On the Couch

ON THE COUCH….Speaking of how the Democratic primary has become a Rorschach test, here’s an example. Both of these posts come via Ezra Klein, but the example of the Rorschach-ee is me, not him.

First, Ezra points to a Steve Clemons post praising Hillary Clinton:

I’ve met her a number of times, usually at receptions….The last time…we had a really interesting discussion about what should be on a roster of 21st century threats and how our national security and foreign policy resources should be reorganized to deal with future challenges rather than keeping vested interests tied to old threats well funded. Her quick grasp of what I was trying to get at — and a detailed response that was serious and level-headed — really surprised me as I’m used to politicians who typically have to fake their way through detail.

….I am convinced of something about Hillary Clinton’s commitment to use every lever and every aspect of government machinery to push her legislative and policy work that I’m disappointed to say that I can’t find as strongly in Barack Obama’s profile. My concern has to do with the fact that as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations’ Subcommittee on Europe, Obama has held zero hearings — at least that is how the record appears to me. [Steve then goes on to argue that this is an unusually sluggish performance.]

….I’m not trying to find a minor, nuanced difference between Obama and Clinton and inflate that to inappropriate levels. I am a fan of some of Obama’s foreign policy positions — though I think that I tend to appreciate his speeches influenced by Zbigniew Brzezinski that reflect tough-minded thinking and hard choices rather than those influenced by former Clinton National Security Adviser Anthony Lake that seem to want America to rush into every global cause without clear delineation of priorities and an accounting of potential costs and consequences to our national interest.

But the question of how a Chief Executive would utilize the machinery of government towards the public good has always been of interest to me.

I’ve truncated Steve’s argument considerably, and you should read the whole thing to get a better flavor of what he’s saying. But I think you can get the gist from that excerpt. Ezra follows this with a post in which he reprints an email from an Obama supporter who likes Obama’s approach to reducing the influence of big corporations:

Now, you could try to overcome that influence by, as you noted, running on a platform, winning a large majority of the popular vote, and then using the bully pulpit to try to drive that agenda through Congress. That seems to be Edwards preferred method.

Obama’s is more sneaky and backdoor. He’d rather quietly go about removing those interests’ access, their ability to throw their money at Congressman and officers in the executive, and only then sit down at the table and say, “lets talk.” It’s why someone who has been running on “taking on special interests” for 11 years now (and he has, go check out his speeches in 2004 and in his runs for state office) has always made campaign finance reform, ethics reform, etc central to his legislative agenda.

Neither of these posts comes directly from the candidates themselves, or even from anyone close to the candidates, and I could take any number of lessons from them. But one of the big reasons I find myself leaning toward Hillary is that Steve’s argument strikes me as both plausible and important while the anonymous emailer’s strikes me as naive. Hillary is smart and well-briefed, she is level-headed, and the evidence suggests that over the past seven years she’s gotten pretty good at working with Republicans to get things done in the Senate. I like those qualities and would like to see them in a Democratic president, so I’m happy to project them onto her.

Conversely, anybody who thinks that Obama or anyone else is going to overcome the influence of big corporations via sneakiness and stealth is living in a dreamworld. It may be possible to do a deal with conservatives and their lobbyists on various issues, but they aren’t going to be conned and they aren’t going to be fooled. Unfortunately, I have a deep fear that maybe Obama really does believe he can do that, and so I project that onto him despite the fact that this argument is coming from some anonymous guy writing on a blog, not anyone who really knows Obama’s mind.

Obviously I’m not trying to persuade anyone here. You may read these posts and come to the exact opposite conclusion. Maybe, contra me, Hillary is just another Jimmy Carter, good on details but not so good on a vision of governance. Likewise, maybe Obama really is stealthy and slick enough to get things done that a more confrontational politician couldn’t. As always, your mileage may vary.

But for what it’s worth, that’s where I am right now. Still leaning modestly toward Hillary, still unsure that Obama really knows how to get things done in modern-day Washington. But still watching and waiting.