Clinton, Obama, Edwards; The Three Are One



Des Moines Register Debate: Advisors (full)

copyright © 2007 Betsy L. Angert

The Des Moines Register Democratic Debate was an event like no other.  Gaffes, gossip, gushing, and gabble were all present and accounted for.  Former Senator Mike Gravel was not.  Nor was Congressman, and potential President, Dennis Kucinich.  Each of these aspirants would have been happy to meet and speak with the people of Iowa, just as they have for months.  However, they were intentionally excluded in this more formal forum.  

Excuses were made, and easily  countered.  Nevertheless, evidence to the  contrary mattered not to the Des Moines Register.  The Editors had spoken and so too would their ultimate first choice for the office of President of the United States speak.  Hillary Clinton clones, and future Cabinet appointees would have an opportunity to commune with the local and television audience.  America had all it needed on the platform, powerbrokers and their pawns, those the wealthy tell us are prepared to be President.

The Register believes “preparedness” must be the primary consideration.  Thus, they were ready to dispute any claims that they may be less than equitable.  Interestingly, among the arguments, explanations, and assessments the Carolyn Washburn, debate moderator and Editor of the Des Moines Register offers an odd evaluation of the event.  The prideful host reflects . . .

I’m pleased to say reaction has not been all one-sided.  I’ve received a slew of e-mails from people thanking us for a civil discussion that gave the candidates equal time, on important issues, with smart questions.

Each person permitted to stand on the stage may have spoken for the same number of minutes.  Nevertheless, The Register in its infinite wisdom did not give Presidential hopefuls identical access to the television audience.  No one cannot deny that even among those who publish in the Register there is some question as to whether all the aspirants were treated alike.  Kevin M. Cashman, Grinnell  also wonders whether Leaving candidates out of debate compromises democracy  Principles our founders established centuries ago may be of no consequence to the Des Mines Register.  Electability may be the one subject of import.  Perhaps a presumed winner is the only issue of worth.  Moderator, Carolyn Washburn made her stance known early on.  The Editor explained the rules and the audience gasped.

“We won’t talk a lot about issues like Iraq.”

~ Carolyn Washburn, moderating the presidential debates in Iowa

To not speak of the war that dominates American policy seemed unthinkable.  However, this restriction was only one of many constraints.  There was much deemed unmentionable in this televised discussion.  The names Kucinich and Gravel would not mouthed.  Although that, for the candidates on stage, was great.  The Big Three had long hoped to narrow the field.  For months, each said to the other, I need more time and attention.  At this assembly, more than the two men excluded from the debate were labeled  taboo topics.

Washburn, the earnest and schoolmarmish editor of the Des Moines Register, stunned the political world when she announced, at the beginning of the Republican debate on Wednesday, that she did not want to talk about Iraq and immigration, at least not in any “concentrated” way.  She continued that policy Thursday with the Democrats, asking not a single question about Iraq.  The words “terrorist,” “Iran,” “Pakistan” and “al-Qaeda” didn’t get even a single mention.

What did viewers get instead?

“Tell us your New Year’s resolution for 2008,” Washburn proposed.  Groans emanated from the media room down the hall.  Hillary Clinton said she would exercise more.  Barack Obama said he would be a better father.  Richardson pledged to lose weight.

Weight was lost.  Little of substance was discussed in this silly “debate.”  What was touched on; yet never fully explored was the inevitable .  Clinton would control the White House, regardless of whether the publication ultimately endorsed Hillary, Barack, or John.  Former Governor Bill Richardson, Senators Joseph Biden, and Chris Dodd were never a consideration for more than Cabinet positions.  With the latter three on stage the Register could offer a façade of fairness.  

Richardson, a former Clinton appointee would walk in lockstep.  Dodd also accepts much of the status quo; he is agreeable when Hillary craves a defense.  Dodd and Joe Biden are formidable legislatures.  They are certainly not Presidential material.  They are not cut from the charismatic Clintonian cloth.  These gentlemen are well versed in how to closet what is.  Neither, in debate, or in deliverance of policy will be the voice of change that must be muffled.

For thirty-five years, or so we are told again and again, Hillary Clinton has trained for this coronation.  As critical as the New York Senator might have been of the young Baracks’s youthful essay in which he declared his desire to be President of the United States, the former First Lady always knew, even if Obama had an edge, if Obama were to win, she would still be in the White House.  This was confirmed at the Des Moines Register Debate.  

While individuals in the media and even some of the candidates complained, the Register Debate offered no revelations, there was at least one  enlightening moment.  America now knows, there is no reason to quarrel over whether Hillary or Barack ultimately become Commander-In-Chief.  Either way Clinton will be in the White House.

[R]eporters  . . .  sensed a major story when Clinton interrupted one of Obama’s answers with a burst of laughter.  When Obama was asked how he would “rely on” so many of former president Bill Clinton’s advisers, his wife cackled, then blurted out, “I want to hear that!”

“Well, Hillary, I’m looking forward to you advising me as well,” Obama replied, and Clinton laughed again.

The question was asked.  The quip of an answer was widely appreciated, and reported on the national news.  Had Americans reacted with more than quick laughter, they might have cried with disgust.  Perhaps, upon hearing the banter, a thoughtful public would have pondered, and then exclaimed, “The more things “change,” the more they stay the same.”  We learned regardless of which of the top tier candidates Americans choose, change will only be a word, never said above a whisper.  There is little difference.  The Clinton experience will cloud the Oval Office if either of these marvelously manipulative candidates is Americas choice.

Years ago, the Former First Lady roamed from room to room at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  As she strolled the hallways, she encountered those who advised her husband and now counsel her opponent, Barack Obama.  

Barack Obama does not hide his list of advisers, or at least not completely.  A short trek to his website, and Americans can look into the future Obama Oval Office.

For Obama’s presidential bid, Senate staffer Mark Lippert is the critical link between the campaign, the Senate staff and the senator.  Lippert has accompanied Obama on the three international trips Obama has taken while in office.  Lippert, who has a master’s from Stanford in international policy, has had a hand in every major Obama speech and statement on international affairs and deals with the senator daily.

Lippert, a lieutenant junior grade in the Navy Reserve, came to Obama after working on the Senate Appropriations Committee Foreign Operations Subcommittee for five years and has handled foreign policy and defense issues for the Senate Democratic Policy Committee.

Besides Lippert, the core Obama group consists of three people who worked in President Bill Clinton’s administration: former National Security Adviser Anthony Lake and former senior State Department officials Susan Rice and Gregory Craig.  They meet regularly in Washington.  Lake was the NSA adviser during Clinton’s first term.  Rice was the senior adviser on national security affairs for the Kerry-Edwards campaign in 2004, an assistant secretary of state for African affairs and a special assistant to the president at the National Security Council at the Clinton White House.

Craig — quarterback of Clinton’s impeachment defense team — was director of policy and planning at the State Department under former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.  In 2000, Craig was at the center of the fight over Elian Gonzalez, representing the Cuban youth’s father in his custody fight.  Craig met Obama in 2003 at a fund-raiser for his Senate bid at the home of Washington powerbroker Vernon Jordan.

The Obama circle widens, depending on the need for expertise.

During the Clinton administration, Jeh Charles Johnson was general counsel for the Department of the Air Force. . .

The Obama foreign policy team deals with counterterrorism, democracy development and the inter-related matters of energy and the environment, global health, homeland security and nuclear nonproliferation, among other issues.  There’s also a cadre of former Clinton officials who are very involved with the Obama campaign who for now want to stay below the radar screen.

Interestingly, Barack Obama could have obscured this substantial connection to the Clinton White House, for originally, this report was published in the Chicago Sun Times.  Prominent Journalist Lynn Sweet offered this glimpse into the crystal ball months ago.  However, rather than hide the snapshot into another Clintonian strategy, Barack Obama proudly beams.  The Clinton advisory staff is on his side.  Now, we know Hillary will be among them if perchance she is not the President.

When Barack Obama offered Hillary Clinton what some thought a slight, many took delight.  Absorbed in laughter, few pondered the profundity.  A vote for the lead gal or the guy is one in the same.  The truth is, if the Senator from Illinois becomes President of the United States, we may still have the two Clintons in the White House Along with all their counsel.

Numerous Progressives tout, John Edwards is different and he is, in that he is not a woman, nor is he an African American.  A white American male is certainly a novel concept, or so the former Senator Edwards wishes it was.  Beyond this classic characteristic, well . . .

I shouldn’t have to say this – what matters is what the candidates stand for and to whom they’ll be beholden if elected.  My problem is the three don’t look so far apart to me – certainly not enough to justify demonizing one and canonizing another, as my left-wing correspondent does.

The differences seem more like branding: the strong, experienced woman; the black (but not too black) inspirer of hope; the hands-on economic populist crusader.  Or if you prefer, the evil pro-corporate phony and everyone else.  No sooner had Clinton announced her health care plan, for example, than my colleague John Nichols denounced it as a gift to the insurance industry.  Fair enough, but this is the same health care plan that Elizabeth Edwards said with some annoyance was copied from the one her husband – the man who cares about poor people – had put forward months before.

Obama’s plan is similar.  Likewise, on the same day that my colleague Laura Flanders wrote that an Obama campaign rally in New York City was buzzing with progressive energy, I read in The New York Times about his attempt to woo McCain voters in New Hampshire.  Both these things can be true – but isn’t being all things to all people a bit, well, Clintonian?

How real are the differences among the top three?  Let’s take a look.  All three candidates want to disengage troops from Iraq while maintaining some kind of military handle on the place.  If getting all the troops out ASAP is your top priority, vote for Richardson, Kucinich or Gravel.  All of the top three are largely uncritical of Israel (Clinton, in fact, voiced support for a Palestinian state in 1998 and was creamed for it).  Clinton probably is a shade more hawkish than the others, but all three buy the trope of the “war on terror” – in August, Obama even said he would strike Pakistan if that’s what it took to capture Osama bin Laden.  Maybe that was a slip or a mini-pander to 9/11 voters (well, not so mini if you’re a Pakistani).  He has since made more peaceful noises and followed Edwards in supporting the global abolition of nuclear weapons (a position originally put forward by Ronald Reagan, and now by Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn and George Shultz, so let’s not get carried away).

On domestic policy, the three have similar boilerplatish positions on education and immigration; all three are pro-choice without qualifications.  Hurray!  But, although nearly three in ten Americans are poor or near-poor, only Edwards has made a campaign issue out of social and economic inequality.  Only Edwards seems to grasp the significance of our widening class divisions.  Obama, indeed, has suggested he’ll reduce taxes on “the middle class,” which may be code for “expect no big government initiatives.”

How tied in are the top three with corporations and Wall Street?  Hillary Clinton is notoriously unapologetic about receiving large donations from wealthy interests.  But Obama has received a lot of corporate and Wall Street money too – in fact, he’s received more money from hedge funds than Clinton.  Edwards has refused to accept donations from lobbyists (Obama soon followed his example), but this could be merely a nice piece of branding: there are plenty of ways for the interest groups’ lobbyists to put favors in the favor bank besides writing a check to the candidate.  

As we scan a list of the top contributors to John Edwards campaign, we understand the significance of this statement.  Goldman Sachs, Citigroup Incorporated, Deutsche Bank, appear prominently among a list of law firms.  Of course, we might say this is the nature of politics.  If candidate is to be effective, he, or she must communicate their message broadly.  Commercials and print correspondence are costly.  A treasure chest filled with riches is required.  Cash might be nice; it is more difficult to trace.  Paper trails give evidence to what any Presidential aspirant may wish to avoid, the truth.

Vowing not to accept contributions from lobbyists isn’t a foolproof plan for Edwards or Obama.  Both still accept money from state and local lobbyists, employees at law firms that offer lobbying services, family members of lobbyists and former lobbyists.  Contributions from Washington lobbyists have still managed to seep into both Democrats’ coffers.

At the end of the 3rd Quarter, the Edwards campaign listed $4,500 in contributions from seven registered lobbyists, according to Federal Election Commission reports.  The campaign returned one of these contributions in early November, a spokeswoman said, and the refund will be reflected in year-end filings.  When Capital Eye alerted the campaign to the other donations that would appear to violate Edwards’s policy, the representative said the campaign had missed those contributions and would return them promptly.

The Obama campaign had collected nearly $34,500 from 29 registered lobbyists by the end of the campaign’s first nine months of fundraising, according to FEC reports.  The Obama campaign did not respond to several requests to review those records.

Obama and Edwards also refuse money from political action committees controlled by corporations and other interests, but they and every other presidential candidate accept money from employees of corporations and other interests that employ lobbyists.  According to the Center for Responsive Politics, 14 of Obama’s top 20 contributors employed lobbyists this year, spending a total of $16.2 million to influence the federal government in the first six months of 2007.

Of Edwards’s top 20 contributors, only seven have employed lobbyists this year, spending a total of $6.3 million.  But the plaintiff attorneys who dominate the list of Edwards’s top donors are well represented in Washington by the influential American Association for Justice (formerly the Association of Trial Lawyers of America), which has spent at least $3 million on lobbying this year alone.  As for Clinton, all but four of her top 20 contributors have employed lobbyists this year.

Hence, it is easy to understand why the Des Moines Register acted as they did.  Congressman Dennis Kucinich and former Senator Mike Gravel would offer unwelcome nuance to a stage full of affluent agents for the status quo.  Those that think policy as usual is preferable have no reason to rattle the profiteers that sponsor the standards.  Perchance, the periodical’s own endorsement, offered shortly after the Iowa Debate explains what we all knew.

The job requires a president who not only understands the [insert . . . minimal and on paper only] changes needed to move the country forward but also possesses the discipline and skill to navigate the reality of the resistant Washington power structure to get things done.

That candidate is New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Indeed, for the staff of this Iowa periodical Clinton is the perfect Presidential hopeful.  She speaks eloquently of transformation and has already altered the face of Clinton.  Bill becomes Hill.  More importantly, Hillary Clinton, the first presumed electable, formidable female aspirant, is deftly able to follow the map laid out before her.  After all, she is, and has long been a audacious part of the White House landscape.  With Hillary Clinton in the Oval Office, we will have Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards, all rolled into one.  

Question: What could be more glorious?  Answer:  For me, sheer bliss would be Dennis Kucinich, as President of the United States of America.  I am not alone in my belief.  One need only acknowledge that in numerous polls the truest candidate of change leads all others Democrats.  Dennis Kucinich is the people’s pick for President.  The aspirant is the one person funded and followed by common folk.  Imagine; if the periodicals, pundits, and the politicos who grab the floor would give the people a choice.  I do dream; I trust the thought is not absurd.  Achieving a Kucinich Presidency is possible.

“Only he who attempts the absurd is capable of achieving the impossible.”

 ~ Miguel de Unamuno [Spanish Philosopher and Writer]

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