Friday, January 23, 2015

Obama and Clinton: Strategies For Change

It is going to pain me to say this (a lot!), but I think Ron Fournier is actually right about something.
Friends and associates of the former secretary of State, including some who are preparing her for a likely presidential bid, say Clinton obviously will embrace Obama's progressive economic agenda. Middle-class tax cuts, judicial reform, paid sick leave, and free community-college tuition are the sort of policies that Clinton has previously supported—and would certainly push in the future.

Clinton is not worried about being associated with Obama's policies, associates say. Her challenge is to convince voters that, unlike Obama, she can deliver on her promises...

The Clinton team is discussing how to draw a contrast between Obama's leadership skills and hers—without overtly insulting the president.
The assumption behind this kind of strategy is that Clinton will lose if she simply runs on a "third Obama term." I'll leave that one aside for now because Fournier has tapped into the argument she'll likely make.

Way back during the 2008 primary (when the contest was still between Obama, Clinton and Edwards), Mark Schmitt wrote a masterful piece on their different "theories of change." While the GOP strategy of total obstruction was not in view at the time, he did define the status quo as Republican intractability. And then he examined the candidates' approach to overcoming the stalemate that would produce. Here's how he summed it up:
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 [Edwards], another thinks you "hope for it" [Obama], while she alone knows that you have to "work for it" [Clinton].

That's accurate as a rendering of the candidates' language: Her message of experience and hard work, Obama's language of hope and common purpose, Edwards' insistence that those with power will never give it up willingly.
Schmitt goes on to suggest that simply relying on "hard work" might not be enough.
Any of the three "theories of change" has to be tested not just as a description of the current political situation, but as a tactic for breaking it. Even the non-naive Edwards believes that the structure of power can be broken -- by a large, engaged social movement. Clinton's theory in a sense takes the status quo for granted more than the others, but it's appropriate in certain situations: I imagine her negotiating the fine points of a health care bill, having mastered every lesson from 1993 and every detail, and getting Senators McConnell and Grassley in the room, and them walking out having agreed to something they barely understand. Superior knowledge and diligence can be a tool of power...And while hard work and mastery of details is also indispensable in a president, work alone does not overcome unyielding political opposition. As Karl Rove would say, it's not a "gamechanger."
That description of how Clinton might have handled health care reform negotiations totally reminds me of the deal President Obama made during the attempt to avert a government shutdown over the FY 2011 budget. Initially conservatives went into celebration mode and liberals were incensed that "Obama caved." Eventually Republicans figured out they'd been taken.
So the budget deal is supposed to deliver $38 billion in spending cuts, including $20 billion in cuts to domestic discretionary spending...Based on news accounts, quite a lot of that $20 billion could be phony: $6.2 billion in unspent money for the Census; $2.5 billion of highway funds that couldn’t be spent; $3.5 billion of unused spending authority in a children’s health-care program. Is it possible that Republicans have gone from $61 billion in domestic discretionary savings all the way down to $8 billion?
As for the Edwards theory that the status quo can be broken "by a large, engaged social movement"... President Obama has been there, done that too.

Schmitt outlines what it is that President Obama added to the mix. Something I've called "conciliatory rhetoric as a ruthless strategy."
...perhaps we are being too literal in believing that "hope" and bipartisanship are things that Obama naively believes are present and possible, when in fact they are a tactic, a method of subverting and breaking the unified conservative power structure. Claiming the mantle of bipartisanship and national unity, and defining the problem to be solved... puts one in a position of strength, and Republicans would defect from that position at their own risk...

What I find fascinating about his language about unity and cross-partisanship is that it is not premised on finding Republicans who agree with him, but on taking in good faith the language and positions of actual conservatism -- people who don't agree with him....

The reason the conservative power structure has been so dangerous, and is especially dangerous in opposition, is that it can operate almost entirely on bad faith. It thrives on protest, complaint, fear...One way to deal with that kind of bad-faith opposition is to draw the person in, treat them as if they were operating in good faith, and draw them into a conversation about how they actually would solve the problem. If they have nothing, it shows. And that's not a tactic of bipartisan Washington idealists -- it's a hard-nosed tactic of community organizers, who are acutely aware of power and conflict.
President Obama has engaged all three theories - hard work, building a social movement, and conciliatory rhetoric - in an attempt to break through Republican obstructionism. For a while, he also tried to build a "common sense caucus." Now he's added his "pen and phone" strategy. In other words, when it comes to change, the President has employed an "all of the above" strategy. None of these things have been unquestionably successful - but they've all had their moments. And in the end, he's managed to accomplish quite a lot.

If Ron Fournier is right and Hillary Clinton wants to show that she can "deliver" in a way that President Obama has not, she's going to have to dig a lot deeper in search of something new. Otherwise it's just empty rhetoric that would come back to haunt her once she's in office.


  1. Sigh. If that's the strategy she employs, then oh well. I don't see it going over well with those of us who support the President. I think it's odd that anyone thinks Hillary has a leadership style. She's not a leader. She's just ambitious. And a Neocon Hawk. There's nothing she can say or do that dazzles me to the point where I forget that very important truth about her.

  2. I'd love the for the Hillary camp to explain what "exactly" she plans to deliver -- Is it restoring the health of the U.S. economy after it nearly cratered in 2008 -- Is it moving the DOW/stock market from 6.000 to almost 18,000 in nearly 5 years -- Is it creating an average of 200,000 - 250,000 each month -- Or perhaps it's lowering the unemployment to 5.6% after a high of nearly 10%.

    Maybe she'll finally pass healthcare reform and enable nearly 11 millions Americans to receive access to quality, affordable health care. Maybe she'll help sign Wall Street reform and credit card reform into law during her first 2 years in office.

    Or perhaps she'll sign a historic climate change deal with China. Or reduce the deficit by half. Or enact an energy policy that helps to lower gas prices to nearly $2/gallon nationally.

    Maybe she'll ... Oh, never mind. Those things have already been done through the "hard work" of the guy that she lost the presidential nomination to in 2008.

    The Clinton folks are just like the Bush folks. In their world, only that last name is deemed worthy of commendable accomplishments. Fortunately, the rest of us live in reality and will be happy to remind the Hillary camp just how easy her presidential run will be made because of the "hard work" already delivered by her former boss (yeah, that guy) -- While she's been on the sideline selling books and doing paid speaking engagements.

    1. "Maybe she'll ... Oh, never mind. Those things have already been done through the "hard work" of the guy that she lost the presidential nomination to in 2008."

      Thank You. She'll lose again by running away from him. If the DNC endorses any candidate that's runs against Obama, there're TOAST. Period.

  3. This is an outstanding analysis, and it puts into succinct summation that which I have been observing but could not articulate. This president listened to George Lakoff on staking out a 'moral values' foundation. It wasn't conceived cynically but came out of the core of who he is. Politicians - as distinguished from leaders - have no such core. They may have goals and objectives, but not the fundamental commitment of how to envision a far better world for the majority plus the skills to make it happen. The cynicism of the American public was interrupted and still is by the decency of this man. That, almost more than specific policies (very funny, Joraum), is what Clinton lacks. Like her husband, she can be directed to policies that serve special interests than those that serve us.

  4. "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 [Edwards], another thinks you "hope for it" [Obama], while she alone knows that you have to "work for it" [Clinton]."

    That right there encapsulate the reason why so many felt uncomfortable with the Clinton campaign in 2008. The argument that Obama was all about "hope" while Clinton was about "working for it" is only a shade of gray away from saying Obama's way was the lazy way.

    Suggesting that a black man is lazy is truly borderline. Whether it was intentional or not I don't know. But it certainly struck a lot of people that way.

  5. This is truly disgusting. Undermining the historic accomplishments made by Obama is no different than the "He's not one of us" storylines & takes a page out of the "Birther" farce. Ironically, both storylines where created by the Clintons. Attemps to write this man out of the history books completely or present his legacy as a "failure" is going to have some serious pushback. ESPECIALLY with minorities.

    I swear these so-called "journalists" are absolutely clueless. Fuck Hillary & whomever originated this article. I could care less about 2016 or the next election at this point.

  6. Republicans didn't run away from Reagan. So why would Democrats run against the most successful President [Obama] of the modern day era?? Hmmmmm.....

    Read between lines: This is more so about maintaining the racial status qou in politics; meaning the believe system that only a White person in his or her own career path can be described as "Greatness". Forbid a person of color to challenge or disrupt that believe system. That's a no-no.

    Yet, people wonder why voter apathy exists.

  7. Hillary is book smart, not street smart. Her husband says she's the most qualified person ever to run for president. But having a great resume and being the most qualified are two different thing. Let's hope being surrounded by Obama campaign advisers and working for the president has rubbed off on her, so she'll turn out to be more than the hardest working woman in politics.

  8. It's funny that I should jump in to defend Hillary Clinton -- I'm far more a fan of Barack Obama. But why is being a hard worker and a good organizer such a handicap? Hillary's problem is that she's a wonk. And while they are extraordinarily useful, they do not campaign well. To illustrate my point, I need only one word: Dukakis.

    I regard President Obama as a master strategist who is also an excellent speaker and communicator. Senator Clinton has worked hard in these areas but will never be regarded as gifted. But I do think she's ferociously intelligent and she really does care. Her problems all stem from NOT being herself, but acting as though she is the Puppet of Bubba her detractors claim she is.

    My advice to Hillary is for her to evolve into a 21st Century feminist. OWN being a woman who is running for President. That breakdown in New Hampshire where she spoke from the heart really resonated. Ditch the clown show that ran her campaign last time. Invest in the path Barack has so eloquently and intelligently laid before future leaders, with her own spin of hard work and intelligence to bring it to further fruition.

    And yes, I'd like to see her express disgust with the massive damage the Republicans have done with their contemptible policies and attitudes. Who better than someone who is certainly in the top ten targets they have harassed over the years? "This time, it's personal," would be an excellent attitude to use as a subtext that us poor oppressed liberals could get fired up about.

    "If you need something done, ask a woman" would be a damn fine slogan to run upon. I'd break down a door to vote for that.


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