One of the most perceptive pieces of journalism on the subject of Jimmy Carter was a 1979 essay by his former speechwriter Fallows called “The Passionless Presidency.” The title alone summons up an almost perfect image of the cool, detached Obama style, but the shocks of recognition keep piling up as you read on. – Thomas Frank
A WEEKEND piece by Thomas Frank stirred up some discomfort among the online ranks. All I could do was chuckle, because there are a lot of people out there in Democratic liberal land who not only aren’t “losers,” but warned of what was to come. I’m one of them (and have the battle scars to prove it).
But let’s be honest, compared to John McCain and Sarah Palin? There’s a reason he inspired such — dare I say it today — hope, which the Republican duo did not.
Way back when, after writing posts for months that included information gleaned from interviews with people in Chicago who knew how he came up, including associates of Alice Palmer, there was no doubt Barack Obama was a very astute politician and didn’t represent a “different kind of politics,” which was pure marketing genius. In May 2007, candidate Obama said this to George Stephanopoulos:
“I think that I have the capacity to get people to recognize themselves in each other. I think that I have the ability to make people get beyond some of the divisions that plague our society and to focus on common sense and reason and that’s been in short supply over the last several years. I’m not an ideologue, never have been. Even during my younger days when I was tempted by, you know, sort of more radical or left wing politics, there was a part of me that always was a little bit conservative in that sense; that believes that you make progress by sitting down listening to people, recognizing everybody’s concerns, seeing other people’s points of views and then making decisions.” – Barack Obama (on ABC’s This Week)
That one quote was the tell, but no one was listening.
It’s why I also believe that the most dangerous thing about a Republican Senate is not what would happen to President Obama, but the deals he might be tempted to revisit, including the grand bargain, though I’ve been assured that will never happen.
Unlike the Thomas Frank “losers,” I learned over a lifetime that American idealism in politics is a fool’s errand. It will be the same with Hillary Clinton, too, because she will have to exist inside the system, too. It’s just unlike President Obama, Hillary isn’t from the “passionless… cool, detached” wing of the centrist establishment, which is the only wing that survives the Washington old boys’ club.
As I’ve written for years, Hillary Clinton is the most experienced establishment player eyeing the presidency. If Barack Obama has taught “the losers” anything it should be that thinking you can ride in and change the system is as dumb as supporters putting all their idealism into one person. The belief I have that Hillary Clinton deserves a whack at the presidency isn’t based on lofty, pie in the sky idealism. It comes from cold pragmatism about her strengths, what she’s survived and seen as a result, as well as her understanding of how Washington, the Pentagon, and world politics work.
If you’ve read The Hillary Effect, the first chapter “What If?” offers a cold analysis of what might have been and that I have no illusions about what it takes for a female politician to rise.
There should be no question that Hillary Clinton’s establishment credentials, from Washington to across the world, is a double-edged sword, but one in which she couldn’t be vying for commander in chief without, something that’s too often ignored by the “liberal losers,” to paraphrase Thomas Frank.
Another excerpt from Thomas Frank’s Salon piece:
The moral of this story is not directed at Democratic politicians; it is meant for us, the liberal rank and file. We still “yearn to believe,” as Perlstein says. There is something about the Carter/Obama personality that appeals to us in a deep, unspoken way, and that has led Democrats to fall for a whole string of passionless centrists: John Kerry, Al Gore, Michael Dukakis, Gary Hart and Bill Clinton. Each time, Democratic voters are enchanted by a kind of intellectual idealism that (we are told) is unmoored from ideology. We persuade ourselves that the answer to the savagery of the right—the way to trump the naked class aggression of the One Percent—is to say farewell to our own tradition and get past politics and ideology altogether.
And so we focus on the person of the well-meaning, hyper-intelligent leader. We are so high-minded, we think. We are so scientific.
We are such losers.
Say what you will about William Jefferson Clinton, but one thing he was not when he ran over 20 years ago was “passionless.”
As the Supreme Court affirmed recently in Citizens United, our politics is controlled by the Almighty Dollar, which fuels two political parties, but also the discontent that is rising through the growing independent voter class.
Let’s just not rewrite history, as Thomas Frank did on Salon.com.
There were a lot of people who knew what Barack Obama would bring as president, which amounted to the same thing we always get in our stacked, bought and paid for corporate democracy, only worse, because he believed he could be The One to change the stacked deck all by himself. Unfortunately, his tightly sealed White House bubble kept this illusion intact, while the world threw darts at Fortress Jarrett.
The only hope we have is electing someone who might be able to manipulate the stacked deck by working within the confines that have become the Corporate United States of Capitalist America.
Is Hillary Clinton that person? There are few others more battle tested in the arena she’d have to navigate, manipulate and lead as president and commander in chief.
Oh, and she’s also a woman, the first ever, perhaps, which isn’t a small thing when you consider Iran just beheaded a woman for killing her rapist.
We’re still second class citizens across the world, including in this country where we elect the men who have ruled our country for two centuries, but still don’t have parity in politics.