The Clinton Foundation and the Drum Major Instinct

Glenn Greenwald really didn’t like Paul Krugman’s column about the Clinton Foundation – and he certainly didn’t like all the attention it got. That’s not news. But I found that within the article Greenwald wrote was one paragraph that pretty much captured all that is wrong with many of the assumptions being made about this story. So it’s worth deconstructing these few sentences.

But it would be journalistic malpractice of the highest order if the billions of dollars received by the Clintons — both personally and though their various entities — were not rigorously scrutinized and exposed in detail by reporters. That’s exactly what they ought to be doing… Beyond quid quo pros, the Clintons’ constant, pioneering merger of massive private wealth and political power and influence is itself highly problematic. Nobody forced them to take millions of dollars from the Saudis and Goldman Sachs tycoons and corporations with vested interests in the State Department; having chosen to do so with great personal benefit, they are now confronting the consequences in how the public views such behavior.

Let’s break that down into three separate arguments. First of all, there’s this:

But it would be journalistic malpractice of the highest order if the billions of dollars received by the Clintons — both personally and though their various entities — were not rigorously scrutinized and exposed in detail by reporters. That’s exactly what they ought to be doing.

I guess it would surprise Greenwald to learn that Krugman agrees with him on that.

Now, any operation that raises and spends billions of dollars creates the potential for conflicts of interest. You could imagine the Clintons using the foundation as a slush fund to reward their friends, or, alternatively, Mrs. Clinton using her positions in public office to reward donors. So it was right and appropriate to investigate the foundation’s operations to see if there were any improper quid pro quos. As reporters like to say, the sheer size of the foundation “raises questions.”

Paul Glastris also agrees.

Even Hillary fans should see that these investigations are warranted. After all, Clinton is running for the most powerful office in the world. While she was Secretary of State, her husband was overseeing a $2 billion a year charity. That charity took in donations from foreign governments and individuals with international interests. These facts raise legitimate questions.

Greenwald completely misses that the objection to how many in the press have reported the story is not an objection to the investigations. Rather the problem, as Krugman writes is, “But nobody seems willing to accept the answers to those questions, which are, very clearly, ‘no.'” Or as Glastris writes:

The good news is that as a result of these investigations we can now answer those questions pretty definitively: no, no, and no. The bad news is that the press doesn’t seem to want to take “no” for an answer, even if the answer is based on the evidence of its own reporting.

Here is Greenwald’s second argument:

Beyond quid quo pros, the Clintons’ constant, pioneering merger of massive private wealth and political power and influence is itself highly problematic.

He got that one right. The whole premise of the Clinton Foundation was to bring together private money and political power to tackle some of the most troubling issues faced by those living in poverty. Robert Kelty, Executive Director of Amref Health Africa, gave us an example of how that works.

Through CGI, the Clinton Foundation has provided Amref Health Africa with a platform to engage corporations and foundations that we would not normally be able to access. These partnerships have the ability to fund our work on maternal and childhood healthcare, battling infectious diseases, providing life-saving surgery, improving water and sanitation, and training healthcare workers.

In our first collaboration in 2013, we joined a coalition to bring an end to harmful practices — child marriage and female genital cutting — affecting girls and young women in Kenya, Gambia, and Tanzania. Our partners are United Postcode Lotteries of the Netherlands andTostan, an international healthcare NGO. Since launching our CGI commitment, nearly 10,500 girls in Kenya and Tanzania have engaged in humane alternative rites of passage in lieu of circumcision. This is precisely the kind of commitment that the CGI model was designed to bring about — NGOs, business, governments, and other actors coming together for a specific impactful initiative…

For those of us who work in the US nonprofit sector, and global development and philanthropy, the Clinton Foundation has been a willing and innovative partner for 15 years. Like any large-scale non-governmental organization, the Clinton Foundation has seen both success and disappointment in its efforts. But overall, its presence and energy — and Bill Clinton’s commitment to leverage his political and social capital — have made significant contributions to the work of my peers and me.

Perhaps there are some who agree with Greenwald and find all of that “highly problematic.” Personally, I would not only disagree with that sentiment, but would counter by saying that I find that kind of work to be both inspriring and tremendously hopeful.

It’s interesting to also note that the Clintons would find an ally in that view from what some might consider to be an unlikely source – Ralph Nader. Back in 2009 he published a work of fiction that he describes as “a practical utopia” titled, Only the Super Rich Can Save Us! Here is how one reviewer described it:

Nader imagines an America where billionaires can be split off from mere millionaires to reinvigorate American democracy and take economic power from Wall Street and give it back to Main Street.

And finally, here is Greenwald’s third argument.

Nobody forced them to take millions of dollars from the Saudis and Goldman Sachs tycoons and corporations with vested interests in the State Department; having chosen to do so with great personal benefit, they are now confronting the consequences in how the public views such behavior.

It’s that part about “great personal benefit” that I want to zero in on. We know that Greenwald isn’t referring to personal wealth because, as has been widely reported, they never took a salary from the foundation. Most people who bring that up are referring to the kind of reputation the Clintons’ developed as a result of their work with the foundation. That reminded me of one of the last sermons preached by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. titled “The Drum Major Instinct.” Let me say as loudly and clearly as I can than I am NOT comparing the Clintons to Martin Luther King. But his admonitions in that sermon are instructive for all of us – including the Clintons.

Rev. King starts off by defining what he means by the Drum Major Instinct and suggesting that it is simply part of our nature as human beings.

…let us see that we all have the drum major instinct. We all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade. Alfred Adler, the great psychoanalyst, contends that this is the dominant impulse. Sigmund Freud used to contend that sex was the dominant impulse, and Adler came with a new argument saying that this quest for recognition, this desire for attention, this desire for distinction is the basic impulse, the basic drive of human life, this drum major instinct.

He goes on to describe all of the ways that the Drum Major Instinct – if unchecked – can lead to harmful behavior, including racism and nationalism. But in the end, he presciently envisions his own death and what he hopes that people will say about his life.

I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others.

I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.

I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question.

I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry.

And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked.

I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison.

I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace.

What Dr. King was telling us is that we shouldn’t shy away from “great personal benefit” if it is gained via service to “the least of these.” That is exactly what he hopes for himself.

Some might say that that is pretty lofty language to use in reference to the efforts of the Clinton Foundation. I suspect that those 10,500 girls in Kenya and Tanzania that avoided female circumcision as a result of the kind of collaboration Kelty described would not object to the description.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .