Thursday, February 14, 2008

Judging them by the company they keep - Updated

By Libby

I don't think it's fair to judge the candidates by the remarks or behavior of every low level staffer in their campaigns, the silly brouhaha over the Che flag in Houston being a prime example of making much ado about nothing. However, one should be able to extrapolate something about a candidate's mindset by who they choose as advisors and chief organizers.

With that in mind, K Drum flags a seminal quote from key Clinton operative Mark Penn.

"Could we possibly have a nominee who hasn't won any of the significant states -- outside of Illinois? That raises some serious questions about Sen. Obama.”

I don't know why Hillary didn't dump Penn while she was shaking up her staff. As far as I can see, he's done far more damage with his motor mouth than Ms. Solis has with any organizational miscalculations. I'd say that statement raises far more serious questions about Clinton's attitude than it speaks to Obama's viability. It shouts of a focus only on numbers and political advantage and implies a disdain for the 'little people.' Furthermore, it's not the first time I've been troubled by this attitude.

A couple of weeks ago, the story of this encounter arrived in my inbox.

In the hubbub of the spin room after last night’s Democratic debate in Hollywood’s Kodak Theatre, I introduced myself to Mandy Grunwald, Hillary Clinton’s media strategist, and prepared to ask a question. “Hi – you’re going to violate my I-only-speak-to-American-journalists…”, she said as I shook her hand.

I laughed. But it wasn’t a joke. “I just have this, like, you know, it’s my job to talk to people who print papers in states where we have voters - don’t take it personally but I’m going to answer his question first,” she said, pointing to Newsday’s Glenn Thrush, standing behind me. I spluttered something about people clicking on internet stories. “Mmm, not so much – I’ll take his first,” Ms Grunwald responded.

It's not that there isn't a legitimate reason to favor the domestic press, given time limits and all. It's the imperious attitude of the staffer that's troubling. You can almost hear her, "how dare you intrude on the royal highness' time" inflection in her words. Also, going beyond staff choices, this item that Michael Stickings caught a while back has been troubling me since I read it. When Hillary arrived in Washington in 1993, she almost immediately joined this Bible study group.

Clinton's prayer group was part of the Fellowship (or "the Family"), a network of sex-segregated cells of political, business, and military leaders dedicated to "spiritual war" on behalf of Christ, many of them recruited at the Fellowship's only public event, the annual National Prayer Breakfast. (Aside from the breakfast, the group has "made a fetish of being invisible," former Republican Senator William Armstrong has said.) The Fellowship believes that the elite win power by the will of God, who uses them for his purposes. Its mission is to help the powerful understand their role in God's plan.

Again, it's not that I have a problem with religiosity, but the members of Clinton's "cell" include the wives of some of the biggest, entrenched neo-con theocrats inside the Beltway. I suppose some might call it a bi-partisan outreach of sorts, but it feels uncomfortably close to the stated mission of Regent's College, whose grads have famously run amok in high positions within the Bush White House. These are the sort of Republicans that got us into this mess.

Michaels articulates my anxiety well.

For a long time, my reservations about Clinton had largely to do with her triangulating positions on Iraq, Iran, and foreign policy generally. More recently, I have been appalled by some of what I have heard from her on the campaign trail. But there is this other Hillary, the Hillary who reaches out to, and cozies up with, the likes of Brownback and Santorum, the Hillary who attracts Newt Gingrich, the Hillary who wants to work with Republicans to get things done, things Republicans but not her fellow Democrats may want done. This other Hillary is hardly someone I want in the White House.

It's certainly something I'll be weighing heavily when it comes time to cast my ballot.

Update: Ezra has more food for thought on the Clinton mindset. It certainly looks like winning is more important to them than what's best for the party or the country.

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