Secretary Clinton: Let Me Show You the World in My Eyes

Or perhaps the correct reference for that last post was Depeche Mode rather than Andy Warhol.

Let me take you on a trip
Around the world and back
And you won’t have to move
You just sit still

Now let your mind do the walking
And let my body do the talking
Let me show you the world in my eyes

World History, As Pantomimed in the Facial Expressions of Hillary Clinton

The holiday from history ends and the war on terrorism begins with the spectacle of September 11th. The Bush administration decided to make dueling spectacles of the war on terrorism when it opened the war on Iraq with “shock and awe”. The logical conclusion of the first major arc of the war on terrorism would have been the spectacle of Osama bin Laden’s bloodied corpse, but President Obama decided to deny the world that spectacle. That bookend to the war on terrorism would remain unconceptualized in the spectacle (Barack Obama is “the first Jewish president“).

What we got instead of the image of the death of Osama bin Laden was the image of the death of Osama bin Laden reflected on the face of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton witnessing the death of Osama bin Laden, Situation Room, the White House, 1 May 2011

Secretary Clinton has tried to fob this image off, saying, “I am somewhat sheepishly concerned that it was my preventing one of my early spring allergic coughs. So, it may have no great meaning whatsoever.”

Is this the Clintonian reflex, or Obama’s postmodern commitment to non-representation and non-meaning? Or maybe it was a yawn?

She should own this moment: it’s one of the most amazing and iconic images to come out of the war on terrorism. And she is turning the office of Secretary of State into the U.S.’s emotional barometer.

Today, when Libyan rebels managed to locate and kill Muammar Gaddafi, one of the first vectors of this story was when, while preparing for a series of pool interviews in Kabul, Afghanistan, Secretary Clinton was handed a BlackBerry with the news. Again, no image of the event, but the event reflected in Hillary Clinton’s reaction.

Hillary Clinton reacts to news of Muammar Gaddafi's capture, Kabul, Afghanistan, 20 October 2011

It’s like world history meets Andy Warhol’s Blow Job (Wikipedia | YouTube).

Also of note, that baby bump just over Secretary Clinton’s right shoulder is Deputy Chief of Staff Huma Abedin, wife of Anthony Weiner.

The Pink Pentagon

Has Foggy Bottom become the pink Pentagon? It now seems that it will be a routine part of every presidential administration — or at least of their supporters — for the next couple of cycles to tout its advanced thinking on gender issues by pointing to its high-level appointment of a woman to the position of Secretary of State.

Two out of the last three Secretaries of State have been women (Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice). Candidate Obama seemed to have Samantha Power on the Secretary of State shortlist and now it seems as if Senator Clinton is on the way there, purportedly to mollify her female supporters by providing the Senator with some role.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon remains an impenetrable bastion of masculinity. And not just men, but manly men. Donald Rumsfeld practically snorted puffs of superheated testosterone out his nose. Not only are women inconceivable, but apparently even so effeminate as Democrats at large are no longer allowed at the Department of Defense. President Clinton selected a Republican to head the Pentagon (William Cohen) and President-elect Obama has rumors emanating that he will retain Secretary Gates for a period, or of Senator Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense.

Nominating a woman to run the Pentagon would cause a political firestorm of retrograde gender imaginings, still lurking just below the surface. It will be the true, last hold out against female equality.

The two institutions have both obviously become overloaded with psychological meaning. The State Department, with its constant bias toward diplomacy, is the redoubt of verbal skills, much denigrated now that it turns out that women possess them in spades over men. And the State Department has only become an acceptable appointment for a woman as the department has declined in stature. It’s budget has been allowed to deteriorate away over the years, ambassadorships have become powerless rewards for campaign contributors and responsibility for real foreign policy making has all moved over to the Pentagon. Now that it’s the department of international social work, it’s safe to leave the place to a woman. The State Department has even got a double entendre in its unofficial name — Foggy Bottom — to suggest that it’s the proper place to send the skirts, especially the bulging middle-aged ones. They may as well run a knitting circle out of the Secretary’s office suite, whereas the Pentagon is a bastion of manly action.

If what is required is someone who can talk our enemies to death, why not go with one of the original rumors, and make Senator John Kerry the Secretary of State? If Senator Clinton is going to get a role other than leading the charge for healthcare reform in Congress, then let’s retire this gender-reifying myth and send her to the Pentagon.

Ouch! 2008 as 1972

Among all the other things they’ve lost, at least The Economist hasn’t lost their edge. In review of Rick Perlstein’s new book, Nixonland, they have the following to say about the present election season (“The Fuel of Power,” vol. 387, no. 8579, 10 May 2008, pp. 93-94):

It is hard, in the current political season, to read this book without hearing the sound of history rhyming, to paraphrase Mark Twain. George McGovern’s promise of “post-partisanship” galvanised America’s youth. He trumpeted his opposition to the Vietnam war under the slogan of “right from the start”. He went on to suffer one of the biggest defeats in the general election in American history. “Dirty politics confused him,” Hunter S. Thompson sighed. Nixon chose “experience counts” as his campaign slogan in 1960 and boasted that he had spent “a lifetime getting ready”. He made up for his lack of personal charm by an almost deranged relentlessness. But this week’s result suggests that these are only half-rhymes at best: Barack Obama has already met his Richard Nixon and slain her.

The entire media establishment this week is touting the demise of the Clinton campaign, and the whole thing has been rather unseemly for Senator Clinton, but no one says it in quite such a wince-inducing fashion as The Economist.

A Concession Speech?

Regarding the Clinton campaign continuance clear to convention: On the other hand, Senator Clinton’s speech last night sounded surprisingly like a concession speech — especially this part (“Hillary’s Election Day Remarks in Indianapolis, Indiana, 6 May 2008):

And I especially want to thank my family for their incredible love and support. Bill and Chelsea. People ask us all the time, how do you keep going? We love getting out and meeting people. We love having a chance to be with all of you, and didn’t Chelsea do a great job? I know a lot of people enjoyed seeing my husband again out on the campaign trail.

And I’m not the only one. A coworker commented to the same effect to me this morning. And Tim Russert couldn’t control himself over a rumor that the Clinton campaign had cancelled all morning press appearances. It seems to me like she was leaving the door open to an announcement later today. If nothing else, there’s got to be some somber strategy sessions this morning among the Clinton people.

And upon some reflection, the thing that I see that could be really convincing to the Clinton campaign could turn out to be the money game. The fundraising pattern looks even more bleak than the electoral one.

Hillary Clinton: Reloaded

Hillary Clinton throwing back a brew, Bronko's Restaurant and Lounge, Crown Point, Indiana, 12 April 2008

Hillary Clinton hesitating over a shot of Crown Royal, Bronko's Restaurant and Lounge, Crown Point, Indiana, 12 April 2008

For the last few years it’s been kissing your way to the White House. This year for a few days it seemed like it might be sobbing your way to the White House. My hope is that it might now turn to drinking your way to the White House. After a dry drunk as president, this is a welcome change. Words won’t help you now Obama. Time to pony up. You’ve done coke so showing this old lady up should be no problem. Or maybe it’ll be like Marion Ravenwood drinking a bunch of Nepalese tough guys under the table at her bar, The Raven, in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Campaigning at Bronko’s Restaurant and Lounge in Crown Point, Indiana, Senator Clinton was polishing of a brew when someone offered “You want a shot with that?” John Stewart mocked her for her choice of Crown Royal. But if you watch the video, when it’s suggested that she drink a shot she says, “I want something sweet.” It turns out that her idea of something sweet is actually the sweat end of bitter. When most people say “something sweet” what they mean is a Mellon Ball or a Lemon Drop. When Hillary Clinton say “something sweat” what she means is a sweat whiskey. I’m sold.

I was so amused by this that I actually can’t decide which picture I liked the most. So here she is, both a beer and a whiskey. More at The Gawker (“A Shot in the Dark: Hot Hillary Clinton Party Photos!,” 14 April 2008).

Big Trouble in Denver

Last night’s Texas, Ohio, Vermont, Rhode Island primary outcomes were very bad news. I say this in part because I am coming around to Barack Obama — he has shown some wonk and some fight — in part because I am seriously put off by Clinton campaign racist nastiness but mostly because I am a political realist: at this point, Senator Obama has the advantage.

Senator Obama is up around a hundred delegates and the Democratic primaries divvy up their delegates proportionately. With the electorate split nearly evenly, delegates will continue to be divided 51-49 between the candidates and while Senator Obama may go up or down a few delegates each primary, his approximately 100 delegate lead becomes structural.

What I think is really bad is what the Clinton end game has got to look like. Earlier in the primaries there was a lot of talk of the super delegates overruling the will of the people by voting en mass for Senator Clinton even though Senator Obama came to convention with the majority of the regular delegates. A lot of commentators tried somewhat successfully to dispel this idea, arguing that the super delegates wouldn’t do that, that they mostly follow the will of the people, that Senator Obama is having no problem picking up super delegate pledges himself.

Grant that the super delegates will follow the will of the people. What happens if the situation above plays out: say Clinton wins the remainder of the primaries and so has “momentum” and perception once more on her side. But the 51-49 wins keep up so that the Senator Obama’s 100 delegate lead more or less persists. Going into convention in this situation, there simply wouldn’t be a “will of the people” for super delegates to ratify, or at least they could overrule Senator Obama’s regular delegate majority and plausibly say that they weren’t involved in some act of anti-democratic treachery, that Senator Clinton in fact was the latter day choice of the Democrats.

The means of turning the super delegates as well as those remaining primaries will be an increasingly negative campaign. We end up with the first convention battle since — what — 1968? There will be a huge convention fight over whether or not to seat the Florida and Michigan delegations. That and the tremendous expenditure of money and effort spent by two Democrats hammering away at each other could be trouble for the eventual nominee.

But I don’t think necessarily. A convention battle could garner all sorts of free, exciting news coverage that could cement the Democratic candidate’s name in the minds of many an undecided voter and the pathos that accrues to the eventual winner could make for a compelling narrative. That and people constantly under-estimate the WWF factor in U.S. politics.

I happen to think that a Clinton victory in this scenario is highly unlikely because Senator Obama is having little trouble picking up super delegate pledges himself. And where he lacks the backroom advantage, he will have the likes of Ted Kennedy and John Kerry — both super delegates — working that angle for him. Nonetheless, this is the strategy that the Clintons are playing by staying in.

The certain danger is that Democrats forfeit precious time. John McCain has proven an lackluster fund raiser, has allowed his political persona to go off the rails and is really in the squeeze between the need to bring out a less than enthusiastic base and regain his independent appeal. As Carl Bernstein pointed out that night on CNN, what John McCain needs is time and by not dropping out, what Senator Clinton has given him is just that: time. Time to store up some cash, time to continue to pander to the base without having to worry about a dedicated opponent making hay about it and time to get his personae back on track.

And then there’s money. Barack Obama raised $50 million last month, Hillary Clinton raised $30 million. If Senator Clinton would drop, Senator Obama couldn’t capture it all, but could start to approach $80 million months. As it is, all that money is going to be blown on Democrats pillorying one another.

The dramatic high point of last night was Barack Obama’s speech. First of all, this scenario caught him unaware. A couple of minutes into his speech, I asked a viewing companion, “Is he just going to deliver his standard stump speech?” I imagine his campaign having prepared some magnanimous speech complementing his opponents on a campaign hard-fought and honorably conducted, outlining a vision for the future of the party, etc. only to have to abandon it at the last minute for some tweaks to what they had on hand.

Second, Obama was visibly pissed. His eyebrow smoldered and his eyes flashed angrily as he delivered the speech. It was quite an impressive display.

But Senator Obama continued his recent strategy of meaning John McCain when he refers to “my opponent” and “Hillary who?” Act like the winner and people will respond accordingly. Again, some fight.

Polymorphous Personae

The thing that Hillary Clinton doesn’t get about campaigning — and that John Kerry and Al Gore didn’t get either — is that you need to pick a persona early and stick with it. There is an analogue in creating a persona to framing around an issue. Framing works by repetition over a long period of time. This is probably the one thing that Democrats at large don’t get.

All politicians are fake, it’s just that Republicans have a consistency in their fakeness. And when you’re consistent, people don’t catch on. When a politician grabs one persona this week and another the next, it doesn’t take long before voters conclude that such a politician is a fake.

At least with respect to his persona, Barack Obama gets this. He has been positioning himself as a certain sort of person all along so when it came primary time, people had a well cultivated set of beliefs about him that he could easily and naturally play upon. Hence the gentleness of his campaigning style: all the heavy lifting is in the frame. Hillary Clinton was the candidate of experience — until it turned out that that was not what voters wanted. They wanted change, so now she is the candidate of change. I have no doubt that should she dispatch Senator Obama, we will never hear the word “change” from her again in the general election. If she is up against Governor Huckabee then she will be all about compassion rooted in her humble upbringing and her faith. If Senator McCain gets the Republican nomination, she will be boasting about what a maverick she has been all along. If Mitt Romney gets it, well, then she can continue to be the always-yes-saying robot that she has been all along.

The crazy thing about Al Gore is that he had spent years as a Senator cultivating signature issues of the environment, nuclear weapons and high-tech. But when the 2000 campaign came around, the Democratic consultants came in with their everything-to-everybody strategy, told him to pitch his long-standing associations and cycled through a rotating list of Gore personas until everyone in America was left asking who the real Al Gore was. After the beard and paunch growth soul searching and some consultant detox, the real Al Gore is back.

If I could introduce the Democratic party to one concept, it would be opportunity cost. In order to be one thing, you have to foreclose the possibility of being some other thing. You’re going to have to piss someone off. Pick something and come to terms with saying sianora to the rest.

Battle Tested

One of the characters of mythic proportion here in D.C. is that of the hard old pol: that tough political boss, heavily scarred from many a close-fought election battle. Think Tip O’Neal or Edward Kennedy.

Last night Senator Hillary Clinton showed that she has it. It’s not just a good ol’ boys club. Joshua Marshall points out (“Making Sense of It,” Talking Points Memo, 9 January 2008):

And I do not think that any of Clinton’s critics can say that she won this one by overpowering Obama with money or mobilizing a dominating political machine or by expectations of inevitability and certainly not with the help of a friendly press. However you slice it this was a real victory under pressure. And if she’s the nominee she’ll be a much better one for it.

After last night’s win, everyone should take a long, hard look at Senator Clinton. She’s hard to see because we’ve all been made to see her through the filter of tabloid in this modern world, but after last night, she seems more like something of an other, older tradition. The politicians who make something in this world all end up compromised in some way. There is a proper rule for how and when to hold that against a politician. It makes me think of Auda abu Tayi’s boast in Lawrence of Arabia: “I carry twenty-three great wounds, all got in battle.” Damage or disfigurement is not always a mark of shame.

In the bright light of day people will say that what they want is clarity and principle and happy things like hope for the future and positive vision and big think. But the astute know that what politics really calls for is what Senator Clinton has demonstrated. They call it the greasy pole. To climb it, you have to get a little dirty.