Monday, May 19, 2008

why Clinton is losing

Jodi Kantor in the NY Times ponders the impact of gender discrimination on Clinton’s impending loss. She raises a few good points:

But as others watched a campaign that starred two possibly transformative figures, they felt a growing conviction that the contest was unfair. Mrs. Clinton’s supporters point to a nagging series of slights: the fixation on her clothes, even her cleavage; chronic criticism that her voice is shrill; calls for her to exit the race; and most of all, the male commentators in the news media who, they argue, were consistently tougher on her than on Mr. Obama.

But, Matt Yglesias wonders, how can you talk about Clinton’s likely loss in the primary and not talk about her famous 2002 vote to authorize the war in Iraq?

Lots of interesting material in Michelle Cottle's notebook dump on what various Clintonistas think the campaign did wrong.

. . .

[I]t's fascinating to me that nobody mentioned the war. Clinton supported the war. In retrospect, the war was a terrible idea. Her support for it was a mistake. What's more, it's inconceivable to me that Obama's campaign could have gotten off the ground had Clinton spent 2002 and 2003 as a lonely liberal voice speaking out against the war, then spent 2005 and 2006 being completely vindicated in her judgment. It's not just that Obama wouldn't have beaten her, he wouldn't have run at all -- it would have been preposterous. She would have faced a from-the-right challenge in the primary that would have gotten some attention but never posed any real threat.

But Clinton's error on the war opened up serious doubts about her substantive and political judgment about one of the highest-profile issues of the moment. In many ways it's a testament to how brilliant her campaign was all throughout 2007 and 2008 that they never allowed the war issue to bury her, considering that an overwhelming majority of Democratic primary voters think she made a mistake.

I’ll take this opportunity to be super-annoying and post excerpts from a couple of letters I emailed Senator Clinton over the past few years. A resident of New York since 2001, from time to time I exercised my prerogative to give my Senators an earful (until I realized they just weren’t listening).

I first wrote her and Senator Schumer in October 2002, asking them not to support the war authorization, but I didn’t make a copy of whatever I sent them.

Then I sent Senator Clinton this letter in December 2004:

I write to encourage you to reconsider your stance regarding Iraq and the war on terror given a the recent DOD strategic communications report from the Defence Science Board. The Dec. 5 Sunday Herald states that "[o]n 'the war of ideas or the struggle for hearts and minds', the report says, 'American efforts have not only failed, they may also have achieved the opposite of what they intended'.

'American direct intervention in the Muslim world has paradoxically elevated the stature of, and support for, radical Islamists, while diminishing support for the United States to single digits in some Arab societies.'" The report goes on to say that "Muslims do not ‘hate our freedoms’, but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favour of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the long-standing, even increasing support, for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan and the Gulf states."

It seems evident that the hard-nosed approach to the war on terror being pursued by the current administration is having massive unintended consequences, in the form of increased support for Al-qaeda in the Muslim world and decreased US legitimacy. That is largely because stated US goals and objectives (promoting democracy in the Middle East, protecting the US from imminent threats) have not aligned with real ones (stabilizing the energy supply, projecting US power into the heart of a hostile region). It may be easy enough to justify US actions in Iraq to a domestic audience, but the flimsy arguments that have been put forward will not convince the Muslims who need to be convinced for the war on terror to succeed.

In October 2002, I urged you and Senator Schumer to vote against giving the president the authority to go to war in Iraq. I knew then that the president was not going to Iraq for the right reasons, and that starting a war against a country that had not attacked us, and was in no position to do so, right in the heart of the middle east, would be hugely counterproductive. (This is the "naked self interest" argument against the war. There are other persuasive arguments against the war, foremost among them the fact that we now have the blood of thousands of innocent civilians on our hands.) You ignored my advice and continue to position yourself as a hawk in the war on terror. As pleasing as the short-term domestic political results of this approach may be, it will backfire in the long run, both politically and for the people of the US and the middle east.

As someone who supports 90% of your policies, I strongly encourage you to rethink your position on Iraq. This isn't just about poor execution of a good idea, as many have cast it, including Senator Kerry in the recent presidential race. Launching a preventive war in Iraq was deeply flawed conceptually, and will have dire consequences for Americans abroad and at home for years to come. This is still a minority view at home, but as we reap the benefits of our actions in Iraq, it will gain traction with your constituents. I urge you to be at the forefront of that sea change, not reluctantly dragged along by it.

I can no longer say I support 90% of Clinton’s policies. That’s probably more a reflection of changes in my views than in hers, though.

Noting that the good senator opted not to take any of my advice or that of the legions of other constituents upset about the war, I wrote again in July 2006:

I applaud you for your recent statement expressing your support for the winner of the Democratic Senate primary in Connecticut later this summer. Senator Lieberman has done more to damage the prospects for a national Democratic resurgence than almost anyone else in the party. His unquestioning support for the war in Iraq and for President Bush is unconscionable, and also extremely foolish politically given that these are the issues that Democratic voters are most concerned about at the moment.

I urge you to revisit your own position on the war in Iraq. The administration's policy has demonstrably failed. The administration has made clear that it is incapable of resolving the situation in an effective, competent manner. The country looks to Congress for alternatives to the current policy of failure, particularly to the Democrats. You are uniquely positioned to give voice to the discontent of the majority of voters who are dissatisfied with the administration's policies on the war in Iraq and the war on terror. We cannot afford "more of the same" for another three years and possibly beyond. Also, from a political point of view, I encourage you to view Senator Lieberman's current situation as a test case for the 2008 presidential primary. You will not make it through the 2008 primary unless your current position on Iraq changes. It doesn't matter what the polls say now, the political situation is dynamic and the momentum is with Lamont and other leaders like him who are giving voice to the massive frustration of voters on the left. So I ask you, as your constituent, to lead rather than follow. I believe that your recent statement expressing your commitment to the winner of the Connecticut primary is a step in the right direction.

Realizing how little attention powerful senators like Clinton and Schumer pay to emailed letters, I decided to stop wasting my time. But the point of this post is that any examination of Clinton’s failure in 2008 should start and end with the war in Iraq. If she’d made the right choice in 2002, she would have been in a position to destroy any opposition in 2007-2008.

No comments: