Thursday, March 13, 2008

Hillary Clinton says Michigan Primaries Were Fair

I've just heard an interview with Hillary Clinton. I was so upset by what she said that I sent her campaign a letter. I had liked all the Democratic Party presidential candidates. I supported Barack Obama, but my support for him wasn't much stronger than my support of Clinton. I liked both of the candidates. On policy suggestions, I slightly favored Clinton, but Obama won my vote because I've known about him for about eight years and I've admired him since his days in the Illinois Senate and his work on some committees related to poverty and homelessness in Illinois. I don't have any personal connection to Hillary, but I have multiple personal connections to Obama, so I supported him. It was a case of my second-favorite senator running against my fifth-favorite senator, but I could see that both candidates had slightly different strengths and weaknesses, and I thought it was practically a toss-up between them as to which would make a better candidate. So, I let my personal connections and intuition guide me to favor Obama. Lately however, I was feeling a little upset at some of the attacks I was hearing against Clinton by Obama supporters, and I was beginning to wonder if perhaps I should support Clinton rather than Obama.

Now, after hearing Hillary Clinton on NPR, I no longer feel as supportive of her as I did. I no longer have any doubts or regrets about supporting Barack Obama. I'm ready to put a sign in my yard and contribute money to his campaign.

My letter to Hillary Clinton's campaign will explain why I now feel this way.

I have just heard you on NPR. I feel emotionally crushed, and defeated, and betrayed. I had, until this morning, felt equally happy about you and Obama. You are two of my favorite politicians. I remember back in 1992 wishing you had been nominated rather than your husband, and I still happen to think your husband was an outstanding president. Yet, this morning I heard you say that the Michigan primary was "fair" and that your decision to keep your name on the Michigan primary ballot was "wise." It was wise only in some Machiavellian sense. I remember reading in the newspaper that the Democratic National Committee had asked candidates to withdraw from Michigan's primary, and I remember thinking at the time that it was odd that you were the only candidate who left your name on the ballot. On NPR I believe you just told us that nobody told Obama to take his name off the ballot. Well, no one told him, but he was asked to do so.

I still think you would be a good president, and I still think your policy suggestions are generally better than Obama's, but after hearing you on NPR this morning I can no longer support your candidacy in the primaries, and I am going to stop speaking up for you around here until (if) you win the Democratic Party nomination. You really need to reconsider your approach to the Michigan Primary issue. It's one thing to ask for a new primary there, but quite a different thing to say the primary there was "fair" and your victory, as the only candidate on the ballot, was partly a result of your "wisdom" in keeping your name on the ballot, despite the request of the DNC that you remove your name from the ballot, a request every other candidate honored.

No doubt many other neutral Democrats, or those who slightly favored you, will turn on you if you continue to press this issue as you just did on NPR. Your position on the Michigan primaries is disturbing. I feel horrible, like I've just been punched in the gut by a friend. I wish you had said something more reasonable and true, like, "Well, I won 55% of that Michigan primary, and I think if there was another primary in Michigan I'd win even more than that, but it's true that a primary where only one candidate's name is on the ballot is hardly fair, and I agree with the Obama campaign that we need to find some way to give the people of Michigan a voice in the process of determining the Democratic candidate. So, I'm looking for some way to allow Michigan to seat delegates at our convention, and I don't think that a 50-50 split of those delegates would be fair to me, since my support in Michigan is well above 50%." Saying something like that would be honest, true, and fair, and by showing your fairness and honesty would help you win the hearts of your supporters. Instead of doing that, you have alienated us by saying "the Michigan primaries were fair."


Polychrysos said...


You've said exactly what I think, what a lot of people watching this think. Both Obama and Clinton seemed like good politicians and good candidates: six months ago I would have been glad to see them running against one another. But there are few things Clinton has done -- above all the business with Michigan -- that have simply appalled me. No politician is perfect, and I don't expect that. But there are a few things that she's done that crossed a line for me: they were dishonest beyond what I've come to expect, even of a politician. Obama's campaign hasn't been perfect -- how could it be? -- but I didn't feel that it ever crossed the same line.

So it's been sad to see Hillary and Bill tarnish their legacy. But I really think I've learned something from it. I've learned what Obama means when he talks about "the politics of hope." I used to think that was an empty phrase, but now I understand what's behind it. I understand the politics of hope because the Clintons have provided an example of what cynical politics looks like.

Because that's what it comes down to: cynicism vs. hope. The most distasteful aspects of the Clinton campaign, and you could say that to a lesser extent about Obama or any other candidate, are the product not of deliberate evil, but of simple cynicism. I'll never believe that Hillary and Bill are bad people, few of us really are. I have no doubt that they sincerely want to do good. But what matters is what they believe is necessary in order to achieve the good that is in their hearts. The problem is that they sincerely believe that if they want to make the world a better place, they must use despicable means to get to their goal. They've employed dishonest or vicious tactics not because they want to, but because they feel they have to. They've done what they've done not because they're evil but because they're cynical.

There are lots of smaller examples of this, but the Michigan example is the best because it's the most obvious. The only reason that Hillary is trying to argue that Michigan should count is that this is how she thinks the world works. She believes that most people won't react the way you reacted and the way I reacted: she believes that most people will tolerate manifest dishonesty. She believes that in this life it is often necessary to employ dirty means to admirable ends, and she believes that most people understand that and will accept what she's trying to do.

Michigan is the obvious example, as I said, but it's not the only one. I really believe that it was Hillary's cynicism that made her feel she needed to vote in favor or the war on Iraq or to utter her recent incendiary threats against Iran. She doesn't believe a Democrat can get elected president without sounding crazier on foreign policy than the Republican. I don't think she likes this, but this is how she thinks the game is played. And I think it's cynicism too, that makes her engage in all the shot-and-a-beer, I-love-guns, gas-tax-holiday pandering. Of course it's silly and demeaning and dishonest, but that's the way things are, right? That's what you have to do to bring about positive change.

Of course I don't really know what Hillary thinks. I can't speak for certain about what goes on in any head but my own. But the reason that I suspect that this is how Hillary and Bill see things is that I know this is how I saw them until very recently. I know something about cynicism because I'm a recovering cynic, and likely to relapse at almost any time. Only last fall I remember being delighted to hear one of Clinton's aides saying that the campaign planned to smear Rudy Giuliani, then seen as their most likely opponent in the general election. The Clinton surrogate said that if Giuliani were the Republican nominee, Hillary would make sure "that the whole country knows as much about his personal life as New York already knows." At the time, I'm ashamed to admit that loved hearing this. I was excited to hear that the Clintons would be slinging mud at Mayor 9/11. This was the kind of toughness I thought was necessary to win.

In retrospect, it's not hard to see that this was an unworthy emotion. But the upside is that I learned something from it. I've learned something about the cynicism of others by recognizing my own. And that's a lesson I want to hang on to. Whether or not Obama wins the presidency, and whether or not he disappoints the people who trusted him through his own cynical displays, I hope I won't give in to cynicism again myself. I hope I'll hang on to what, at its best moments, his campaign has been about. I hope that I'll remember that the world isn't as bad as I may have thought, that sometimes truth really is better than a lie and that the high road is sometimes the best path in this life as well as in the next.

Thanks for letting me make this long comment on your blog: I guess I've been thinking about this for a while. Hearing you say this got me thinking. Good luck with the end of a stressful term.


Eric Hadley-Ives said...

Thanks so much, Brendan, for that absolutely stunning commentary on the problems of cynicism and political mud-slinging and dishonesty and so forth.

This has always been an issue I've struggled with. The community organizer Saul Alinsky, one of my heroes, claimed that it was sometimes necessary to play rough and be bad. If you're going to save lives and you're fighting for the right side, then would you let justice be defeated to save your own conscience and keep yourself morally pure? No, that would be an act of spiritual pride and selfishness. You should go ahead and lie, or threaten, or trick the powerful oppressive forces and the people who are defending those interests. That was what Alinsky said in his "Rules for Radicals" but I've always remained doubtful of that position.

Living here in Springfield where Obama worked for nine years as a state senator, I have some friends who have worked with him and know him reasonably well. From their accounts it seems he is very much like he is in his books. Yes, he's a politician, but in the way Abraham Lincoln was a politician. He's a student of human nature and human character, and he can handle people, but he has a sort of core of goodness he probably won't betray. I'm excited to think (well, it's almost a sure thing) that he'll be my next president.