Friday, March 13, 2015

Hunkered and Steely

Uncredited image via Tinypic
Shorter David Brooks, "Hillary Clinton's Big Test", New York Times, March 13 2015:
It's a given that she'll be faced with brutal confrontations like Whitewater, Travelgate, health care reform, cattle futures, Monica Lewinsky, Benghazi, the emails and so on, because that's just how things are nowadays, apparently because of those stupid sunshine laws, I can't imagine any other reasons for such a peculiar atmosphere, so the question is basically whether she'll go strong or go large. Large means like Ronald Reagan, rising above hostility, to instead reveal scary and vulnerable parts of herself so that voters feel as though they can trust and relate to her; strong is like Frances Perkins, a personal hero of mine, who unfortunately ruined a promising career by being too reticent, too closed in her attitude toward information.
I know you all probably think I'm exaggerating and you're too lazy or too Times-phobic to click the link, but he really said that about Perkins:
Frances Perkins, a hero of mine who was F.D.R.’s secretary of labor, was one of the nation’s great public servants. But she was too reticent, too closed in her attitude toward information. She shut down in the face of the media. This attitude did her enormous harm, regardless of her many other gifts.
It is the last paragraph in the column.

Frances Perkins is literally a saint, with a feast day in the Episcopal calendar (May 13). She was the first woman cabinet member, and the longest-serving secretary of labor, holding the position from 1933 to 1945 (when President Truman transferred her to the Civil Service Commission), and retiring from government service in 1952 at the age of 72, on the death of her severely mentally ill husband. She created Social Security and unemployment insurance. Even David Brooks claims to regard her as a hero, although he opposes everything she stood for—a powerful government protecting the people against the ruthless exploitation that is an inevitable feature of capitalism.

However, Wikipedia says,
her Boston upbringing held her back from mingling freely and exhibiting personal affection. She was well-suited for the high-level efforts to effect sweeping reforms, but never caught the public's eye or its affection.
So I guess Brooks feels she was a failure in her life, as Hillary Clinton is also likely to be if she doesn't shape up.

This is really Maureen Dowd territory, derived from one of her lines of attack against Barack Obama, when she's not suggesting he's a woman but an emotionless Vulcan. Obama's chilly and unfriendly character is of course chiefly noticed in certain Georgetown dining rooms. The public in the wider sense of the term doesn't know about it at all (partly, I think, because he gets along pretty easily with people not in those same particular DC townhouses).
Although on one occasion [Perkins] engaged in some heated name-calling with Alfred P. Sloan, the chairman of the board at General Motors. During a punishing United Auto Workers strike, she called him up in the middle of the night, and called him a scoundrel and a skunk for not giving in to the union's demands. "You don't deserve to be counted among decent men. You'll go to hell when you die."
When Clinton does that I'll quit my job and just start following her around like a Deadhead.

Then again, the questioning of whether Clinton is or isn't "hunkered down, steely, scornful and secretive" is also in harmony with Brooks's Burkean axiom that "manners are of more importance than laws." Thus he begins by calling our current political impasses a "protocol crisis":
The political world is stuck in the middle of an accelerating protocol crisis. All sorts of customary acts of self-restraint are being washed away. It used to be that senators didn’t go out campaigning against one another. It used to be they didn’t filibuster except in rare circumstances. It used to be they didn’t block presidential nominations routinely.

It used to be that presidents didn’t push the limits of executive authority by redefining the residency status of millions of people without congressional approval. It used to be that presidents didn’t go out negotiating arms control treaties in a way that doesn’t require Senate ratification. It used to be that senators didn’t write letters to hostile nations while their own president was negotiating with them.
And I don't think Walter Lippmann would have referred to the immigration authorities' prosecutorial discretion (unquestioned even by Judge Hanen) to decide which of 6 million undocumented immigrants to deport first, given the physical impossibility of deporting them all at the same time, as "redefining" anything "without congressional approval" or to the ongoing discussion of a framework agreement for Iran's uranium refining industry as an "arms treaty" in some way different from the agreement successfully negotiated with the Clinton administration in 1994 with North Korea or the Bush administration's failed attempts to re-negotiate it from 2003 through 2009, which certainly did not require or would not have required Senate approval.

What could have used some congressional approval, in contrast, would be the Reagan administration when it violated the express congressional prohibition against providing support to an insurgent war against the democratically elected Nicaraguan government, financed by illegal sales of arms to Iran (to help that country defend itself against Iraqi invasion under then-president Saddam Hussein, also financed by the US of course), which really happened, and the idea that Reagan "rose above the bitterness" is a pretty hilarious way of saying that he simply denied any knowledge of what was going on, with a courteous smile, cheerfully throwing all his people under the bus (though indeed nobody was ever punished in the end after George H.W. Bush pardoned them all). Young Brooksy was reviewing books at WSJ at the time. I don't suppose he ever finished a book in those days either.

Once you've gotten rid of that bothsiderism, anyway, you can see that that this isn't a problem of protocol. The crisis is an entirely partisan one, between one indecisive and mildly corrupt party whose members would like to do something to gratify the needs and desires of the people as a whole, and one forceful (though incompetent in policy terms) and massively corrupt party determined to thwart such ideas at any cost of effort or money.

Concern trolling is such a weird thing, when you think about it. The troll takes the position of I really don't want you to succeed because I disagree with your aims, but here's how I advise you to do it. Why would anybody actually want to do that? The goal here, presumably, is to repeat that litany of Clinton's not-quite-crimes, repetition being the basic propaganda technique of the right
GUTHRIE: Senator McConnell you're known in Washington as someone who stays on message better than anyone else. What's that all about?
MCCONNELL: Well, I think you have to decide what you're gonna -- what you're gonna say, and uh, I think in order to drive any message home, uh, repetition's a good idea.
—and continuing at the same time to maintain his utterly dishonest assertion of nonpartisan good faith, now that he's become a moralist instead of a Republican hack.

There is certainly no way Clinton can prove that she has nothing to hide, in the sense that the vast rightwing conspiracy will go on insisting she does no matter how much documentation she supplies, as they continue to insist we have not seen Barack Obama's birth certificate, and their respectable enablers like Brooks continue to murmur the words ("Whitewater, Travelgate, health care reform, cattle futures...") in their mild-mannered way.

For the rest of us, whose questions on Clinton's honesty are primarily to do with whether she will support Democratic policy or not or whose pocket she might be in, I hope she can give us some clear idea or, if not, get out of the way soon. I doubt that getting to see her State Department emails would really help with that; if she's been talking about bombing Uruguay or recognizing an independent Lombard League or nominating Mark Penn to head the World Bank, she's not putting it in that format.

Best of all would be if the Washington political bureaus of our distinguished newspapers and broadcast media would start talking about policy, but I'm afraid I've lost hope that will happen in my lifetime. They'll keep on talking about the he-said-she-said of the permanent campaign as if it were policy, and Brooks will keep on licking his lips and shaking his jowls in bemusement.
Shorter shorter David Brooks:
Why was she allowed to violate margin requirements as an amateur trader on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in 1978? Some say it's because the firm let all its clients violate margin requirements, others that it was because she was controlling the Chicago mob from her home in Little Rock after Sam Giancana flamed out. If she'll only admit to her many crimes the way Ronald Reagan did, the American public will probably be merciful.

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