Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Frum Is Dumb: Former Bush Speechwriter's "Interesting" Analysis of Hillary Clinton

The American political landscape is surreal at the moment, which makes me open to a lot of unusual things. But my flexibility has some limits. Today, David Frum, a former speechwriter for President Bush, offered his analysis regarding Obama's decision to select Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Frum has tested my limits.

Obama Engaging in "Tough Politics" and Now in "Control" of Clinton
During an interview with CNN, Frum provided this interesting perspective on Obama's decision to pick Clinton:
[She] has just moved from having an independent power base in the Senate to being in effect an employee of Barack Obama. And not just any employee, but one who has had to open her files to Barack Obama.

Just imagine the scene of the Obama people going through the Clinton files and saying, "Wow, this could be embarrassing if anybody ever found out about it. Don't worry, it's safe with us."

He has just cemented his enormous power over her, and the sentimental idea out there that he's reaching for a rival and padding the dust off her and bringing her into a Cabinet to be his rival -- no, he's putting her into his Cabinet in order to control her. It's a pretty impressive display of tough politics.
Response: Certainly Clinton, like any other cabinet member, will serves at the will of the President. But anyone with a knowledge of politics knows that cabinet members typically have a lot of say in formulating policy. The Bush administration, however, operated like a dictatorship; perhaps this clouds Frum's analysis. Clinton will clearly implement Obama's policy perspectives, but it is becoming abundantly clear that Obama and Clinton probably do not differ too much in terms of policy (certainly not to the degree advanced by Obama's supporters during the primaries). Besides, if Obama simply wanted to "control" Clinton, he could have picked her as his running mate or appointed her to a less powerful cabinet position.

Also, Clinton is not just any other staffer. She won 18 million votes in the Democratic primaries, and has a large following. That, in fact, explains why people (including Frum) continue to debate her. The pro-Hilary crowd will not vanish simply because she now occupies a high-level position in Obama's cabinet. Having Clinton in the cabinet will keep her from publicly criticizing Obama, but this does not mute her fanbase. Besides, if I am correct, and the two share a similar vision on foreign policy, then they will probably see eye-to-eye on most issues anyway.

Finally, I am not sure whether too many damaging documents concerning Clinton still exist. But even if they do, once she becomes part of Obama's administration, the two politicians' destinies become more united. Her embarrassments become his, and vice versa. Neither has an interest in slamming the other once they begin working together.

Clinton Was "Trapped" Into Accepting the Job By Press Leaks
When asked why Clinton would take a job that requires her to cede her independence, Frum says: "Well, I think part of it, she was trapped. The series of leaks that happened over the past week; they leaked the news of the offer. Barack Obama looks of course very magnanimous, making such an offer. . . Could she afford to say no and look like she was keeping some kind of grudge? And that might put her on the outs for a lot of Democrats for whom Barack Obama is the leader" (italics added).

Response: Leaks happen for a reason. One explanation: people hold on to juicy news items about as well as newborn babies control their bladders. DC is a leak machine, and Obama's decision to nominate his former rival is about as sensational as it gets. Beyond this reality, I imagine that both sides were playing the media in order to get leverage. Obama probably wanted Clinton to make a quick decision, but he benefited from the leak because it allows him to demonstrate that he has no "hard feelings" towards Clinton.

But once the press got hold of the story, Clinton benefited from stretching out the decision. The longer it bounced around, the more it looked like she controlled his transition process. A media circus could have occurred. Behind the scenes, the two were negotiating a lot of things, including Clinton's authority over hiring her own staff and the release of Bill Clinton's financial dealings. Apparently both sides won. Clinton has secured a "purge" of Obama's aides who said the most vicious things about her during the campaign, and Obama gets husband Bill to turn over documents. Joy.

Frum's assertion that Clinton needed to accept the position in order to demonstrate that she did not hold a grudge against Obama is disconnected from political reality. There are many Democrats who do not like Clinton and believe that she is the antithesis to Obama. If she turned down the job, this crowd would have cheered. Right now, the crowd is crying over Obama picking Clinton and many others from the Clinton administration.

Biden Might Eclipse Clinton on Foreign Policy
Frum also argues that Biden might become as strong Vice President as Dick Cheney and eclipse Clinton. Frum wonders whether Clinton will simply "take orders from the vice president, Joe Biden, who also has a lot of strong policy ideas, and who may end up having a role not unlike that of Dick Cheney. . . And maybe not as powerful quite as Dick Cheney, but he's got a big institutional base, a lot of strong foreign policy ideas. There will be some rivalry there."

Response: This is probably Frum's strongest argument, but I imagine Obama and Clinton have worked out the details of "power" during the long delay. And if reports which say that Clinton has secured a purge of her enemies from Obama's foreign policy team are accurate, then I imagine they have worked out the potential Biden-Clinton conflict. Also, Clinton and Biden are even closer on foreign policy than she and Obama. Accordingly, Frum's analysis probably exaggerates potential conflicts between Clinton and Biden.

But Obama has not announced a project for Biden yet. If Biden's role centers more on foreign policy, then he and Clinton could clash. I predict that Biden will play a greater role ushering Obama's legislative agenda through Congress. Domestic matters are subject to legislation far more than foreign policy initiatives. Accordingly, Biden's experience in the Senate could prove highly useful for Obama as he seeks to implement his policy vision.

Concluding Thoughts: I cannot pretend to know how this will evolve. But Frum's analysis does not sit well with me. What do you think?


Anonymous said...

Ok. This guy is a complete moron. And I googled him. Seems like he has had some sexism issues before, so this is not surprising. But what a moron, Hutch.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Thanks for the tip. I'll google him as well....

Aeneas said...

Frum (no idea who he is)and his mini and maxi theories of sinister intentions aside, I have to admit that it all seems rather Macchiavellian on both Senator Clinton's and Mr. O's part; or, to put it less elegantly--they're both out to screw one another's political future. On the other side of the equation, which probably outweighs the screwing part, they could both benefit hugely from one another's collective success.

As for Senator Clinton and why she took the job... I don't subscribe to the general narrative that she and Mr. B are master politicians. Master opportunists, may be. So, it doesn't necessarily means that this is part of some sinister plan of revenge, sabotage and sapping of the 'enemy.' Also, I am not so sure that Senator Clinton will be 'neutralized' (or neutered...) as an 'employee' of President Obama. A Secretary of State can be quite dangerous, if she becomes an emeny. Also, (I am here all over the countryside, I know... Just dropping thoughts as they come), one must consider that as a Senator, she is subject to elections (in two years?). The political landscape may be so altered for her, that she is not assured (one never is) of re-election. May be the threat was there; may be she saw that there were enough forces out there, enough who resented a few things, or would resent her in the position of oppositon to the Obama White House, and ensure that she wouldlose the election; in which case, she would be out of it completely. Perhaps she is aware that she might lose. Being in place and 'employed', without being subject to the whim of the voters is a great advantage. She is tenacious, and will stay for as long as it is convenient or useful. She is in no danger of being fired.

And then, there the truly sinister theory (or slipping into cynicism again)--isn't the Secretary of State the third in line for succession? Oooooh, now Rush should pick up on that!

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Aeneas: brilliant! And I love the concept of "master opportunists." I think this pretty much sums up the situation.

I do not think that Clinton would have lost re-election, but you are right: the future is not certain in election politics. I believe she was more concerned with a legacy. If Reed would remain head of the Senate, then what exactly would Clinton do to grab headlines? As SOS for Obama, she would certainly grab headlines, not only here but around the world. She's already making news, and she has not even taken the job yet.

Meanwhile, Obama gets to satisfy the Clintonites. Even though the PUMAs voted for him, there a lot of anger remains in the party, and some of the state contests turned out a lot closer than the dreamy press accounts of the election indicate. Obama's team knows this, even if the media decided to construct a different reality.

Ultimately, I believe Obama is bending over backwards to show that he is a moderate either because he is, in fact, a moderate OR because he believes that if he appears to be a moderate he can get more leftist things accomplished. I believe it's probably that he's a moderate. What do you think? His "mentor" at U. Chicago is Cass Sunstein - who eptomizes liberal moderation among legal scholars.

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