by bold strokes? It's possible that my skepticism on this is due more to our age difference than anything else, but I'd say the odds are slim. The institutional forces at work are huge, and I think they mostly respond to patient pressure, smart and knowledgable diplomacy, well-timed compromise, and a clear sense of how the world really works and where you can successully insert a helpful wedge. People who parachute into gigantic institutions — and this is the biggest institution of them all — thinking that they can cut through all the various Gordian knots with bold initiatives are likely to be disappointed.

But then there's this: every once in a great while, someone who thinks that way turns out to be right. And they end up being an enormous force for change. The question is, is Obama that guy? And is the world currently a fertile place for a brand new vision of American foreign policy? More on this later.

POSTSCRIPT: Honesty compels me to remind everyone that I have a longstanding belief that although vision and strategy are important, execution is more important. See here, for example. So feel free to dismiss me as a hopeless technocrat if you like.

UPDATE: Also worth noting on this same subject: the almost-never-wrong Mark Schmitt on the "Theory of Change" primary. He makes some sharp points.

Kevin Drum 2:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (95)

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Comments

I'm with you. (Also older than you.) As an example of what happens, I'd nominate Bush's Millennium Challenge Account as an attempt to do something bold, particularly for a Republican President, back in 2002. What's happened to it--as far as I can tell it's been ground down so its reality never matched the promise. Even if there are possibilities there, when its sponsor leaves office, his successor will say: "not invented here" and kill it.

Posted by: Bill Harshaw on December 21, 2007 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

The institutional forces at work are huge

"Institutional Forces" is just a shorthand for entrenched individuals with an agenda.

At this point, things are so bad that ANY Change is likely to bring improvement. Count me among those who think HRC represents just more of the same. (An institutional force in her own right if you will.)

Posted by: Paul Dirks on December 21, 2007 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think it is really very difficult to determine who is "hawkish". Candidates who run around, or whose advisers run around, talking about the need for "muscular" policies and implying that the United States can, should, and will use military force to compel other nations and peoples to do its bidding are hawkish. Clinton spoke yesterday about the need for policies that "avoid war with Iran". How about, oh, I dunno, NOT LAUNCHING AN UNPROVOKED WAR ON IRAN? That might prevent war with Iran. But Hillary is too busy being "muscular" and listening to "muscular serious advisors to avoid looking "weak" to consider this option.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on December 21, 2007 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

You know what is bold? Not campaigning with homophobes, and having your health-care plan be universal.

Posted by: Gore/Edwards 08 on December 21, 2007 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

Question: When was the last time a "grand bargain" worked in the Middle East?

Posted by: Kevin Sullivan on December 21, 2007 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

Obama is that guy. And the world is currently a fertile place for a brand new vision of American foreign policy.

twixed.

Posted by: mestizO on December 21, 2007 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

You don't think bold strokes have an effect? What have we been watching for the last seven years? A radical extra-constitutional theory of the Presidency has been mainstreamed.

We are having serious discussions about whether we ought to torture people or not, or whether certain forms of torture are really "torture" at all. Secret prisons, tossing aside the Geneva Convention, etc.....these are very bold strokes that have changed our place in the world drastically.

Invading Iraq without international support was very bold. And what has that gotten us?

I absolutely think that bold strokes will make a difference -- I just want them made in the opposite direction as they've been going.

And I agree that Senator Clinton will probably be an incrementalist who will take small steps within the system and check all the meter readings at each step. That's why I'm lukewarm on her and would rather have Edwards, who is prepared to smash some pottery....

Posted by: zmulls on December 21, 2007 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

Oh yeah - Dubya was bold in believing that by invading Iraq and taking out Saddam, the dynamics of the Middle East would be altered to the benefit of the US. Over four years later, we have a growing Shia power in the Middle East, a potential Iraq-Iran alliance, and growing anti-American tilt to the region. Count me as one who prefers competence on a daily basis rather than bold strokes. The latter entails too much risk, when just the simple ability to get useful things accomplished would be a major step forward.

Posted by: Auster on December 21, 2007 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

"Institutional forces" get moved when leaders stake out strong positions, organized groups get important parts of the public on board, and polls report public agreement. Then the bargaining really begins, and you get somewhere about a third of the way between the strong position and what the "forces" want.

Hillary is a trimmer. Her initial positions aren't that far from what the "institutional forces" want already because she's already calculated what the endgame will be and telegraphs what she'll accept.

Obama is someone we're all going to be very tired of about six months after he wins, if he does. I've only paid him a little bit of attention and he already makes me tired. I don't like his clipped, smug-sounding tone-- it's too close to bush. Which may be what the media types like about him.

Edwards and Kucinich are closest to being able to start with a strong negotiating stance, but the "forces" won't let them anywhere near the White House. The "forces" are with Hillary because they know they can live with her, and that if she's elected *they* won't be in anyone's cross-hairs. Slavering attack dogs of the right will just keep up the game.

Of course, I'm just going by her record. Who knows? Once she's got the ultimate power she might actually change her spots. At least one can always hope.

Posted by: Altoid on December 21, 2007 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

> Count me as one who prefers competence on a
> daily basis rather than bold strokes. The latter
> entails too much risk, when just the simple
> ability to get useful things accomplished would
> be a major step forward.

The problem that if "competence" includes "following the foreign policy and military advice of the Washington DC Village insiders" then it is not clear why the results will be much different from W's. In fact one can argue that the Cheney/Bush approach was better than the Villagers' because it did at least include some decisive action. As far as I can see the Villagers are in favor of the general outline of the Cheney/Wolfowitiz/Bush theory - they just want it done slower and more competently. And I get the strong impression that HRC agrees with that.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on December 21, 2007 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

Bold strokes or not, Hillary Clinton will never act without the permission of the DC Chatterboxes. Thanks to the way our media works, she will spend most of her presidency explaining why her policies are not aimed at helping the terrorists eat your children.

I have no idea if Obama is brave enough to pull off anything extraordinary. But if he was so inclined, he could certainly sell his position.

Hillary Clinton will only be capable of treading water, if she's lucky.

Posted by: enozinho on December 21, 2007 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

But then there's this: every once in a great while, someone who thinks that way turns out to be right. And they end up being an enormous force for change. The question is, is Obama that guy?

Is anyone else closer to that guy/gal? Nope.

Posted by: cboas on December 21, 2007 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

Fuck bold strokes.

In the Middle East, Dubya's policies have been nothing if not bold strokes.

And if he and Cheney had their druthers, the US would take the bold stroke of launching another unprovoked war by nuking Iran.

No more 75-yard Hail Mary passes into the endzone. I'd be content with simple but competent blocking and tackling to grind out a 3-yard gain.

Posted by: Auto on December 21, 2007 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

It seems to me that Hillary Rodham Clinton has had many opportunities to execute in her career and has delivered on relatively few (and minor) occasions.

Barack Obama has a history of successfully executing.

Richardson and Biden are probably the best at executing. Dodd has some accomplishments too.

Edwards is sorta like HRC. Other than campaigning, what has he executed.

Posted by: Carl Nyberg on December 21, 2007 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

I knew Yglesias was in the bag for Obama when I read his post about Obama from a session with bloggers at the DailyKos "I'm struggling with how to express the fact that Barack Obama was stunningly impressive in . . . a secret off-the-record session with a few bloggers that I can't really talk about since it was off-the-record. It was, to me, much more compelling than what he offered at the debate on the record."

To me, this is very telling. I like Yglesias and regularly read him. I've come to believe that he identifies with Obama more than with the other candidates, in part because Obama is the young man, who also graduated from Harvard, in the race. He sees in Obama what he wants to see, in part, because he sees himself. I don't think it's a coincidence that his praise of Obama consistently focuses on how he sees Obama as taking on the foreign policy establishment and wanting to change the way that policy is made.

Hmmm, a young guy who wants to replace the establishment and bring a fresh perspective to policy. I wonder why that would appeal to Matthew Yglesias?

We all do this. There's no question that part of why I like Hillary Clinton, and trust her judgement more, is that I more easily identify with her because I'm a female lawyer and have worked as a policy wonk. Who wouldn't want one of us running the country? We're brilliant!

Same thing with Yglesias, who better to run the country than someone just like Matthew Yglesias!

Posted by: BDB on December 21, 2007 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

I am happy to admit that I have drunk the Kool-Aid. Obama is that guy. I really think he is. I think that beyond being inspirational, he is very clever and quietly goes about preparing the ground before him to prepare for large tasks.

Posted by: chris brandow on December 21, 2007 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

Hillary -- like the other Democratic front-runners -- will also surely pander to Israel and the Israel lobby too damned much. (I'm reading Walt-Mearsheimer right now.)

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on December 21, 2007 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

Since Kevin Sullivan said what I wanted to say, I will simply note that it is after 3pm eastern time (the time zone that matters) and I see no cat pictures on this blog.

Posted by: Brian on December 21, 2007 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

I think you are a realist, not a hopeless technocrat. But you are right, this is a MUCH more interesting way of framing the issue than we have been treated to this election season. For myself, I firmly believe in the "small steps" notion of getting from framework A to framework B. I doubt strongly that bold strokes will reverse Islamic radicalism, the Arab-Israeli peace/conflict or the political stalemate in Iraq. It is possible I grant you, but only after a significant period of carefully reversing the past 7 years (wont be done overnight no matter who is Prez) and carefully laying the groundwork, which I think was HRC's original point on the "will you meet with them in your first year" debate question. The roots of these issues go way back and will be just as intractable as they were years ago, no matter who is Prez. Accordingly, someone well plugged into the International political world, such as a HRC, is more likely I think to make progress in that regard. Also, I see no audience in Arabia that would be receptive to a grand stroke. It is more typical for the Arab political style to work slowly, piece by piece over very long periods of time. I caveat all of this by confessing that Obama is such an unknown in what his International political style would be that I could be completely wrong. Either way, the Dem gets my vote.

On the other hand, consider this. It was Bill Clinton's bold stroke in Ireland that helped pave the way to the eventual resolution of that conflict, so I dont even grant the premise that the Clintons are not capable of bold strokes. And it was Bill Clinton's bold stroke that finally acted in Kosovo-Serbia. I call it a bold stroke because everyone else had run from the issue for years (including Clinton and, shamefully, Bush 41), and the country was dead set against his intervention when it happened. So maybe they are bolder on the International stage than they are elsewhere. I just keep coming back to famous line from Sagan's CONTACT" "Small steps Ellie, small steps."

Posted by: Jammer on December 21, 2007 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

Obama is not that person.

My projection of what Obama communicates is accept and acquiesce to corporate power, American hard power, Israeli hard power, demonizing Iran, the end of welfare and small wealth transfers. Obama's boldness consists of telling me not to protest against all of the terrible things my country does and stop clamoring for positive change. I find no hope in Obama's message.

Posted by: Brojo on December 21, 2007 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

>"Edwards and Kucinich ... the "forces" won't let them anywhere near the White House. The "forces" are with Hillary because they know they can live with her, and that if she's elected"

Tip of the hat... the situation concisely nailed down in a single paragraph.

>"Hillary -- like the other Democratic front-runners -- will also surely pander to Israel and the Israel lobby too damned much. "

AIPAC and their allies are 'THE' force in Washington. Quite literally you can't hold office without their approval.

Remember way back when... early in the Bush regime when he made a few noises about a fresh deal for Palestine. Heh, that effort lasted 1 day. I reckon he got 'the phone call' that very night. I wish NSA had wiretaps on the White House phones.... hmmm.... I wonder....

Posted by: Buford on December 21, 2007 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

To steal the football analogy from Auto:

What you're basically asking here is whether or not we want a team that goes for the endzone every single play, or one that ginds it out in a methodical way (kind of the 1999 Rams -- Obama -- vs. the late 70s Steelers -- Hillary).

The problem is that those are not, in reality, the only choices.

What we need is someone willing to call those three-yard off tackle plays, over and over again, to soften things up and test the defense. Then, once the defense gives you the look you want, you go for it all.

I post that because the past seven years have proven that, if all you do is take bold action, you throw too many interceptions, the other team gains momentum, and you wind up losing the game.

The only one I've seen who can execute the right type of game plan is Edwards. He has the experience to know how the game works and, thus, understands why you call those fullback draws. At the same time, he has the chutzpah to send all the WRs on a fly pattern when he sees single coverage and no safety deep.

Okay ... sorry. As a Chiefs fan, it's been a long, long football season and I haven't had many chances to discuss the sport I love.

:-)

Posted by: Mark D on December 21, 2007 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

Uh Kevin, have you ignored Hillary's foreign policy stances for the past 6 years? She has voted through every Bush bill. How do you not see an obvious difference between Her and Obama or Edwards.

Just because Hillary is "competent" doesn't mean she isn't foolish and misguided. I'll second Cranky's opinion that Hillary is a Villager true, and true and will just give us more of the same as Bush maybe with slightly better execution, but almost equivalent results. I don't even see how Hillary being a Villager is even controversial.

Neither Obama or Edwards are villagers. That's enough for me to support either one of them over HRC.

Posted by: Jor on December 21, 2007 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with your assessment of Hillary Clinton but I don't perceive the possibility of bold action from Barrack Obama. His speeches are rhetorical and hopeful but there is very little there there, something that he evaded criticism for for most of this campaign, that would actually point to future bold action. John Edwards seems most likely to take bold action.

Posted by: DBundy on December 21, 2007 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

I confess to being one of the [apparently] many wet Republicans that have also drunk the Obama Kool-Aid. For a long time I supported McCain because I thought he would have the resume and gravitas to be another Eisenhower and really shake up the conventional wisdom on nukes and force postures... I may end up going back to him if Obama fades and he continues his surprising resurrection. In the meantime I see Obama as the Bobby Kennedy of our time, someone who could transcend the buzzwords to see the essence of the other side's argument, without losing the support of the Matt Yglesiases. If Obama survives the dirtiest election in American history, where the bottom-dwellers will make an issue of his apple-cheeked 18 year old white Kansas mom seduced by a playa rivaling Flava-Flav, it will say a lot about this country. He will have a mandate to make some substancial changes, and I think he has the temperament to use that power to do some good.

Posted by: mr insensitive on December 21, 2007 at 4:03 PM | PERMALINK

I think Clinton and her people are too narrowly political, too complacent about the depth of America's problems in the world

This applies to Clinton for both foreign and domestic policies, and it's as good a one-sentence summation of why I favor the other 2 Dem candidates over her on policy grounds. The reason I dislike her is that she is running primarily on her time as first lady, which is not a credential at all.

Posted by: Mitch Schindler on December 21, 2007 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

> What we need is someone willing to call those
> three-yard off tackle plays, over and over again,
> to soften things up and test the defense. Then,
> once the defense gives you the look you want, you
> go for it all.

No, what I want is an Administration that gets the United States off the football field, stops playing games like overgrown kids given deadly weapons, and starts acting like responsible adults. Since HRC is deeply tied into the DC Villagers I see absolutely no chance of this happening under her. HRC's openly stated goal is to govern as a competent 1960s country-club Republican.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on December 21, 2007 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

That's why I'm lukewarm on her and would rather have Edwards, who is prepared to smash some pottery.... zmulls

Exactly. Smashing pottery *is* a bold stroke, and if it's clear that the pottery needs to be smashed, what good does it do to fuss over how to smash it? Once you start fussing over "execution", all you are doing is delaying the inevitable. If you've got a consensus on what needs to be changed then what you need is bold execution.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on December 21, 2007 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK

"Institutional forces" is a euphemism for America's Ultra-Rich Ruling Class, Inc., a.k.a. "the top one percent", a.k.a. "Bush's base".

These are the people who own the Republican Party (and much of the Democratic Party), who were not satisfied with merely being ultra-rich and getting richer faster than anyone else during the Clinton years -- they wanted it ALL, so they arranged to steal the 2000 election and install the career corporate criminals Bush and Cheney to loot the US Treasury, shift taxation from corporations and the ultra-rich onto everyone else, deploy the US military in wars of unprovoked aggression for corrupt purposes of private financial gain, and fill the Executive branch with corporate lobbyists and lawyers who routinely violate the law and screw the American people in obedience to their corporate owners.

These "institutional forces" are looking to put into power a President who will substantially continue the Bush agenda, albeit with more competent execution of the wars of unprovoked aggression, and perhaps with a few more crumbs from the table to keep the masses quiescent (a "kinder and gentler" corporate dictatorship).

You can easily see who are the favored candidates of the "institutional forces" by examining the mainstream corporate media coverage.

That's why, for example, Dennis Kucinich does not exist in the corporate media, except as the butt of jokes by "debate moderators" who are tasked with ridiculing anyone who proposes anything like universal nonprofit medical insurance under efficient, open and transparent public administration, or a foreign policy that is based on creating actual peace and security rather than using the US military as a corporate mercenary army to seize control of the world's oil reserves.

The very fact that Clinton and Obama are considered "serious" candidates by the corporate media suggest to me that they will do little or nothing to address the fundamental changes that are needed in this country. If they were actually serious about fundamental change, they would not be regarded as "serious" candidates.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on December 21, 2007 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, you can say that Mark Schmitt is "almost-never-wrong", but how do you account for a howler like this, from his article:

Claiming the mantle of bipartisanship and national unity, and defining the problem to be solved (e.g. universal health care) puts one in a position of strength, and Republicans would defect from that position at their own risk.
Think for a little moment about how that would play out. Obama declares that the problem to be solved is one in which he will bring about "bipartisanship", and "national unity". Yet the moment he gets down to trying to pass legislation, there is, instead, nothing but nearly unanimous Republican dissent, and the famous "bitter controversy" from all the current stakeholders in the debate.

Please tell me how, under those circumstances, which are predictable as day following night, Obama and his claim to "the mantle of bipartisanship and national unity" don't look foolish, naive, and simply laughable.

Mark Schmitt seems to imagine that ginning up some fine rhetoric about how well this is going to play out for Obama turns the sow's ear of political reality into a silk purse. Honestly, he reminds me precisely of Obama when he talks like this.

Posted by: frankly0 on December 21, 2007 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

Arguing about whether someone is "hawkish" usually just ends up as an argument over semantics and temperament.

Which is why hawks use it.

In American politics, taking the "hawk" position never involves risk. It requires neither guts nor brains (nor plans, nor details, if recent history is a guide).

Cheap, easy, and meaningless. Kinda like religion.
.

Posted by: Grand Moff Texan on December 21, 2007 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK

Bold was the word Hughes and Rove would stress to their compliant media. Bush's BOLD action this and bold action that. What a crock. The country has grown nervous and skeptical of boldness.
Incrementalism and pragmaticism: Decide on a goal, work towards it; and, if one method fails, try another. If, in retrospect, the policy turns out to be counterproductive, abandon it.

...Hillary Clinton will never act without the permission of the DC Chatterboxes...enozinho

The DC gasbags hate the Clintons. Nothing they could do except disappear would satisfy that lot.
...I see Obama as the Bobby Kennedy of our time...mr insensitive 4:03PM

When he was campaigning. RFK was never wishy-washy or squishy.

The most important thing in '08 is to replace the loons in power.

Posted by: Mike on December 21, 2007 at 4:51 PM | PERMALINK

Precisely what I find utterly wrongheaded about Obama's approach, and essentially correct about Edwards is this.

Obama talks about fostering "bipartisanship" and "unity", where he means by the first getting both Democrats and Republicans to agree, and by the second, bringing all the current stakeholders in an issue to the table and somehow resolving their differences. I don't see how in today's political context that is possible or even desirable, given the sorry, compromised legislation it would engender. The underlying differences are simply basic, and they are not going to go away due to some fine speechifying by a new President, whatever his gifts along those lines might be.

Edwards, on the other hand, is in fact seeking a kind of unity too, but really a unity among actual voters, who want the problems solved, and in particular ways that really for them. Neither the Republican Party nor many of the current stakeholders in the issue in question may find anything positive in the solution that the people seek, and over which they are pretty much unified.

This is called, I think, populism. It is what I should think most progressives would find most desirable and worth working for. It involves going above the heads of the politicians and other corporate stakeholders and appealing directly to the people.

Between the two, I can't understand why virtually every person who styles themselves a progressive wouldn't be instinctively inclined toward Edwards' approach (albeit he might not necessarily be the most effective example of it).

Honestly, I find myself wondering with many Obama fans if they don't come to support him because they see it as a political fashion statement. Given all the clear signs that he's willing to do things that will undermine progressive policies (SS "crisis" statements, right wing health care rhetoric, pre-emptive and unnecesary compromise with Republicans and corporate interests), I just don't see in Obama or his supporters any serious, urgent desire to bring about a more progressive America.

Posted by: frankly0 on December 21, 2007 at 5:23 PM | PERMALINK

I think the Emancipation Proclamation is the epitome of Presidential boldness -- and worth examining for the parallels.

First, Lincoln was being hammered as a squish by his base, like Horace Greeley.

Second, he responded to Greeley in the masterful letter when he said "my purpose is to save the Union..." Think of that letter in a modern context -- if there had been blogs, Greeley and his mob would have FRIED Lincoln for refusing to see what THEY saw, that the war was about slavery and only the utter destruction of the slave power made the slaughter worthwhile. LOL -- face it, how many of you guys would have been howling after him -- or been gracious, and not carping, when he did it?

Third, Lincoln already knew he was going to do Emancipation. He told the truth in the letter, that it was to save the union, but he did NOT say that he was going to emancipate the slaves in 'those parts that shall be in rebellion'.

Fourth, he neither consulted nor asked for approval from his Cabinet. He simply TOLD them what he was going to do, so they wouldn't be surprised.

Finally, he took advice: Stanton told him to wait until after a victory, so it wouldn't look desperate.

So, the parallels to some as-yet-unknown Bold-tude: trouble with the base, deceptive candor TO the base, the base's insufferable and unproductive criticism, a President who already knew his own mind and kept his mouth shout about it, keeping the Cabinet informed without seeking their approval, and finally: taking a damned good piece of advice. (Think of what the Emancipation Proclamation would have looked like after the Peninsula Campaign but before Lee invaded Maryland, after First Wilderness, but before Gettysburg.)

Any suggestions for WHAT the next President could do, to be EFFECTIVELY bold?

Posted by: theAmericanist on December 21, 2007 at 5:28 PM | PERMALINK
So although Matt's critique of Hillary is persuasive, here's the flip side: do you think the world is really likely to be moved by bold strokes?

Its certainly never been moved by anything else.

The institutional forces at work are huge, and I think they mostly respond to patient pressure, smart and knowledgable diplomacy, well-timed compromise, and a clear sense of how the world really works and where you can successully insert a helpful wedge.

All those things are useful, but those who do have a clear sense of how the world really works and where (and how) you can successfully insert a "helpful wedge" seem to realize that a "helpful wedge" is often just going out and making things happen -- with bold strokes -- until the institutional systems fall into line behind you.

On the big, dramatic, impossible to ignore, headline-grabbing level both Clinton and NATO (in the Balkans) and Bush and "Coalition of the Willing" (in Iraq) [with dramatic differences in justification and competence of conception, planning and execution, to be sure] illustrate that. But its true in the world of reimagining models of aid, and everywhere else in the international system as well: the only way the system does anything but serve as a forum for useless chatter is when someone up and does something that shows a way forward in a way that forces people to pay attention.

Posted by: cmdicely on December 21, 2007 at 5:45 PM | PERMALINK

1. Pathologic narcissism + power + "bold strokes" = danger.

2. The country is fractured along many fault lines, - religion, race, wealth, education. Dealing with problems outside the country are going to take a candidate who can first transcend the fault lines on the inside. Obama has no demonstrated ability to do this. (BTW, Obama's use of religion in his latest Christmas ad is an example of how dishonest he is. His Trinity Church in Chicago does not even celebrate Christmas. Says a lot about character).

Posted by: Chrissy on December 21, 2007 at 5:47 PM | PERMALINK

P.S. meant to add his congregation celebrates Kwanzaa, a celebration which precludes the celebration of Christmas as well.

Posted by: Chrissy on December 21, 2007 at 5:54 PM | PERMALINK
D o you think the world is really likely to be moved by bold strokes?

My guess is that some people are willing to go out on a limb, even politicians, but that when they succeed it is because a big portion of society at large was ready for that change. It may only be obvious in hind sight, but people were ready. Luck can also be factor.

FDR helped bring about big changes, but our society was fed up with the status quo. Most thought that something has to be done.

I don't see her trying for a grand bargain with Iran, don't see her making the tough choices necessary to revitalize the NPT, don't see her taking political risks on the Arab-Israeli conflict, don't see her acting boldly and decisively on Iraq, and don't see her accomplishing anything particularly innovative and interesting in terms of UN Reform.

This statement by Yglesias is very interesting to me. On each issue, my guess is different than his. Like her husband, she would definitely try to do something about the Arab-Israeli conflict. She would aggressively try to completely undo Bush on Iran and Iraq. She would work through the United Nations and all the international institutions. The NPT? Are you kidding me, Matt? You really think she’s a Republican?

My thought is that Matt has allowed his anger over the AUMF vote to cloud his perception. More on that in a minute, gotta go.

Posted by: little ole jim on December 21, 2007 at 5:55 PM | PERMALINK

little old jim,

Yeah my reaction too to Yglesias' list was that it was strange and baffling.

To begin with, what is to be done about Iraq that might be "bold and decisive", other than getting out (which all Democrats will do anyway)? What "grand bargain" with Iran do we need that Hillary wouldn't pursue? Is it really unimaginable that she would not seek an accommodation with Iran not unlike the one Bill Clinton established with N. Korea? What more is needed? And, as you say, why wouldn't she be as much committed to real change in the ME as was her husband? Where's the expected insufficiency here? And as for NPT, I likewise have no idea what Yglesias might be alluding to as some anticipated deficiency in Hillary's approach.

I have a feeling that Yglesias was just making some shit up here.

Posted by: frankly0 on December 21, 2007 at 6:07 PM | PERMALINK

Clinton and Bush are not very different on foriegn policy. In a nutshell they agree on a foriegn policy that is entirely US centric with the US at the centre of any major policy initiative, acting as the world's policeman and with consequently no limits on the exercise of American military power. I think you are arguing that the problem with the Bush/Clinton forigen policy is execution, not the basic policy itself. You are misreading the international situation. The world, not just America, has changed in the last seven years. America is no longer, and never will be again, so much stronger than the rest of the world that all serious international diplomacy runs through Washington. There will be increasingly powerful regional groupings and worldwide agreements that run counter to US interests that the US can do nothing to stop. The recent Kyoto conference in Bali where the US got clobbered and was even told off by the representative of Papua New Guinea is how the future is going to work. You desperately need a president who is comfortable with this and most importantly, can make the American people comfortable with it too.

Posted by: swio on December 21, 2007 at 6:08 PM | PERMALINK

Hillary Clinton's stump speech is built around the speechwriter's rule of three, applied to theories of change: one candidate believes you achieve change by "demanding" it, another thinks you "hope for it," while she alone knows that you have to "work for it."- MarkSchmitt

This is overly simplistic. Any of the three major Dem candidates would have to have all three of these qualities in abundance to accomplish the change that is needed. Schmitt thinks that Obama is a better choice because he will produce more productive "committees" and therefore we will get a better outcome as a result. Given that we are electing someone in the Executive Branch instead of Congress, I think it is far more important that you have somebody in the White House that is willing to sign something substantive.

I don't think there's some cross-partisan truth; I understand that the Republican conservatives are intractable. - Mark Schmitt

What will soften them up is a further big erosion of their power in Congress in 2009. Most of the pols do not accept that the country as a whole is moving to the left. Most of the Republicans are confident that America really believes all their horseshit. An even bigger problem is that too much of the Democratic party still believes the country is over in right field-and it isn't. While the Repubs are now seriously split between social and economic conservatives, the Dems are just in the beginning stages of a major split of their own between the conventional wisdom of the globalist neolibs and, well something else... I was going to say "traditional liberalism", but I think it will be beyond that. Basically, the populace is tired of the Republicans in general and they are tired of RepublicanLite™ from the Dems and the Dems just ain't gettin' it.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on December 21, 2007 at 6:15 PM | PERMALINK

What do we know about Obama other than he is snor-y and stinky in the morning and might attack Iran and Pakistan to open two more fronts?

'Michelle Obama, wife of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois disclosed that her two girls refuse to cuddle with her husband in the morning because he is too "snore-y and stinky."'

Posted by: Luther on December 21, 2007 at 6:17 PM | PERMALINK

Bold strokes usually occur unexpectedly. Nixon didn't campaign on opening relations with China and LBJ didn't campaign on Civil Rights but they both ended up championing bold strokes.
Trying to forecast the likelihood of bold strokes in the presidency of any of these candidates is just another variant of the horse race. It's a subjective cudgel to use on your opponent's POV. I like all three simply because none of them are GwB-like.
I do agree with my kids that Obama is or should be the front runner just for offering (whether he means it or not) hope.

Posted by: TJM on December 21, 2007 at 6:26 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not sure if it translates into Bold Strokes, but I do think that either Edwards or Obama are more likely to enter the office with thoughts of what they'd like to get done and how; as opposed to a Clinton II operation even more focused on 2012 than Clinton I was on 1996.

Posted by: jhm on December 21, 2007 at 6:34 PM | PERMALINK

Frankly0, I think you're falling into a trap that lots of Obama-phobes fall into: when you talk about why you think he's not progressive, you focus on rhetoric (social security "crisis," healthcare rhetoric, and bipartisan goo-goo-ism are your examples).

But look at policy--on social security, he uses a GOP frame is a wedge for proposing a genuinely progressive policy--raising the payroll tax cap. Has Edwards weighed in on this? I know Hillary did, and she blasted it. So, who's more progressive?

As for healthcare--the essential difference between the big 3 is Obama doesn't want mandates. We can argue about whether he's right on the merits, but it's not at all clear to me why mandates are more progressive. Moreover, Obama is also on record as saying the ultimate goal should be single-payer, but his plan recognizes that we're starting from a world where that's not a realistic near-team aim.

As for goo-goo-ism, well--maybe he's right, maybe he's wrong. You still need 60 votes in the Senate to get stuff done, and I think Schmitt gets Obama exactly right here: he emphasizes bipartisanship as a tactic, not as a goal. He wants to listen, because that makes it more likely to get people in the middle to take him seriously. He may be wrong, but it's not at all clear to me how the alternatives (Edwards' combative rhetoric, Hillary's, um . .. whatever she does) are necessarily better.

Cheers.

Posted by: marcj on December 21, 2007 at 7:15 PM | PERMALINK

I think Kevin is right--the idea that Obama can parachute into the Iraq war mess and work miracles is nothing more than wishful thinking. What exactly has Obama done other than give rousing speeches that is evidence he will be the next great man for the ages, an FDR for the twenty-first century? And what is it about Hillary that is any more compelling evidence that she won't? There is no substantive evidence either way.

Hillary's detractors continually refer to her triangulating ways as too pointedly political, but the fact is that unless you are a master politician, you will not ultimately succeed in the American system. Hillary is the best politician in the lot, and though that means she has some unsavory aspects, by no means does it preclude her doing great things once she is elected. Mr. Yglesias' criticisms of Hillary are no more than speculative conjecture.

Posted by: Bob C on December 21, 2007 at 7:18 PM | PERMALINK

Yglesias on Clinton: http://matthewyglesias.theatlantic.com/archives/2007/11/18-week/

To me, the most troubling thing about Hillary Clinton is that her read of the politics is to always err on the side of hawkishness. And of course if she (a) votes for Iraq, (b) watches Iraq turn into an unpopular disaster, (c) declines to apologize for her actions, (d) wins the Democratic nomination, and (e) wins the presidency then that's only going to re-enforce that interpretation of politics. After all, if unapologetic support for a hugely unpopular foreign policy disaster doesn't even doom you in a Democratic Party primary, then why shouldn't you always err on the side of hawkishness?

Number one, she didn’t “vote for Iraq”. There was no vote to declare war. The AUMF itself is totally dominated with language that emphasizes that Bush will go the UN, seek a resolution to get the inspectors back in, and resort to force only if all else fails. All AUMFs have been like that and a President has never been denied one. The Democrats were openly trying to get Bush to continue the UN process which was known to have at least partially disarmed Saddam.
So, criticize her severely, if you want, to trust Bush to honor the language of the AUMF, but don’t continue to repeatedly, ad infinitum, to twist the AUMF into a vote to “invade Iraq”. There is a big difference.

More invasion languate:

This is all true, but it's worth going non-meta here. Hillary Clinton's past support of invading Iraq doesn't really tell us anything about her forward-looking Iraq policy.

Matt continues:

American foreign policy. In particular, after 9/11 a lot of people -- Matt Yglesias, Hillary Clinton, Kevin Drum, George W. Bush, John Edwards -- decided that it was important for the United States to become more willing to engage in preventive war to halt the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Obviously, I'm not going to stand here and tell you that that was an unforgivable mistake, since I made it myself. But since I've decided that that was a mistake -- not just Iraq, but the change of heart about preventive war that led me to support Iraq -- I'd like to find a candidate who didn't make that mistake (Obama) or who like me now thinks it was a mistake. Hillary Clinton, as best one can tell from her record, her public statements, and the views of people associated with her campaign, doesn't think that was a mistake.

Problem is, she has said her vote was a mistake, way back in 2005. But people want Hillary to apologize. An apology has become important for some reason. Also, Matt overstates here. In her speech at the time of the AUMF vote, like Kerry, she emphasized that it was not a vote for preemptive war. Call her strategy stupid if you want. But it appears to me Bush was going to invade anyway. But a foolish strategy is not the same as voting for invasion. It was Bush’s war all the way. Failing to stop him is not the same as voting for invasion.
Also from Yglesias, speaking of Iran:

And, indeed, it's not clear that a policy of appeasement would be wise. True, we've seen rational leadership even from vicious dictators like Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong, but the contemporary United States is led by religious fanatics, which introduces a new element into the equation. What's more, the USA is the only country on earth to have ever actually deployed nuclear weapons. Indeed, current political elites are so war-crazed and bloodthirsty that they not only engineered the 2003 attack on Iraq -- a country that tried to appease the Americans by eliminating its nuclear program and allowing IAEA inspectors to certify that it had done so -- but they continue to deny regretting it to this day. And that includes not only radicals like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, but so-called "moderates" like Hillary Clinton as well.

That’s amazing. Suddenly, on the basis of voting for an AUMF (which actually succeeded in the stated purpose of getting the UN inspectors back in, who found nothing), Clinton is included in a group of war-crazed elites who engineered the attack on Iraq, and do not regret it. She is suddenly equally guilty as Bush and Cheney. If you believe that, hey, go ahead and despise her.

Another unattractive habit of Matt and many Clinton detractors is to cite her statement of support of the troops on the eve of the war as evidence that she favored the invasion all the way. That is just juvenile. I find it very easy to support our troops while despising the war and occupation.

Posted by: little ole jim on December 21, 2007 at 7:20 PM | PERMALINK
My guess is that some people are willing to go out on a limb, even politicians, but that when they succeed it is because a big portion of society at large was ready for that change. It may only be obvious in hind sight, but people were ready.

I think this is trivially true, in the sense that anything that succeeds in moving the people needed for it to succeed is by definition something those people were in some sense "ready" for, but, as you note, that "readiness" is something that is only apparent in retrospect, through the lens of the success.

People who aren't willing to take "bold strokes" from the point of view of contemporaries can't achieve those kinds of changes where, to most observers, the readiness would only be apparent in retrospect.

That doesn't mean that all willingness to take bold strokes is good, but it does mean that a reluctance to step outside of the lines dictated by conventional political wisdom is a recipe for acheiving little.

Posted by: cmdicely on December 21, 2007 at 7:23 PM | PERMALINK

Echoing a number of commenters above, including your first:

Great, more bold foreign policy strokes. Just what we need.

Sorry, I'll take Richard Holbrooke over those asses Anthony Lake and Zbigniew Brzezinski any day.

Posted by: larry birnbaum on December 21, 2007 at 7:41 PM | PERMALINK

> Number one, she didn’t “vote for Iraq”. There was
> no vote to declare war. The AUMF itself is
> totally dominated with language that emphasizes
> that Bush will go the UN, seek a resolution to
> get the inspectors back in, and resort to force
> only if all else fails.

I am just absolutely and utterly gobsmacked every time I encounter this argument. It was crystal clear to me that the instant the AMUF was passed that Bush would start irreversible action towards invading Iraq. The few documents that have leaked out of Cheney's mansized safe indicate that this was the case, and in fact the point of irreversibility had passed _before_ the AMUF was introduced. So you are saying that Hillary was either too naive or too stupid to figure this out. But that such naivety/stupidity, combined with being too stubborn to apologize to her base constituency for it, is a **point in her favor**?!?

Give me a break.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on December 21, 2007 at 7:55 PM | PERMALINK

MarcJ,

If you're interested in the problem with Obama's health care plan and specifically the problem with his lack of an individual mandate, I'd suggest Jonathan Cohn's piece in The New Republic. This is the most important paragraph:

Still, the most important rationale for a mandate may be a more practical one: It's necessary to keep other reforms from unraveling. If you make insurers sell to everybody, even people with pre-existing conditions, but let people choose whether or not to buy it, people in good health will be more likely to wait until they're sick before buying coverage, figuring there's no point in forking over premiums while their chances of needing care are so low. This will cause a chain reaction. As healthy people opt out, insurance programs will be left dealing with a population of sicker and sicker people. Since insurance relies on contributions from healthy people to offset costs from sick, it will become more expensive--which will cause even more healthy people to opt out. The cycle will repeat over and over again, with the cost of insurance going up and enrollment going down. Wonks call this the "adverse selection death spiral." And it's hardly theoretical. By the late 20th Century, most of the nation's Blue Cross plans had stopped offering insurance to all comers, regardless of pre-existing condition, because their competitors--who didn't make the same generous offer--had stolen away all the healthy patients.

Also, Obama's advisor on health care is Harvard economist David Cutler, who has argued that the amount of money the US spends on health care is not a problem, something which I vehemently disagree with.

I like Obama, and I'm still torn between him & Edwards, but his policies on health care are his biggest drawback.

Posted by: Peter H on December 21, 2007 at 8:02 PM | PERMALINK

It's amazing how liberals are projecting onto Barack Obama their hopes and dreams, without any evidence that he'll do any of the bold thing they say he'll do.

Rather, Obama has a documented history in the Illinois legislature of ducking tough or controversial votes, just like he's done in the U.S. Senate.

I've since concluded that this guy is an empty suit, and judging by his claims to be above the fray, he's a rather disingenuous one, too.

This election should be a slam dunk for Democrats. But if we're looking for a guy who'll bounce the ball off the rim with a loud clang, then Barack's just the man to do it.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on December 21, 2007 at 8:06 PM | PERMALINK

This election should be a slam dunk for Democrats. But if we're looking for a guy who'll bounce the ball off the rim with a loud clang, then Barack's just the man to do it. - Donald


It always amazes me how partisans can delude themselves about what appeals to voters. If you want a reprise of 2004 nominate Edwards, the "populist" that gets floor plans for his new house from a Richie Rich comic book. If you want to rehsh every stonewalled peccedillo of the '90's, go with Hillary - I'd advise you to read George Snufalophogus' book on her first, and multiply Whitewater, cattle futures and billing records by a factor of 100. If you want a candidate that will appeal to the better angels of our nature, and who will be the default choice of those who don't follow politics but want to "do the right thing" I'd say Obama is the guy. On a crass electablity level, I don't see why you guys can't see that.

Posted by: mr insensitive on December 21, 2007 at 8:34 PM | PERMALINK
I think this is trivially true, in the sense that anything that succeeds in moving the people needed for it to succeed is by definition something those people were in some sense "ready" for, but, as you note, that "readiness" is something that is only apparent in retrospect, through the lens of the success.

Yeah, I wouldn’t pretend it’s always so. I’m thinking about certain issues that seemed to take forever to resolve; forever to accumulate the support to finally push through a big change, a quantum leap.

Slavery. Then the Civil Rights movement of the 60s. The New Deal.

The support for universal health care seems to be building gradually. The Clintons took a chance on it in the 90s and it failed. Blame it on Harry and Louise, but I have a feeling that the U.S., though close, was still teetering on the fence and the outcome was uncertain. If there had been a strong consensus that “something had to be done”, it would have passed.

Seems to me that institutional forces, almost by definition, will always exits to oppose significant change. So, the consensus for change has to build gradually, or be precipitated by some traumatic event like the Great Depression (I’m loathe to mention 9/11 for some reason; stupid small band of terrorists).

In any case, like you say, somebody usually has to be willing to make a bold stoke somewhere along the line, in the view of their contemporaries, just to get the ball rolling. Initial failure may still lead to eventual success.

Posted by: little ole jim on December 21, 2007 at 8:47 PM | PERMALINK

We've had eight years of "bold strokes" -- Bush has tried to implement his unique vision of spreading democracy on the backs of the military and it has proven catastrophically wrong.

Hillary is like Bill in that she manages competently but tries more to "triangulate" in an effort avoid mistakes rather than take risks. I think she, like many female politicians, overcompensate with the defense establishment in order to appear tough on defense.

Nobody with significant voting leverage will hate you for waving the flag too much.

Posted by: pj in jesusland on December 21, 2007 at 9:31 PM | PERMALINK

"On a crass electablity level, I don't see why you guys can't see that."

Um, you should probably read your prior sentence again: "It always amazes me how partisans can delude themselves about what appeals to voters."

Physician, heal thyself.

Posted by: PaulB on December 21, 2007 at 9:36 PM | PERMALINK

Does it NEVER occur to you folks that bold strokes aren't what politicians DO, it's what they are FORCED to do?

Posted by: theAmericanist on December 21, 2007 at 10:29 PM | PERMALINK

mestizO And the world is currently a fertile place for a brand new vision of American foreign policy.

We're certainly receptive to a new American FP. In general though, don't think us non-Yanks are receptive to being jerked around by any grand Yankee visions though... Any bold measure will be something the rest of us want. Also anything we do we'll also have the side goal of whittling down American power. The U.S. has shown a direction it can go in. The villagers are becoming a threat to all of us and the results of 2004 will not be forgiven. HRC will find it a very different world than it was in the 1990's.

swio has it right. There will be increasingly powerful regional groupings and worldwide agreements that run counter to US interests that the US can do nothing to stop


Posted by: snicker-snack on December 21, 2007 at 10:30 PM | PERMALINK

Shorter Yglesias: "an Obama administration ... will be led by a man".

He can not see what he will not see.

Posted by: RonK, Seattle on December 21, 2007 at 10:39 PM | PERMALINK

"Sorry, I'll take Richard Holbrooke over those asses Anthony Lake and Zbigniew Brzezinski any day.
Posted by: larry birnbaum on December 21, 2007 at 7:41 PM | PERMALINK"

Yay, go with the go more likely to invade places and be an Israel hawk. That will get things done.

For all of the talk about incrementalism, Clinton has really not accomplished anything for liberalism despite being a Senator for New York and being our party's last president's wife. She accepts too much of the right-wing framework to make the changes that need to get done. You can't make changes if you don't realize the problem is there. Clinton is the type of liberal who is scared of ever doing anything liberal because she's afraid she'll be called a Marxist again, which is why she offers up crap like flag burning and violent video games (and then is too politically incompetent to get any political advantage out of that). Obama got police interrogations in Illinois videotaped to prevent abuse. Clinton has given us what, her career? She doesn't seem to realize that surrounding yourself with guys like O'Hanlon and company doesn't make you tough, it just means that you get bad advice.

Posted by: Reality Man on December 21, 2007 at 10:47 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not really sure if the whole bold strokes vs. incrementalism debate really captures this right. Things like engaging Iran (heading towards normalized relations and such) are only bold because Republicans have set the narrative on what "sensible" policy is on Iran since 1979: that Iran is an evil menace that must be held back or they will rule the world, which is why we can't have an ambassador there or meet with their leaders. Meeting with the mullahs only seems bold because our political culture has defined that as crazy appeasement. Clinton, more than Obama or Edwards, buys into the DC framework. She, more than the other candidates, have surrounded herself with neocon-lites that accept that framework. However, this framework isn't necessarily how the world actually works outside of debates on American TV and galas held at the Heritage Foundation. The question is, do you buy into a crap framework and narrative or not? In addition, do you have what it takes to flip much of the political rhetoric of the past 20 or so years on its head ("sensible" and "bipartisan" meaning Republican ideas and "fringe" and "partisan" being Democratic ideas) on its head or at least move towards that? Bill was a more sensible politician than his wife (and, according to some of their inner circle, Hillary is more willing to use force than him) and still failed to do this with his triangulation, signing DOMA, etc. All it did was get him the biggest plurality of the vote twice.

Posted by: Reality Man on December 21, 2007 at 11:03 PM | PERMALINK

"I am just absolutely and utterly gobsmacked every time I encounter this argument." - Cranky

Agreed!!! Clinton is my senator and I can't even describe to you my utter disillusionment with her vote on the AUMF. Most of you probably don't remember her speech (since she's not your senator) explaining her vote at the time. The whole speech made it sound as if she were going to vote no. She took note of the inspectors not finding WMD, etc., etc. But then, her last sentence threw all her good reasoning away. It was a devastating betrayal, alleviated somewhat by media reports portending her vote. And another point. No one was asking Hillary to stand alone in her vote against Bush's war (and yes, everyone knew that's what this vote meant). There were 19 Dems who voted no on the AUMF. As I said the other night in reference to the recent budget bill, we've got 25 liberal Dems in the Senate. Hillary is not one of them. How did she vote on the budget bill, btw? Anyone know?

Posted by: nepeta on December 21, 2007 at 11:13 PM | PERMALINK

In case I had any doubts, the comments here (not to mention Kevin's analysis-paralysis) have made crystal clear the fact that our primary system is a complete failure. A bunch of bright commenters here are in complete disagreement over fairly basic assumptions. We clearly have very little idea how any of these candidates would actually govern, as we're parsing over small details hoping to make broad generalizations.

One point - Hillary's campaign (and Hillary's fans here like Donald from HI) want to point at Obama missing certain votes as a negative, but without pointing to something important where the party failed because Obama did not vote, they're just demonstrating that Obama outmaneuvered them. The senate can get pretty ugly, and I'd prefer a candidate who skipped a vote or two over an explanation of "I voted for it before I voted against it".

Posted by: Crusty Dem on December 22, 2007 at 12:50 AM | PERMALINK

But then there's this: every once in a great while, someone who thinks that way turns out to be right. And they end up being an enormous force for change. The question is, is Obama that guy? And is the world currently a fertile place for a brand new vision of American foreign policy? More on this later.

Kevin, another question is, couldn't Edwards be that guy? Have you drunk the "there are only two candidates" MSM Kool-Aid, or do you somehow perceive Edwards as an HRC clone (an inane simplification) solely because of the vote on Iraq?

Posted by: Vincent on December 22, 2007 at 12:51 AM | PERMALINK

Yglesias gets paid to take HRC down. Who cares what his real convictions are.

Posted by: Horatio Parker on December 22, 2007 at 1:07 AM | PERMALINK

"Hillary's campaign (and Hillary's fans here like Donald from HI) ..."

I'm supporting John Edwards. I just don't happen to appreciate the demonization of Hillary Clinton by people who profess to call themselves Democrats. Edwards has repeatedly pointed out his sharp differences with her, without also implying that she's Dick Cheney in drag.

And I still think that Barack Obama is to the Democrats, what Oakland was to Gertrude Stein.

Now, I'm not wedded to Edwards, and I'm open to being convinced otherwise about Obama, if only because when he first burst upon the national scene, I was initially quite excited about his prospects, and I'm reluctant to conclude that I was so swept up by his rhetorical eloquence that I got taken in by the guy.

But if I'm to change my mind, you need to show me his substance, and not throw me his platitudes. For example, tell me exactly what he did for the good people of Illinois' 13th senatorial district from 1996-2004. Cite for me the CIPs he brought into the district. Show me the bills he authored (not "sponsored", but actually authored and introduced) that eventually became state law.

Because to be perfectly honest, I've been looking, and I can't find that kind of information -- and I was a senior legislative analyst for seven years.

Therefore, if I'm having trouble ferreting out that data, I have to logically conclude that it's just not there, and then I'm going to question what it was that this guy was doing in Springfield for eight years -- that is, other than plotting his next career move.

Aloha.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on December 22, 2007 at 2:47 AM | PERMALINK

do you think the world is really likely to be moved by bold strokes?

Yes. "Bold strokes" on foreign policy is not like the parachuting-into-an-institution thinking-you'll-change-everything problem you describe. It's a matter of appearances. Before the US can get anywhere on a host of foreign policy issues, it needs to change the public international perception of the US. Even a failed renewed commitment to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, or a failed round of negotiations with Iran, or other big diplomatic initiatives that fail will do a lot to change the US's image, if they're seen as signs of goodwill, energy, and commitment to peace and respect for other nations. Obama is much more likely to make those kinds of moves. I think this is a solid argument.

Posted by: brooksfoe on December 22, 2007 at 2:49 AM | PERMALINK

I apologize for inadvertantly using a legislative acronymn "CIP" in my 2:47am post, without also defining what it means. "CIP" stands for "capital improvement project," i.e. roads, sewers, parks, schools, etc.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii - Brain Stem-Dominant on December 22, 2007 at 2:54 AM | PERMALINK

I apologize for inadvertantly using a legislative acronymn "CIP" in my 2:47am post

I am such a wonk, I found the acronym reference refreshing.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on December 22, 2007 at 3:00 AM | PERMALINK

And on a serious note:

I am, at this point, supporting Richardson.

I applied the "I need to hire someone for [this particular] job" and looked at the resumes with no identifiers. The Richardson resume was the cream that rose to the top.

I realize that he is running for either VP or Secretary of State, but him in the executive branch in any capacity is a desirable outcome, and one I am willing to support.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on December 22, 2007 at 3:06 AM | PERMALINK

To show that I'm sincere about my research into Sen. Obama's career in Springfield, I'm going to share what I've learned so far.

Then-State Sen. Obama chaired the Health and Human Services Committee in the 93rd General Assembly (2003-2004). As chair, he introduced 102 bills, of which 17 were passed by the General Assembly, signed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich and enrolled as public law. In terms of raw numbers, 17% is pretty good, although 10 of them were technical amendments, or what we in the legislative business would call "housekeeping" measures.

In terms of substance, I found three of those measures that I'd call relatively significant.

SB 84 extended the sunset date of the Illinois Earned Income Tax Credit by three years, from June 30, 2003 to June 30, 2006.

SB 15 provides for the legal videotaping of all persons under formal custodial interrogation by law enforcement. Let's give credit where it's due - this long-overdue measure brought Illinois law enforcement into the 21st century.

SB 30 provides for the gathering of data concerning the race and ethnicity of all persons stopped for alleged traffic violations. Again, I give credit where it's due. This bll was in direct response to the charges of racial profiling that plagued state law enforcement for decades, and as such it was meant to be a deterrent to those officers who practiced racial profiling in the course of their duties.

Anyone else wants to add to this list, please feel free.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on December 22, 2007 at 3:35 AM | PERMALINK

Somehow I think Richard Holbrooke, the likely Clinton Secretary of State, is going to get things just about right.

Posted by: bob h on December 22, 2007 at 6:30 AM | PERMALINK

It is interesting that Matt includes Edwards in the discussion but Kevin only compares Clinton and Obama. Why the haste to ignore Edwards?

Posted by: focus on December 22, 2007 at 7:33 AM | PERMALINK

Look, it's not complicated. America will have suffered eight years of fascism when the next guy gets the keys to the White House. The next president should undo as much as possible as quickly as possible. If you want to call this bold strokes or circle jerks, I don't give a semantic shit. It seems pretty clear to me that we are not requiring the next president of the United States of America to speak honestly about what they will tear down of Bush's America, i.e. Hillary says she'll form a committee before determining what Bush-era powers to relinquish. Is that really the kind of candidate we want to put forward?

Posted by: john stephen lewis on December 22, 2007 at 7:39 AM | PERMALINK

Edwards is ignored because Edwards is a joke. Huckabee landed a Mike Tyson blow to his solar plexus when he quipped Congress is throwing around money like John Edwards at a beauty shop... if you want an illustration of a real populist deflating a faux poseur, that was it for this election cycle.

Posted by: mr insensitive on December 22, 2007 at 8:26 AM | PERMALINK

The Democratic Party just doesn�t get it. The US should get out of Iraq immediately. No BS phased withdrawal which Clinton, Edwards and Obama agree on.

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=ahbzwme2Xjjs&refer=home

What does this mean? That the Iraqis aren�t brave or smart enough to handle their own political and military problems? This has more than a stench of the white man�s burden of not that long ago.

The sad fact is that both major political parties have contributed to the mess the US now faces in foreign policy; an interventionist attitude that America must micro-manage other nation�s affairs by proxy, by force, by direct intervention. And we wonder why they hate us.

I don�t see much of a difference between say Clinton�s foreign policy and Rudy Giuliani�s: Maintain US Empire from the UK to the Middle East, stay the course in Iraq, hassle Iran for wanting to protect itself from US aggression.

And with some differences about Iraq and Iran, both Edwards and Obrama would also maintain America�s Empire.

When is Washington going to get it? Mind our own affairs.

Posted by: Tom Paine on December 22, 2007 at 9:29 AM | PERMALINK

Hillary had the chance to stand up against the Iraq War with those of us protesting--John Conyers was there, I remember, and I hear Barack Obama was too. Hillary had the chance to vote against the inane Lieberman Iran resolution, but she supported it. How can people argue she will do nothing but what is the least bold???

To the false talking point about Obama's present votes: These were strategic, and make up 3% of his votes. Go check out the ~ 100 votes Hillary has missed just this year:
http://projects.washingtonpost.com/congress/members/c001041/votes/missed/

Posted by: Vaughan on December 22, 2007 at 9:39 AM | PERMALINK

I think Paul Krugman pretty much sums it up, with his talk about how NO DEM Canidate will end the war- no really-which makes Hillary a liar, because, I mean with Hillary saying "I'll end the war, but than saying "I'll protect our vital national interest" which is double talk for "no way I'm ending the war," so she just lied about it.

Bill Clinton was in lock-step with Bush's war and record would show that even as he lies about it now, saying that he would have waited for the UN, that was Bullshit, and it was a straight up lie. Even when John Kerry won the nomination - Bill Clinton's first words to John Kerry were, "you need to support the war".

Edwards is hungary enough to want voter support but Hillary and Obama want to lie to voters while courting corporate money. I am glad Edwards didn't quit the race after 2004. AND I would say that evidence shows you can ran twice and win on the next go around - so never understand why Al Gore didn't want to try again? Al shoud have learn enough to win but he is a quiter. Evidence shows a second run is usually successful.

Edwards is the man. Edwards cares what we thing but Obama is only entertaining corporate American as is Hillary.

Posted by: me-again on December 22, 2007 at 9:41 AM | PERMALINK

er I mean: Edwards is the man. Edwards cares what we, the American voter thinks, but Obama is only entertaining corporate interest - especially with his talk about privatizion of social security, and Hillary doesn't see any problem lying to Americans either in what can only considered true Bush form, corporations first, people last.

Posted by: me-again on December 22, 2007 at 9:46 AM | PERMALINK

General Motors is emblematic of institutional short term profit driven decision making. See it flounder and sink in the West (a metaphor?).

Edwards and Obama, in that order, are extremely more likely than Hillary to heed long range goals for world order as they wrestle the helm against the institutional kinetic force you mention.

We should be chipping away at a hundred years' plan to homogenize Islam, Christianity, capitalism and secularism thus setting the basis for enduring peace.

Pick the candidate most likely to steer the tanker known as America with a clear view as to distant shoals.

On Global warming, note: "In 2001, Bjorn Lonborg wrote The Skeptical Environmentalist, a more positive, data-driven evaluation of the global warming situation. ..." This is a man who navigates well the environmental course that is practical and possible , given institutional inability to change other than at a tortoise' pace.

Posted by: cognitorex on December 22, 2007 at 10:12 AM | PERMALINK

And something else people need to be aware of, that is that Western oil companies have decided to go ahead and sign deals with Iraq despite the absence of Bush's oil law.

This is nothing but a rush to grab what they can because Bushie hasn't secured any deals with Iraq, and not likely to either, so Big Oil has no choice - sign deals now or lose everything. Bush and Cheney were Big Oil's big losers.

And Huckabee should be courting big oil because he is right - Bush was a "bunker mentalitY" or what could be summed up as an "isolationist" - salesman need not apply.

To sum it up - Western oil contractors have no choice - Bush *ucked up and so what is left of Iraq - minus any law is what big oil gets - take it or leave it.

Posted by: me-again on December 22, 2007 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK
Most of you probably don't remember her speech (since she's not your senator) explaining her vote at the time. The whole speech made it sound as if she were going to vote no. She took note of the inspectors not finding WMD, etc., etc. But then, her last sentence threw all her good reasoning away. It was a devastating betrayal..

Good, finally I know I not the only person who heard her speech which I have re-read several times, see http://clinton.senate.gov/news/statements/details.cfm?id=233783

The AUMF itself is here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/10/20021002-2.html

Reading these documents and the speeches of other Democrats at the time (look for Kerry’s) reinforces the contemporaneous impression I had that leading Dems were working fast and furious to force a rogue President to return to a process that had seemed to work with Iraq, i.e., the UN process. It’s easy for me to understand opposition to the AUMF since I was against it myself, but I did hear the counter argument. So I certainly disagree with words like “betrayal”.

Phrases from Clintons speech:

Some people favor attacking Saddam Hussein now, with any allies we can muster, in the belief that one more round of weapons inspections would not produce the required disarmament…

However, this course is fraught with danger. We and our NATO allies did not depose Mr. Milosevic, who was responsible for more than a quarter of a million people being killed in the 1990s. Instead, by stopping his aggression in Bosnia and Kosovo, and keeping on the tough sanctions, we created the conditions in which his own people threw him out and led to his being in the dock being tried for war crimes as we speak.
If we were to attack Iraq now, alone or with few allies, it would set a precedent that could come back to haunt us. …
So Mr. President, for all its appeal, a unilateral attack, while it cannot be ruled out, on the present facts is not a good option …
I believe the best course is to go to the UN for a strong resolution that scraps the 1998 restrictions on inspections and calls for complete, unlimited inspections with cooperation expected and demanded from Iraq. I know that the Administration wants more, including an explicit authorization to use force, but we may not be able to secure that now, perhaps even later…
If we get the resolution that President Bush seeks, and if Saddam complies, disarmament can proceed and the threat can be eliminated. Regime change will, of course, take longer but we must still work for it, nurturing all reasonable forces of opposition…
And, we will still have more support and legitimacy than if we insist now on a resolution that includes authorizing military action and other requirements giving some nations superficially legitimate reasons to oppose any Security Council action. They will say we never wanted a resolution at all and that we only support the United Nations when it does exactly what we want…
I believe international support and legitimacy are crucial. After shots are fired and bombs are dropped, not all consequences are predictable.…
Even though the resolution before the Senate is not as strong as I would like in requiring the diplomatic route first and placing highest priority on a simple, clear requirement for unlimited inspections, I will take the President at his word that he will try hard to pass a UN resolution and will seek to avoid war, if at all possible…
Because bipartisan support for this resolution makes success in the United Nations more likely, and therefore, war less likely, and because a good faith effort by the United States, even if it fails, will bring more allies and legitimacy to our cause…
So it is with conviction that I support this resolution as being in the best interests of our nation. A vote for it is not a vote to rush to war; it is a vote that puts awesome responsibility in the hands of our President and we say to him - use these powers wisely and as a last resort…

My view is that the strategy for stopping Bush was totally debatable, the answer was not obvious. It’s fair to criticize Clinton, Kerry, and the Democratic leadership if you think they chose the wrong path. But I remember when it was Bush’s war, and nobody doubted it. Now, people frequently seem to equally assign blame to Bush and Dems who voted for the AUMF. They explicitly claim the Dems were voting for invasion. I don’t get that.

Posted by: little ole jim on December 22, 2007 at 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

me-again: You got it backwards. Paul Krugman sad that no Dem candidate would NOT end the war.

Also, you are wrong about Bill Clinton. He made an explicit statement on the eve of the ware that the United States should go back to the UN for another resolution if Hans Blix determined that Iraq had not complied. And that is not what Hans Blix was finding. But nothing could stop Bush.

Making statements that we should keep the heat on Saddam should not be twisted into "I support Bush, let's invade now".

Posted by: little ole jim on December 22, 2007 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

The next Dem president (whoever) needs to make good use of Bill Clinton. Clinton knew how to get things done in the face of an openly hostile GOP Congress that blocked almost everything he tried to do. Clinton started off rocky getting undercut by the GOP over gays in the military his first month in office. It wasn't until after Clinton had been in the job for a while that he figured out how to get things done.

The GOP has plenty of ways to undercut a Dem president and they will not hesitate to use whatever means against whoever is elected. Clinton's experience could be useful in avoiding most of the traps the GOP will set. A Dem Congress is not likely to support any president lockstep the way the GOP has supported Bush on everything.

Posted by: bakho on December 22, 2007 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

This commentary parallels the questions which arise in business about the difference between being "efficient" and "effective".

Senator Clinton is most likely to be very "efficient", being able to push through various items of legislation and establishing positions which appeal somewhat to a broad swath of the American punditocracy if not electorate. She would be an outstanding candidate if we were confronting conditions like we saw in the 1990s. Unfortunately for us those are not the conditions we now see before us.

Rather, we need a candidate who can be "effective," someone who knows what the right questions are which need to be addressed rather than necessarily knowing the right answers to questions which aren't so important. Senator Clinton and her team know many, if not most, of the right answers to issues which don't necessarily need much attention. In that arena, she and her team are very experienced and clearly possess the will. On the important, vital questions, we continue to see vague, ambiguous, uninspiring responses from Senator Clinton and her team. That lack of clarity on the vital issues concerns me more than anything else about her candidacy. She would be a good candidate but she still hasn't sold me she would the right candidate.

Posted by: PrahaPartizan on December 22, 2007 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

little ole jim,

I simply don't agree with you on your analysis of Clinton and Kerry trying to rein in Bush and commit the US to the UN process by their AUMF votes. Thanks for posting the text of her speech. I'd like to comment on a line by line basis but will forgo that to simply say that her vote 'felt' like a betrayal to me. I was dumbfounded at the time that little ole me could have so much information concerning the absence of Iraqi WMD while my senator seemed to be completely clueless. Everyone 'knew' what Bush wanted to do and would do despite the AUMF. So at that point in time, it seemed the wisest course of action was not to authorize his rush to war by giving him the power to do so, both in real time and as a matter of historical record. How can one rationally argue the points she did (e.g., we need allies, we need UN inspections, things might not go well, the resolution isn't firm enough on requiring diplomatic efforts before war) and then vote 'aye' to 'authorize military force.' If her motivation was well-intentioned and a last-ditch attempt to slow Bush down she could easily have explained her vote that way in lieu of an apology. She hasn't done that to my knowledge, instead claiming that she was 'fooled' by misinformation on WMD.

Posted by: nepeta on December 22, 2007 at 12:31 PM | PERMALINK

ole jim,

Your a bright guy, so I'm surprised that you fell for Hillary's chin music quoted above. The bottom line was that a vote for AUMF was a vote for war on a date certain, every knowledgeble commentator or analyst knows that. If you don't believe me read what deep cover Repub Paul Begala wrote about it [what a fraud that line of argument is] in his book Take It Back. Bush was too clever by half, forcing the Dems to vote two weeks before the election and giving them a chance to be on both sides of the issue with the same vote. Of course the usual suspects of low character - Hillary, Kerry, Edwards, etc. - would take the easy way out, saying they were against the war by voting for it. Read Bob Shrum's book on how he talked Edwards and Kerry into voting for the resolution against the advice of Edward's wife, for example.
My personal preference would have been for Bush to have followed the plan Hillary outlined, but we don't know what promises he had to make to the Sultan of Qatar or the Emir of Kuwait [after 35 years of American fecklessness in the region] in order to get troops on the ground. I'm pretty sure he had to promise to pull the trigger on a specific date, and was rightly convinced that Saddam would never fully cooperate with inspections the way Kadafi did after the war.

Posted by: mr insensitive on December 22, 2007 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

Peter,

Thanks for the link to Cohn. I've heard his arguments in favor of mandates before, and I must say I'm skeptical, largely because a) despite his repeated use of the word "evidence," the only datum that approaches evidentiary status is the Mass. plan, which, as Cohn acknowledges, is basically inconclusive; and b) I think under-states the difficulties of actually implementing mandates.

He acknowledges them, to be sure, but it seems to me that this is the most likely area where a legislative package would fall apart. Cohn seems to ignore the practical and political problem here.

Basically, it's not clear to me that mandates would necessarily have the salutary effects that Cohn ascribes to them, and it seems very likely that they would greatly impede any progress on a broader healthcare plan.

I could certainly be wrong, and--should Edwards or Hillary make it through--I'd be happy to be proved so. But as of now, I just don't understand the mandate fetish.

Cheers.

Posted by: marcj on December 22, 2007 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK
…Bill Clinton was in lock-step with Bush's war….me-again at 9:41 AM
You should know by now not to accept the American news media's story on anything Clinton/Gore/Democratic:

Bill Clinton on the Iraq war:
...on March 14, 2003, less than a week before the war began:
...let’s give him a certain date in which, in this time, he has to destroy the missiles, reconcile the discrepancies in what we believe is the truth on chemical weapons, reconcile the discrepancies on biological weapons, reconcile the issue of the Drones, and offer up 150 scientists who can travel outside of Iraq with their families for interviews. If you do that, then we’ll say this is really good-faith disarmament, and we’ll go on without a conflict. Now if that passes, however, then you have to be willing to take yes for an answer. You see what I mean? I’m for regime change too, but there’s more than one way to do it. We don’t invade everybody whose regime we want to change. There’s more than one way to do this, but if that passes and he actually disarms, then we have to be willing to take it, and then work for regime change by supporting the opposition to Saddam Hussein within and outside Iraq, and doing other things.
After the war commenced, President Clinton repeatedly said he would not have invaded Iraq; he would have waited for inspectors to finish their job...

Posted by: Mike on December 22, 2007 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

mike,

If Bill and Hil had honestly believed that, wouldn't their argument have been strengthened by voting against the AUMF without those specific requirements included? And Saddam admitted to interrogators that if we let him off the hook under those conditions it would have been full speed ahead on WMDs the hour after he was given a UN seal of approval...sometimes all the options available are bad, and a President's job is to choose the least bad among them.

Posted by: mr insensitive on December 22, 2007 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

Um, haven't we had eight years of bold strokes? Maybe it would be nice to have some well-executed thoughtful ones...

Posted by: shrink in sf on December 22, 2007 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

Mr. Insensitive: I don't know that I fell for chin music, nor do I know what Begala said, nor do I value Begala's opinion more than mine. My best guess is that they really thought the best route was to manuever Bush into the UN process.

All the people, perhaps including you, who think that was dumb strategy have a legitimate argument. I don't think anybody has a legitimate argument that the Democrats were in favor of the invasion.

nepata: little ole you? Astounded that you could have so much info? Yes, you've picked up the gist of my moniker! Except I've applied it to Bush who I blame for starting the war. I don't necessarily blame you for applying it to Clinton, Kerry, etc..

Posted by: little ole jim on December 22, 2007 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

"In the end, Mr. Obama chose neither to vote for nor against the bill. He voted present, effectively sidestepping the issue, an option he invoked nearly 130 times as a state senator."

"In Illinois, political experts say voting present is a relatively common way for lawmakers to express disapproval of a measure. It can at times help avoid running the risks of voting no, they add."

If you are worried about your next election, the present vote gives you political cover, said Kent D. Redfield, a professor of political studies at the University of Illinois at Springfield. This is an option that does not exist in every state and reflects Illinois political culture.

Posted by: profiles in courage on December 22, 2007 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK

Bold strokes? How about...

"...the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

That would be Chris Dodd, who left Iowa to return to DC, and forced Hopeless Harry to withdraw another Dem capitulation (FISA).

If we're going to execute bold foreign and domestic policy strokes, a good first step might be to get our own house in order.

Clinton and Obama are sitting Senators. Where is their "bold leadership" on issues like this?

Handed the reins of power, do you really think they'll change their spots?

Posted by: Adams on December 22, 2007 at 8:17 PM | PERMALINK

[...] www.washingtonmonthly.com is another interesting source of information on this topic,[...]

Posted by: Free call India >> Making free call from US to ... on November 24, 2009 at 11:34 PM | PERMALINK
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