(Update, April 3: More economic plans, no new news.)
SOME POLITICAL CANDIDATES come up with new ideas and new initiatives because they really want to help people. Yes, we've all become cynical -- but there are still some of that good kind.
Then there's the more pedestrian, and plentiful, kind of candidate, the one who will say things and present new initiatives not so much to help people (though that's a nice side effect), but to make him- or herself look good -- to give the impression that they're problem-solving go-getters instead of poll-tracking, focus-group-reading, self-seeking hacks.
Hillary Clinton claims Barack Obama is the second kind: all words, no substance. She's not just wrong; she even knows she's wrong, and is making those accusations just to win, but a lot of people still don't see it. I've been paying a lot of attention to this specific issue -- substance vs. posing -- even, unlike more casual bloggers, listening in and sometimes asking questions during both candidates' regular press conference conference calls and reading all their campaign press releases. I even initially had some reservations about Obama (feel free to search this blog for my older posts about Obama), but the more I see of him, the more I see that he is the real thing. And "the real thing," in politics, is so rare that sometimes we can't even remember what it looks like. And as the campaign drags on, I also see more and more proof that Clinton is the second kind of politician: one who only does things if they'll help her, who wants to win more than she wants to do good. But, as I said, that's hard to show.
But sometimes we get lucky:
Today both candidates are giving major economic addresses. But last Thursday, in an effort to counter Obama's excellent speech that morning about how the Iraq War is dragging down the economy, her campaign emailed me (and 8,600 or so other media outlets) a preview that demonstrates how Hillary Clinton really looks at things -- and how little she actually cares about the real people trapped by the foreclosure crisis.
The Clinton press release is titled, "Must Read: Business Week: Hillary Targets the Credit Crisis. She's stepping up with measures aimed at voters' pocketbook woes." And at first I thought, wow, that's pretty powerful! A major business magazine sees her as the candidate who's taking the lead to really help people facing hard times in a tough economy! But then I actually read it.
Clinton's press release consisted entirely of excerpts from an article in Business Week. Not the whole article, understand -- just the parts that the Clinton campaign thought it was must important for reporters to read -- the "must read" parts, in Clinton's terms. And I was brought back to the sad reality that all Clinton really cares about is the election.
Boiling it down, here are the two things the Clinton campaign people really, really wanted journalists to take note of (bold emphases are mine):
1. Clinton Is Only Helping Citizens In Order To Win Votes -- Of Superdelegates:
"Clinton plans to discuss the details of her stimulus plan in a speech on the economy set for Mar. 24. Further initiatives are likely in coming weeks. The idea, of course, is to show voters exactly what Clinton would do to head off the crisis if she were in the White House. ...
"With Clinton's emphasis on pragmatic plans and pocketbook issues, analysts say she could get a bump up if she can convince voters she's better prepared to handle the economy's deepening problems. With the next big primary set for Apr. 22 in Pennsylvania, 'she's got five weeks to show she can really dominate this issue,' says Daniel Clifton, a political analyst at investment firm Strategas Research Partners. 'This could be a huge opportunity for her to rack up big margins.'...
"The fight over Pennsylvania, which has a struggling industrial base, a large population of blue-collar workers, and rising foreclosures, will be critical. Even if Clinton tallies big victories in Pennsylvania or other remaining states, she will probably not emerge with a delegate lead. Yet by nurturing the perception that she's the one to save voters' jobs and homes, she could sway the critical superdelegates to her side. 'Her only case is: I've got the lunch-bucket votes, and we can't win in November without them,' says pollster John Zogby."
2. She's Not Doing Anything For the Economy That Obama's Not Doing, Too: As if to underscore the fact that Clinton's initiatives are just for show, the excerpts that Clinton chose to distribute make clear that there's no substantive difference between the candidates, who both are carefully watching the "Main Street" economy and supporting legislation to help unemployed people, homeowners, and local communities:
"Obama's advisers say that he, too, is studying further plans to address the economy's problems, including measures to extend unemployment benefits and aid communities that have suffered a loss of tax revenues through foreclosures. Like Clinton, he backs congressional plans to refinance homeowners who need cheaper mortgages. 'If conditions remain bad or worse, those are the things we'll push,' says Heather Higginbottom, Obama's policy director."
There's an important nuance here. The Clinton folks didn't write the Business Week article. But they did choose which parts of it they wanted to emphasize -- and they intentionally chose the parts that showed Clinton as a shrewd political operator (that unelected Superdelegates hopefully will think is a good match for John McCain), ignoring the parts that might have showed her as being a true stateswoman working for the common good.
Why would they choose to emphasize the "she's a manipulative politician playing the angles" parts? Because that's actually what her campaign wants the press to hint at -- that she's trickier than Obama. Why? So that despite the mathematical reality that it's statistically impossible for her to catch up with Obama in the popular vote, and despite the polls that confirm more Democrats want Obama to be the nominee than Clinton (polls she's working hard to change by slamming Obama at every opportunity), she can still snag the nomination in August by getting the Supers to ignore the voters and select her -- just like the Supreme Court ignored the will of the voters and selected Bush President in 2000.
I dislike the fact that Hillary Clinton is a manipulative, win-at-any-cost, last-generation, faux-progressive, pro-corporate pol whose chief campaign strategist is a pollster and who is jeopardizing the whole Democratic Party's chances of winning the White House by taking her husband's advice last December to "attack" Obama -- even if doing so means making false allegations; even if doing so means McCain will win in November.
But even more than that, I dislike the fact that she's not only not trying to hide her true nature, she's actually subtly bragging about it in order to win the over a small but critical subset of Superdelegates -- those who aren't just party activists, but party insiders who are so circumscribed by their Inside-the-Beltway worldview and so beholden to the Clinton machine's favors that they would actually ignore the popular will and broker the convention instead.
The first fact merely shows what she is; the second fact shows that she doesn't even have the decency to show some shame about it.
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