Sunday, April 12, 2015

Predicting Character: The Hathos of Hillary Clinton

"Hathos" is a rare word, relatively recent in origin, and doesn't have an official definition in a lot of dictionaries (Merriam-Webster and OED don't recognize it).  It's a portmanteau (not the luggage, the second thing) of two words "hate" and "pathos."  Pathos is "a quality that causes people to feel sympathy and sadness."  Hate is "a very strong feeling of dislike."

Put together, Hathos is "enjoyment derived from hatred of a person or thing."  To Andrew Sullivan, it's "an attraction to something you really can't stand; it's the compulsion of revulsion."  It's something like "Love to hate," similar to Schadenfreude (malicious joy at the suffering of another), but with a more genuine revulsion as Schadenfreude still leaves a person with a regret of having maliciously enjoyed another person getting chewed up by Fate.  In some of my writings against the likes of Rick "No Ethics" Scott or Sarah "Quitter" Palin, I may have been using hathos instead of schadenfreude.  My bad.

Hathos is a very political word in an age of mudslinging and fearmongering.

It is a word that fits Hillary Clinton as a subject of other people's hate to a tee.

Today is the day she officially announces her 2016 campaign for the Presidency.  Per Washington Post:

The announcement - designed to be as low-key as anything involving Clinton can be - will start with a video and social media push. Then, starting as early as Tuesday, she will visit Iowa and other early primary states to meet and greet voters in restaurants and other modest venues.
A former secretary of state, U.S. senator and first lady, Clinton enters as the prohibitive favorite among Democrats while also polling far ahead of any potential Republican rival now on the scene.
More celebrity than politician, Clinton is almost universally known. Nearly every American already has an opinion of her, whether good or bad.

Every part of that coverage - the parts I highlighted in bold - aptly defines the undercurrent of snark, dread, and enjoyment the mainstream media has about Hillary's move.  Enjoyment to be had because the media lives for conflict, controversy, a reason to get up every morning to anger up their viewer/reader base into watching more outrage.  Another word the mainstream media likes to use describing Hillary is "polarizing", and in all the wrong ways.  But also the dread, because there is something about Hillary that makes her uncomfortable to support as a political figure.

Even I share in that dread.  What I wrote about her back in 2008 when she campaigned among the other Democratic candidates then still applies.  I will highlight my own hathos in bold as well.

Hillary Clinton (Clintonland) (current note: arguably she'll represent New York, where she served as Senator, but this underscored for me the fact Hillary was too nationally known - too politically connected across the nation - to where she is for all intents her own corporate brand)
PROS: She's Hillary Clinton. Who else is as ruthless, driven, capable, prepared, as she is? There are remote tribes in the Kalahari that know who she is. There's a massive campaign machine behind her, there's a thousand cameras on her, there's a million people voting for her. Simply because of who she is. There are enough voters who can compare her husband Bill's 8 years in office to Bush the Lesser's 8 years in office, and who will think things were better then and overlook the blemishes now.
CONS: She's Hillary Clinton. No other candidate brings as much baggage as her. While the Republican Mudslinging Machine is gonna trash any Democrat that wins the nom, Hillary will be their biggest, easiest, most desired target. Any other Democrat could keep the GOP dispirited and divided: Hillary would unite them, and give them enough motivation to win. There is also the growing ennui of having another Clinton in the White House: a dueling family feud between Bushes and Clintons. Not so much Scandal Fatigue, which is obvious, but simply Clinton Fatigue, that we've already seen this TV show before. Some voters will think she's already been President (twice). And speaking of Scandal Fatigue, there are questions about where Clinton is getting her money from. Clinton is also ruthless to the point of savagery. Clinton's camp is willing to pick up on a nasty Republican slander on Obama, underlying how desperate she is to win. And despite all her political skill, if you ask any of her supporters, they can't tell you what she's FOR (other than being President). Nearly every other popular candidate, especially Obama, can be seen as running for someTHING. Hillary doesn't. For all her power and reputation, there's no PASSION for the office...

Things have changed between 2008 and 2016.  Eight years can be an eternity in a political lifespan, and situations Hillary's been through can well have altered her world-view and character.

Since I'd written those words, Hillary lost that primary to the eventual winner Obama.  She spent the following four years serving as Obama's Secretary of State, which obviously beefed up her resume for 2016 (since running in 2012 against the incumbent would have been too spiteful even for her, see I'm still writing with the hathos, I'm not bragging I'm just being aware of it).  Her tenure as Secretary had its low points (not in my humble opinion, because I don't emphasize BENGHAZI to the point of parody the way her enemies do) but she also presided over a relatively effective yet low-key period in the department's foreign affairs.  This is from professor Walter Russell Mead, guest writer at the Post:

...Just as the best lawyers aren’t the ones with the most famous courthouse victories but those who quietly keep their clients out of trouble and litigation...
...How did Clinton understand the interplay of America’s power, its interests, its resources and its values? Was she able to translate that vision into policies that won enough support throughout the government to be carried out? Was she able to gain or keep the president’s confidence, and was the State Department under her leadership able to hold its own in the bureaucratic battles of the day...?
First, Clinton is what I call a Hamiltonian, believing that America’s interests are best served by an adaptation of traditional British strategies: sea power, commercial expansion and a focus on strategic theaters in world politics. She thinks that Asia is where America’s interests are most vitally engaged for the long term, and she consistently argued for a greater focus on the region in our foreign policy...She also shares the optimism about America found in the Methodist religious tradition in which she grew up. The spirit of the 19th-century missionaries who fanned out across the world to promote development, human rights, and social and economic reform lives in her and shapes her basic thoughts about what American power is for. For some realists, “global meliorism” — the belief that U.S. foreign policy can and should try to make a better world — is a dirty word. For Clinton, it is a bedrock conviction. “We are the force for progress, prosperity and peace,” she said during a remarkable speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in early 2013... 
...While she did not win all the battles she fought — the president resisted her counsel on Syria, and she failed to persuade him to back Richard Holbrooke’s diplomatic efforts in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region — she managed the relationship successfully and won his trust, to the point that the president wanted her to stay on the job well into his second term. This outcome was not a given; Clinton’s association with Obama began in their bitter 2008 Democratic nominating contest, and her success at building a strong relationship with a president not known for embracing new friends or Washington insiders testifies to her formidable interpersonal skills...
...Clinton was an influential secretary of state and a savvy manager with a clear agenda that, at least in part, she translated into policy. So how did it all work out?
The answer: Historians will probably consider Clinton significantly more successful than run-of-the-mill secretaries of state such as James G. Blaine or the long-serving Cordell Hull, but don’t expect to see her on a pedestal with Dean Acheson or John Quincy Adams anytime soon.
She weighed in hard and strong in favor of the president’s risky but ultimately justified decision to attack Osama bin Laden’s last refuge. The focus on Asia — relabeled a “pivot” before it became a “rebalancing” — reinvigorated America’s Pacific alliances but also elicited a more aggressive China, which has taken a harder line with Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam since the pivot began. The “reset” with Russia enabled concrete cooperation on Iran’s nuclear program and at the United Nations (notably on the resolution authorizing intervention against Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi), but it would be hard to argue that Washington and Moscow have ended up in a good place...

It's neither a harsh critique nor a hagiography: Mead clearly points out where policy efforts led to backlash... but then again every foreign policy has a give-and-take as other nations react then act on what a major player like the U.S. is doing.  The key takeaway from Hillary's tenure as State Secretary is that during her service our nation's foreign relations with other major powers improved after the disasters that were the Bush the Lesser years.

If there is anything else to take away from this, in my estimate, is that the harsh view of Hillary's ambition needs to be taken down a notch (just the one for now).  Rather than sabotage Obama's agenda from within (in any noticeable way, ach I gotta stop doing this): Hillary worked with the administration, followed through on input, provided input on her own that the others accepted as honest counsel, and performed with enough savvy to leave her tenure on relatively successful terms.  The thing I'd say about it was that she had "mellowed," having turned away from a previous documented behavioral norm of undercutting others or pursuing an ambitious agenda that made her reputation so dreaded in the first place.

Hillary is coming back into the Presidential campaigning as one of the most-written about political figures of our time.  There are autobiographies/memoirs aplenty - from which we shouldn't make observations, as memoirs are always self-serving and contain many glaring omissions - and a ton of political hit-jobs and hagiographies from which we can't rely on much either.  Hillary-hate has existed ever since 1992, when the Republicans campaigned as much against her than campaigned against her husband - the actual candidate and eventual President - Bill Clinton.

Are there any reliable sources of Hillary's life - her childhood and formative years - to which we can apply James David Barber's techniques of figuring out Hillary's world-view and her likely Presidential Character?

For that, you'd have to go through the hundred or so books written about her, about Bill, and about them as a team (the Clintons essentially guarantee a successful publishing industry just by standing there, that's not hathos by the way just a sarcastic complaint against an obsessed wingnut media).  For a quick link here to my blog with something (relatively) reliable online, I went with Peter Beinart's "Unified Theory of Hillary" article for the National Journal:

The more I read, the more I became convinced that she possesses some of the qualities most necessary for presidential success. But if she struggles, there's reason to suspect it will be for the same reason she appears to have struggled with the D.C. bar exam in 1973. She's terrific at developing and executing a well-defined plan. She's less adept at realizing that a well-defined plan is not working and improvising something new. Single-mindedness is both her greatest strength and greatest flaw... (note: this is italicized for emphasis but not for hathos, I'm bolding any hathos for the purposes of this blog entry)

It's telling that Beinart's primary impression of Hillary is that she could be the "Lyndon Johnson to Barack Obama's John F. Kennedy."  Because for the seven people who've kept up with my blog, you've read my Barber-inspired reviews of both LBJ and Obama and you know my views on Obama being Active-Positive... and LBJ being Active-Negative.

Back to Beinart:

...In her recently released papers, Hillary's late friend Diane Blair recounts a 1994 conversation in which Hillary was "furious" that Bill "can't fire people, exert discipline, punish leakers." Throughout his presidency, Bill had trouble making decisions, in part because he had trouble telling people things they didn't want to hear. By contrast, Hillary, even as an undergraduate at Wellesley, was "notably direct in almost everything she did," Bernstein writes. (Including her famed decision to approach Bill in the Yale Law School library after she spotted him eyeing her.)
...Hillary will never be the orator Obama is, and how well she'd rally the public to her side in policy disputes is an open question. But inside the Beltway, she'd likely do a better job of both rewarding her friends and making people fear being her enemy... ...Bernstein quotes Bob Boorstin, who oversaw communications for Hillary's health care task force, on how Bill and Hillary differ: "He gets angry, and he gets over it. She gets angry, and she remembers it forever." In HRC, Allen and Parnes point out that, in 2012, Bill Clinton repeatedly intervened in Democratic primaries to help candidates who had backed Hillary against rivals who had backed Obama—thus reminding Democrats that even when Hillary loses, opposing her carries a price...

Beinart goes into detail about how Hillary's dedication and focus can translate into legislative success, and then highlights how the biggest defeat she suffered - the failure to get any health care reform passed in 1993 when Bill made her the chair of his administration's efforts - had little to do with such efforts.  Her existing management skills - which required secrecy, control of the message, failure to accept or acknowledge input from outside her committee - ran against the more complex, messier stage of national politics:

At task force meetings, Bernstein notes, participants were forbidden from copying draft documents or, in many cases, even taking notes. The secrecy alienated not only members of Congress, health care activists, and the press, but key figures in the Clinton administration as well. Hillary and Magaziner both knew a great deal about health care policy. But neither knew as much about health care politics as Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen, Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, or Office of Management and Budget Director Leon Panetta. Yet because of the task force's secrecy, and because they feared directly confronting the president's wife, Bentsen, Panetta, Shalala, and others in the administration often felt marginalized. As Haynes Johnson and David Broder document in The System—their indispensable book on the health care battle—Clinton officials angered by their lack of influence repeatedly leaked damaging information to a press corps angered by its lack of access...

This is where irony is more painful than hathos.  And this is where Hillary's reputation as a control freak - and the hate-fest from the Beltway media elites - gets its foundation.

Beinart's article doesn't delve much into Hillary's childhood, which is where Barber would prefer us going to establish Hillary's world-view, but her performances as an adult and as a leading national figure are already well-documented enough to get an idea what her views are.

A consistent behavior that emerges with Hillary is a Compulsive trait, intelligent and focused but also calculating and inflexible once a course has been plotted.  Hillary won't be anywhere near a Bush the Lesser in terms of inattention, but she won't be anywhere near the political game-player Obama is (whose failures are not so much aloofness that Beinart implies in his article, but from open obstruction with a Republican faction that chose to deny Obama any legislative victories that history would view favorably).

In this regards she mirrors Lyndon Johnson moreso than other past Presidents who were Active-Negatives in their own ways. Unlike Nixon who was self-destructive in his quest for personal crises, unlike Hoover who avoided a more aggressive reform effort believing himself limited in power, Hillary Clinton would be a major backer of legislative efforts that would ensure her legacy while having the political skills - knowing objectives, knowing the political players who can get things done - to get them passed.  Her faults will most likely fall along the same faults LBJ's were: any failures or rejections would be taken as personal defeats, with a creeping series of defensive layers piled up in an Us vs. Them mindset - to where valued critical voices within her circle would get sent in exile - that would make her administration inflexible to ongoing crises.

If Hillary's got positives, they are mostly in the comparative sense.  Where I wrote that Hillary's got baggage (true), I should note that this time most of her opponents (especially the Republican potentials) are bringing even bigger, messier personal issues than she has.  In terms of appealing to average voters, Hillary wins in double-digits mostly because of how terrible, ill-informed, tone-deaf the entire Republican Party leadership (and their platform) is today.  In the matter of dynasty vs. dynasty, the most dreaded of campaigns between the Clinton and the Bush, the current polling shows Hillary stomping on Jeb 55 percent to 40 percent.

This is because in spite of Hillary's own personality, in spite of the lack of progressive support from her own party, in spite of the hatred the Far Right has for her, in spite of the hathos, Hillary represents a Democratic Party platform that's currently pro-immigrant, pro-gay marriage, pro-women, pro-finance reform, pro-jobs, pro-health care, pro-let's not start more wars.  While Hillary's voting record - and past inaction for gay rights (Don't Ask Don't Tell) - may still be a problem, Hillary can easily argue her positions have evolved much the way the Democrats' positions evolved (even Obama evolved on gay rights issues: when he did, you could see the narrative shift tilt the nation towards a civil rights victory), and the regular Democratic voting base will forgive her.  The only sticking point will be her Iraq war vote, and her refusal to admit it was a mistake when it mattered.  After two terms of Obama struggling with the entire Middle East, the Democratic voters will give her a pass as long as she avoids taking the Far Right position of "Bomb Everybody".

That noted, Hillary doesn't have to stand much FOR anything so much as allow her Republican opponents to stand AGAINST everything, which they are doing on their own in rather obvious and self-destructive ways. (This is hathos directed at the Republicans, so there)

For all of Hillary's Active-Negative traits, they pale in comparison to the entire Republican Party, where each major candidate is pretty much Active-Negative themselves and backing a more Compulsive, bitter, self-serving agenda far worse than anything Hillary stands for.  Compared to the entire GOP line-up, Hillary's practically an Active-Positive.

In simple math, all Hillary has to do is win electorally the same states Obama did in 2012 (Obama only lost two states - Indiana and North Carolina - from 2008, still allowing him a clear electoral victory to match his popular vote).  As of right now, none of the Blue states look primed to switch over to vote as Red states to the GOP (not even Florida, where the massive South Florida immigrant voting bloc will swamp any support regular state voters might have for Jeb... and Jeb's not that well-liked to begin with).  If the Republicans nominate a clear anti-immigrant candidate or an openly gay-bashing social conservative who can (and probably will) say the dumbest things about sex, Hillary could arguably win over previously Red states wavering on the demographic tipping points.

Another advantage Hillary currently enjoys as a candidate is that among the Democrats, she's it.  There are few current rivals or opponents on the stage able to steal away the disgruntled progressive supporters that are eager for a "true" Leftist visionary to lead us all to a happy utopia (this is why the "Draft Warren" efforts will not stop until Election Day 2016 itself, and yes, that bold hathos is my disdain for the obsessive Democratic voting bloc that would rather not vote for a sane pro-government candidate all because Hillary is "Centrist", and allow an obviously insane anti-government Republican win the White House and doom us all.  I will keep calling you cowards, Democrats, when you keep refusing to use your electoral advantages - there are more of you than Republicans - out of spite).  While other names are out there - and some are arguably solid candidates like O'Malley, more on him when I get the chance - there are none that are as charismatic as Obama was when he challenged Hillary's supremacy in 2008... and won.

Hillary has the advantages of 1) getting the best campaign managers now unlike 2008, and 2) being the best candidate to run on incredible legacies, BOTH Bill Clinton's lasting legacy of a popular Presidency AND Obama's current legacy as a popular President.  Yes, Fox Not News, Obama is still popular at this late stage of his administration, Obama is still viewed a success in spite of Dick Cheney's hate, and he's never dipped as low as your boy Bush the Lesser.  One of the historical lessons taken from Gore's failure to win in 2000 - other than "never use a butterfly ballot" - was that he ignored the evidence of Bill Clinton's continued popularity - he bought into the Beltway mindset that Bill's sex scandal was toxic - and refused to use that legacy to win over voters.  Hillary won't be running from Obama's successes she will be using them to prop herself and the Democratic Party, and can easily keep the voters Obama earned in 2012 to win in 2016.

I just hope to God the Vice-President she chooses is a Passive-Positive.  She'll go crazy if the Veep is Active-Positive, and will likely suspect anyone Active-Negative to the point of paranoia...  Ahem, just saying.

Update (4/19): Just a link here to a blog article from Forward Progressives about the best, positive reason that liberals, progressives, moderates and independents should have to back Hillary and vote FOR her.

The next president we elect (assuming he or she serves two terms) could very well be the individual who selects four Supreme Court Justices...
...So, while I understand that Hillary Clinton isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, I can promise you this much – she’s a hell of a lot better than any Republican alternative. So to all of you liberals who loathe her and feel that voting for her would be “selling out,” do you really want a Republican president potentially replacing four Supreme Court Justices?...
...It all goes back to one simple fact: If liberals don’t want to get behind whomever is the Democratic candidate for president in 2016, then a Republican is going to occupy the White House after President Obama. This isn’t me trying to sensationalize anything or using hyperbole, I’m just telling you the truth. Even if we break this down to its simplest form, ignoring any mention of who is or isn’t running for president, then the question really comes down to: Who do you want potentially replacing four Supreme Court Justices in the next 8 to 10 years – a Democrat who supports same-sex marriage, abortion rights, health care and the separation of church and state, or a Republican who opposes all of that and then some?

1 comment:

dinthebeast said...

There's also the historical aspect of her becoming the first female president, and the likelihood of the Republicans shooting themselves in the foot by attacking her for simply being female.

-Doug in Oakland