Yes, you really did just hear that gaffe. Here is the question: Did a Democratic Member of Congress just gaffe up really, really badly in one direction, or the other?
Translation: Did he botch, or tip, it?
Yes, you really did just hear that gaffe. Here is the question: Did a Democratic Member of Congress just gaffe up really, really badly in one direction, or the other?
Translation: Did he botch, or tip, it?
Microcosmic: As Rachel Maddow asks Michael Beschloss his opinion on campaign norms―e.g., releasing tax returns―it occurs to me that we are quite possibly witnessing a microiteration of a problematic thumbnail sketch: If achieved, then change standard.
As Maddow asked, what about the future? And that would approximately make sense: Hillary Clinton is about to be elected president of the United States of America. We’ve already decided that everything else in her career is just that much more volatile and alarming and inappropriate than any man who came before her, repeatedly suggesting with each iteration that we will, in fact, attempt to change the rules in order to forestall certain outcomes.
For instance, who remembers the One-Drop Rule? Was there nothing incongruous or untoward about the proposition that we finally laid the One-Drop Rule to rest when Barack Obama was elected? Okay, that’s not fair; we lynched the One-Drop Rule and then put the corpse in whiteface: If Barack Obama is one-drop white, we haven’t yet elected our first black president.
Remind me all you want that it didn’t work; I’ll just shrug and wonder why we bothered trying.
Still, though, if we call off the customary tax return release? It’s easy enough to expect the ritual to survive Donald Trump, but we’ve seen this happen before. No, really, did you know that politicians were never supposed to get paid for public speaking when they weren’t in office? Apparently this has always been the rule, and Hillary Clinton just wasn’t smart enough to know. And since her predecessors didn’t really use the private email systems that they actually did, Secretary Clinton should have known that behaving like her predecessors was forbidden; I mean, it’s not like we suddenly invented this standard that what she did was unacceptable out of thin air just because she’s Hillary freakin’ Clinton, right? It’s not like we didn’t care when it was anyone else and then just decide to care because some scandalmongering political opponents decided to pretend something entirely ahistorical and―you know, since it’s “Her”―well, yeah, why not, sounds great. Sorry, I guess that’s just a distraction, isn’t it? Because while we’re spinning pay for play fancies because transparency means we can, the only reason we don’t care about the idea of pay for play through Colin Powell’s foundation, while he was Secretary of State, is because he’s Colin Powell, not Hillary Clinton, so that sort of thing could never, ever happen.
Nor is it just about girls, though it’s true in this case it kind of is. But the underlying principle of schoolyard socialization dynamics includes a function whereby a bellwether among the despised might achieve a threshold of respectability, and the communal response is to alter the threshold in order to maintain exclusion. That is to say, some kids will simply never be allowed by their peers to be cool; it’s a general bully principle, because without it the list of people bullies are allowed to treat poorly pretty much crumbles to dust in the wind.
Image note: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton works from a desk inside a C-17 military plane 18 October 2011. (Kevin Lamarque/Associated Press)
Maddow, Rachel. “Historic debate could reset campaign norms”. msnbc. 27 September 2016.
Sometimes the key to politics is to make things complicated not so much by making them actually complicated, but by complicating things with additional layers and steps. Political discourse is something like the living, realtime inspiration for internet chatter; after two or three quick rounds it’s hard to tell what anyone is referring to, anymore.
But at the same time, it is not as if the rhetorical devices of American politics are especially complex. Consider, for instance, Paul Krugman:
This policy unity has been helped by the fact that Obama has had a moderate degree of success in achieving these goals. If he had had an easy time, the party might be divided between those wanting more radical action and those not in a hurry; if he had failed utterly, the party might be divided (as it was for much of the past three decades) between a liberal faction and a Republican-lite faction. As it is, however, Obama has managed to achieve a lot of what Democrats have sought for generations, but only with great difficulty against scorched-earth opposition. This means that the conflict between “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party” — exemplified these days by Elizabeth Warren — and the more pro-big-business wing is relatively muted: the liberal wing knows that Obama has gotten most of what could be gotten, and the actual policies haven’t been the kind that would scare off the less liberal wing.
One would think this easy piece of political perspective would not be so rare in our discourse, but for some reason—perhaps a tendency toward equivocation for the sake of narrative simplification—it sometimes seems useful to take a moment and think about how it comes about.
It’s just one of those things that makes me wonder how desperate the situation has gotten. Only two events done in a long list of fifty, and already the confusion and nervous hand-wringing has escalated the discussion to a nearly incoherent fever pitch. No, I’m not talking about any particular presidential campaign but, rather, the press corps that covers the campaign.
The current situation starts, for me, as a note on the front page of the Doonesbury Town Hall, where the Daily Briefing headlines include a note that “King Slight Could Linger”. Clicking on the link, perusing the collection of headlines assembled by NewsTrust, I am unable to find the relevant story. I use my browser’s find function, and cannot come up with a “king” that matches. (There is “breaking“, “talking“, “looking“, “asking“, &c., but nothing on “King”.) So I head on over to Google, which kindly and quickly suggests Seth Gitell’s January 10 article for the New York Sun, “Slight of King Could Linger for Voters“.
Senator Clinton’s comment stressing the importance of President Johnson at the expense of the role of Martin Luther King Jr. may come back to haunt her in the battle to attract African American voters, who make up half of the Democratic electorate in the upcoming South Carolina primary.
The situation underscores the perils for Mrs. Clinton as she confronts a challenge for the Democratic presidential nomination from Senator Obama. Her attempts to criticize Mr. Obama risk backfiring and alienating black voters, an important Democratic constituency.
Gitell notes a New York Times editorial that “cautioned that Mrs. Clinton ‘came perilously close to injecting racial tension'” into an “uplifting” historical occasion, e.g., a showdown between the first major female and first major African-American contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination. Reading through Gitell’s article, it is hard to find a description of the actual offense Senator Clinton has allegedly committed. But there is this paragraph:
The Obama camp and civil rights leaders independent of the political campaigns yesterday seized on Mrs. Clinton’s statement, “Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964…It took a president to get it done.”
Okay. Gitell tells of Crown Heights Assemblyman Karim Camara, who talked about receiving calls from surprised constituents, colleagues, and pastors. Mr. Camara talked about sensitivity to language, and how that might benefit Senator Obama’s campaign. Gitell also notes Michael Meyers, of the New York Civil Rights Coalition, who said Clinton was out of line, and how her comments seemed “to be desperate and a misreading of history”. Indeed, Mr. Meyers called Clinton’s statements “ignorant of the participation of everyday people, including Dr. King”.
So it couldn’t possibly be the short quip Gitell had cited that has everybody up in arms, could it?
I head over to the New York Times for more. In the middle of a January 9 editorial comes this stinging indictment:
In Mrs. Clinton’s zeal to make the case that experience (hers) is more important than inspirational leadership (Mr. Obama’s), she made some peculiar comments about the relative importance of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and President Lyndon Johnson to the civil rights cause. She complimented Dr. King’s soaring rhetoric, but said: “Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. … It took a president to get it done.”
Why Mrs. Clinton would compare herself to Mr. Johnson, who escalated the war in Vietnam into a generational disaster, was baffling enough. It was hard to escape the distasteful implication that a black man needed the help of a white man to effect change. She pulled herself back from the brink by later talking about the mistreatment and danger Dr. King faced. Former President Bill Clinton, who seems to forget he is not the one running, hurled himself over the edge on Monday with a bizarre and rambling attack on Mr. Obama.
Mr. Clinton has generally been a statesman as ex-president, and keeping up this sort of behavior will undermine his credibility and ability to do more good.
What, seriously? Did I really just read that?
It really does seem a bit of bluster over a few words, especially when nobody is explaining what, exactly, the offense is. As near as I can tell, President Johnson’s role in the civil rights drama should, according to the New York Times be ignored because of his role in Vietnam.
And maybe it has something to do with the words themselves. “Realize”. Most people treat the word differently than its components: “real” and “-ize”. The former is obvious, and the suffix? Is there some problem I’m unaware of? While many people might treat the word “realize” as synonymous to “understand”—e.g. did Clinton not realize that she was putting herself in a vulnerable position, given a contentious primary cycle and a hostile, embarrassed press corps reeling from its own punch-drunk speculations that crashed spectacularly on a Tuesday night in New Hampshire?—but there is another fairly common usage, as well, which is “to make real”. Other words people use—perhaps because some are confused by such a use of the word “realize”—are “actualize” and one of my favorite made-up words, “concretize”.
It seems to me that no matter how much dreaming Dr. King might have done, at some point some politician somewhere needed to implement that dream. And, the Vietnam debacle and the Times‘ distaste notwithstanding, that politician was President Lyndon Johnson.
If you’re confused by now, so am I. The best thing to do at this point would be to get it from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. Given the nature of the twenty-first century presidential horserace, is there any reason the statement in question wouldn’t be at YouTube?
Of course not. It’s 2008. If this one has escaped YouTube, it might be a sign of the Apocalypse.
Hmph. Really? That’s it? As specific an answer as you’re going to get from a politician to a specific question? Seriously, that’s really what’s at the heart of the hullaballoo?
At first viewing—and, truth told, all subsequent viewings—I’m hard-pressed to understand where the offense is. Someone needs to explain it to me directly and specifically.
Looking around for some sort of explanation, I land on Michael Fauntroy’s article, posted earlier today. The first clue is the title: “Johnson Did Help Give Life to King’s Dream“.
Hillary Clinton has been taking a beating for a comment she recently made regarding Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the role President Lyndon Johnson played in bringing about the legislative change sought by the civil rights movement. She noted that King’s dream began to come into focus when President Lyndon Johnson supported and signed into law important civil rights legislation. Some African Americans, sadly disconnected from the historical record, took the comment as a slight to King’s legacy. Conservatives did what they usually do, stoking the fire by suggesting that Clinton simply dissed the Black icon and should be punished by African American voters. (Disclosure: Neither Clinton nor Senator Barack Obama is my preferred presidential candidate). Clinton is factually right and, after seeing the video of the comment, I am convinced that she met no disrespect to King’s legacy.
My interest in King is more than academic. I’m blessed to [be] a nephew of Rev. Walter Fauntroy, one of Dr. King’s chief lieutenants. He has long told me of his work during this period and how the man (King) and the movement coalesced and unified the country, which became outraged by what they saw on the evening news night after night. He also told me something that I tell my students: ideas and movements mean nothing if they don’t change public policy. Mass movements and demonstrations are designed to prick the conscience of the country on a given issue. At that point the legislative process takes over. That process must go through the president. A supportive president can accelerate change. An obstinate president (see Bush, G.W. – Iraq) can thwart a movement, even though it might have a majority of support in Congress.
My uncle has told me a thousand times about how important Lyndon Johnson was to making the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 a reality. He sacrificed his own favor with southern conservatives to do the right thing. I see a particular irony that some southern Black elected officials, some of whom owe their seats in Congress to the changes effectuated by the Voting Rights Act, now criticizing Clinton for remembering her civil rights history. Noting Johnson’s role is not disrespectful to King’s legacy. It’s simply a historical fact. And Clinton’s memory seems to be on target.
I suppose it’s not fair to take comfort from the fact that an assistant professor of public policy from George Mason University is willing to state so dramatically something so reflective of my suspicion. Perhaps he’s blinded by sentiment, being the nephew of a prestigious historical personage; perhaps his heritage gives him a stake in this debate that makes him unreliable. After all, it could not be that this whole controversy is driven largely by a the press, which, on the one hand has a long dislike for the Clintons and, to the other, was thoroughly embarrassed by Clinton’s victory in New Hampshire, right?
We cannot forget civil rights groups who are, understandably, tired of any implication that civil rights and human decency are somehow a privilege awarded by whites. The aforementioned Mr. Meyers finds company in Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), himself a prestigious figure in civil rights history, who has has reminded that “We have to be very, very careful about how we speak about” civil rights. According to Carl Hulse:
Mr. Clyburn, a veteran of the civil rights movement and a power in state Democratic politics, put himself on the sidelines more than a year ago to help secure an early primary for South Carolina, saying he wanted to encourage all candidates to take part. But he said recent remarks by the Clintons that he saw as distorting civil rights history could change his mind.
“We have to be very, very careful about how we speak about that era in American politics,” said Mr. Clyburn, who was shaped by his searing experiences as a youth in the segregated South and his own activism in those days. “It is one thing to run a campaign and be respectful of everyone’s motives and actions, and it is something else to denigrate those. That bothered me a great deal.”
And while it is difficult to take issue with such a luminary of the civil rights struggle, Mr. Fauntroy’s observation is valid. Hulse’s article for the New York Times does not include Rep. Clyburn’s explanation of just how Clinton has denigrated Dr. King or the civil rights era in general. It is almost as if some are seeking a reason to be offended.
Mr. Clyburn, reached for a telephone interview Wednesday during an overseas inspection of port facilities, also voiced frustration with former President Clinton, who described Mr. Obama’s campaign narrative as a fairy tale. While Mr. Clinton was not discussing civil rights at the time and seemed to be referring mainly to Mr. Obama’s stance at the Iraq war, Mr. Clyburn saw the remark as a slap at the image of a black candidate running on a theme of unity and optimism.
“To call that dream a fairy tale, which Bill Clinton seemed to be doing, could very well be insulting to some of us,” said Mr. Clyburn, who said he and others took significant risks more than 40 years ago to produce such opportunities for future black Americans.
Unity and optimism, indeed. But such a sunny outlook can certainly be overextended. This point was at the heart of Paul Krugman’s criticism last month of the Obama campaign. In that case, Krugman assailed Obama’s idealism vis á vis wealthy and influential American corporations.
Do Obama supporters who celebrate his hoped-for ability to bring us together realize that “us” includes the insurance and drug lobbies?
O.K., more seriously, it’s actually Mr. Obama who’s being unrealistic here, believing that the insurance and drug industries — which are, in large part, the cause of our health care problems — will be willing to play a constructive role in health reform. The fact is that there’s no way to reduce the gross wastefulness of our health system without also reducing the profits of the industries that generate the waste.
As a result, drug and insurance companies — backed by the conservative movement as a whole — will be implacably opposed to any significant reforms. And what would Mr. Obama do then? “I’ll get on television and say Harry and Louise are lying,” he says. I’m sure the lobbyists are terrified.
As health care goes, so goes the rest of the progressive agenda. Anyone who thinks that the next president can achieve real change without bitter confrontation is living in a fantasy world.
The article sparked a controversy between Obama supporters and the New York Times columnist that lasted a couple weeks. It is important to note, though, that Bill Clinton was not the first to criticize Obama’s campaign vision as dysfunctionally idealistic. John Edwards called Obama’s outlook a “complete fantasy”; Krugman suggested the pitch was fit for a “fantasy world”. Neither of them have faced such stern condemnation from civil rights groups. It seems to me that Fauntroy might have a point that a disconnection has occurred. The unfortunate result is that venerable civil rights leaders such as Rep. Clyburn, and modern activists like NYCRC’s Meyers, do themselves and their work a disservice by making this about race. In the first place, the argument against Clinton’s remarks seems to suggest that acknowledging President Johnson’s role somehow denigrates black people and the civil rights movement. Secondly, there is an appearance that some are willing to use skin color in order to bait the controversy. And, of course, a smarting, bloodthirsty press will only complicate matters by actualizing the exploitation.
It seems a testament to the perversity of the American political arena that Hillary Clinton should be the villain in this particular dispute. On the one hand, Obama seems free to invoke Dr. King at will. To the other, Hillary Clinton, oft-criticized for her failure to give a straightforward answer, seems obliged—as the controversy suggests—to dodge a direct question or, perhaps in deference to Rep. Clyburn’s warning that we must “be very, very careful” about how we speak about civil rights, give a canned answer divorced from history when asked a specific question about Obama’s pointed reference to Martin Luther King, Jr. And, to yet another, I still don’t understand how, according to Rep. Clyburn, Mr. Meyers, the New York Times, or any number of critics, Dr. King’s famous, inspiring dream could begin growing into reality without President Johnson, or someone his equal, to shepherd and sign the Civil Rights Act.
More important than Hillary Clinton, per se, is the bizarre aspect that resembles race-baiting. The rise of a black frontrunner in the Democratic contest for the presidential ticket ought to signify a waning color divide in our society. Yet this controversy suggests the opposite, that, while we are prepared to at least pay lip service to such noble aspirations, we are somehow not ready to get over our racist American heritage, that we are not going to let go of the past and look to the future without at least one last desperate twist of the knife. Perhaps there is a grassroots corruption taking place. Assemblyman Camara describes getting calls from constituents, elected officials, and fellow pastors expressing surprise. Perhaps, in grasping for a sense of authority in a tumultuous period of redefinition, a significant number of people who should be reassuring those who inquire are, instead, exploiting the occasion, fanning the fires, in order to assuage their own insecurities with an illusion of control. It is hard to tell from afar. Then again, this whole controversy is puzzling, and seems, frankly, much ado about nothing. Which, of course, lends the issue a sordid, tragic air. And in that we come to the heart of the matter: the sordid and tragic, whose relationship is characterized by extraneity, hurts us all.
Question: What does it take to silence politicians?
That’s right. Good, ol’ fashioned, fear. The kind of fear that is mere smoke and mirrors, a sleight of logic built up in one’s own mind. Kind of like being afraid of the Devil.
Chris Cilliza and Shailagh Murray take on the matter of what seems to be a dearth of candidate endorsements among prominent Democrats in advance of the Iowa caucuses later this week. The first part is the kind of pabulum best left in the past, say, when writing filler for the junior-high school newspaper, speculating about the silence of such top Democrats as Al Gore, John Kerry, and … uh … Chuck Grassley. Huh? Oh, well, it’s an Iowa thing. Fine. Never mind.
The second portion is mildly … er … less bad. Okay, that’s not fair. What appears to be Cilliza’s part is as fine a point as any for a superficial dipping of the toe to test the political waters:
The final week before any high-profile election is usually filled with charges and countercharges by the leading candidates — generally delivered via hundreds of television commercials.
But, with the Iowa caucuses just days away, it looks as if not a single truly “negative” ad (or even the more mild “comparative” commercial) will run before Hawkeye State Democrats gather on Thursday.
Negativity is not absent, by any means, from the brawl at the front of the pack, but as Cillizza notes, “Thin gruel, to say the least.”
The Obama campaign, for instance, took an oblique swipe at a labor group’s independent expenditure campaign on behalf of Senator Clinton’s run for the Ticket, accusing the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees of “spending millions to stop change”. And Clinton has lashed out, but at President Bush, inviting television viewers to speculate how the year would have gone with a different executive. The Edwards campaign focused its negative energies against American corporations, which is by now standard fare.
Cillizza asks, “Whatever happened to good old knock-down, drag-out politics?” It is, I suppose, a fair question. And Erik Smith, a Democratic consultant whose credentials include former Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt’s 2004 campaign, made the point that unintended consequences make risk dangerous in a tight race:
“In a tight multi-candidate primary, the overriding concern is the ricochet,” Smith said. “Each candidate needs to make their strongest possible closing argument, and there is no appetite for the potential unintended consequences of a negative ad this late in a competitive race.”
Candidates worried about a ricochet need only look back to 2004. In that race, Gephardt and former Vermont governor Howard Dean unloaded on each other for weeks on television, only to watch it backfire as Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Edwards shot the gap into first and second place in the caucuses.
Although let’s be clear on this one: Gephardt never stood a chance to begin with. It is, in a way, strange to think that it is the scream that finally hauled Dean into the abyss. Playing Kilkenny cats with Dick Gephardt seems an unwise tactical decision, although there is something to be said with polishing your source’s credentials.
Quite obviously, though, the risk factor is enormous. The ugly spectacle of the Clinton and Obama campaigns fighting over foreign policy hurt them both in July, when John Edwards took the lead in a poll by Des Moines television station KCCI, largely on the merit of his colleagues’ six-point slips over the course of a month.
Perhaps more importantly, though—or, at least, we hope it is—this is a year in which many Democrats and supporters feel the White House is theirs for the taking. A Republican victory, as many see it, will depend on a spectacular dissolution of the Democratic push for the White House. And while the Democratic congressional leadership might be doing their best to help President Bush and the Republicans, the presidential candidates are, for the time being at least, still trying to focus their energies winning.
And while we can only wait to find out what the six days ‘twixt Iowa and New Hampshire will bring, it is enough that the Democratic candidates should remember the simple fact that, in the end, they are all on the same team. It’s not like I don’t have my favorites, and it’s not like one of the front runners doesn’t worry me at least a little. But right now all are polling well against the GOP, and I would support any of the Democratic candidates—yes, even Mike Gravel, if … er … well, yeah—come the general election in November. So for now the outlook is positive for Democratic voters, and it would serve the candidates well to remember that through this primary season. Someone is going to win in Iowa, and if it’s close, as polls suggest it will be, we really need the candidates to keep the larger goal in mind. If someone—especially a front runner—gets blown out of the water, it will not be time to panic, and Democratic voters should, I believe, make a point of actually punishing any candidates who forget this and come out blazing angrily after their colleagues.
So the voters should take note: politicians are human beings, too, insofar as fear is one of the most effective influences around. As long as the candidates are under the impression that everything is on the line, they will hesitate. It will be a matter of discipline if the primary season keeps the front runners in close combat; the potential backlash is far greater than any minor statistical gain that a negative advert can offer. Who will break first? And how much damage can they do, not to their opponents but to an already precarious Democratic Party and our hope for the nation’s future future? That hope, after all, while cynics would, perhaps properly, call it irrational, is what keeps these candidates relevant.
Wow. Look at all those commas.
We, the voters, ought not be afraid. We ought to be willing to say, “We’ll come down to your offices and make an ugly scene.” We can make that spectral fear of backlash real and true. Let’s see who breaks first. Let’s see who gets desperate and goes negative against fellow Democrats. If the Clinton-Obama slip in July was not enough to make the point clear, consider Cillizza’s comment about Edwards:
Edwards rode to a surprisingly strong second-place finish in 2004 on the strength of his sunny optimism, and his numbers have moved up of late as he has transitioned back into that message for the final days of this campaign.
In the first place, a note to Mr. Cillizza: “transition” is a fucking noun!
More relevantly, while the decision of the Democratic candidates to lay into Hillary Clinton in November may have knocked the New York Senator off her pedestal, the spectacle was comedic fodder that only hurt the Democrats’ stature—already weakened by Congressional policy failures—in the eyes of many.
This is a time when we need the good vibrations. Save the mudslinging for another day. Remember that, when the time comes for the chosen candidate to make a final run for the White House, just about any truth to be told about the GOP will be seen as mudslinging. The rhetorical arsenals will be burgeoning, and it would be best if, when Republicans head out with their shovels to find something to throw back, they’re not simply echoing the Democratic field.
Sometimes irony can be so thick, so concentrated, that it is poisonous.
In an interview with CSPAN, the man behind President Bush’s two White House wins cited a recent debate in Philadelphia when Clinton was asked why more of her records as first lady have not yet been made public.
“He missed the opportunity,” Rove explained. “If he had stood there and said, ‘Senator, with all due respect, it is entirely within the power of you and your husband to immediately order the release of those documents. And your failure to do so reveals legitimate questions in the minds of the American people about what you might be hiding and it’s not going to be good for the Democratic party or for you if you allow those questions to persist,’ it would have been a moment, it would have been a big moment.”
This would be amusing save for the fact that this is Karl Rove.
First, Rove is seeking a two-for-one swipe, knocking Hillary Clinton in the same breath as he criticizes Obama for not being hard enough on her. This, I suppose, counts as good politics, but we ought not pretend that—regardless of whether we agree with the criticism—Rove is offering this in any spirit other than the advancement of the GOP.
Especially as this is Karl Rove. The idea that he is any position to criticize anyone regarding the release of historical records is laughable.
Of course, we will get much more of this kind of disingenuous analysis from Rove as he squares off with the Kos himself at Newsweek for the 2008 cycle.