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Writing in the Washington Post, Milbank dishonestly ponders whether a HRC-led executive would result in different policies and outcomes for America.


As I sat in the East Room last week watching a forlorn President Obama account for his shellacking, I listened with concern as he described the presidency as a "growth process" and suggested that the midterm setback was somehow inevitable. "You know, this is something that I think every president needs to go through," he said.

It brought to mind Hillary Clinton's 3 a.m. phone-call ad from the 2008 campaign, and her withering criticism of Obama: "When there is a crisis . . . there's no time for speeches or on-the-job training." I wondered whether Democrats would be in the fix they're in if they had chosen a different standard-bearer.

Would unemployment have been lower under a President Hillary? Would the Democrats have lost fewer seats on Tuesday? It's impossible to know. But what can be said with confidence is that Clinton's toolkit is a better match for the current set of national woes than they were for 2008, when her support for the Iraq war dominated the campaign.

Great questions, Socrates.  

I'm surprised Milbank could pull himself away from the powerful Beltway insiders who whisper sweet nothings in his ear and shower him with gifts.  

Greenwald warns us of this class.  Milbank.  Broder.  Kurtz.  Timmeh.  Tweety.  Brooks.  Friedman.  Chuck Todd.  They represent the monied interests and have the audacity to assert they know what Americans want and think.  They define what questions are asked and which are never raised.  They distract us with their high tech gadgets and incisive commentary on horseraces.  

These obsequious, deferential, unimaginative, power-worshiping assholes.  

As used here, Washington is less a geographic expression than a set of interlocking institutions headed by people who, whether acting officially or unofficially, are able to put a thumb on the helm of state. Washington, in this sense, includes the upper echelons of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the federal government. It encompasses the principal components of the national security state -- the departments of Defense, State, and, more recently, Homeland Security, along with various agencies comprising the intelligence and federal law enforcement communities. Its ranks extend to select think tanks and interest groups. Lawyers, lobbyists, fixers, former officials, and retired military officers who still enjoy access are members in good standing. Yet Washington also reaches beyond the Beltway to include big banks and other financial institutions, defense contractors and major corporations, television networks and elite publications like the New York Times, even quasi-academic entities like the Council on Foreign Relations and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. With rare exceptions, acceptance of the Washington rules forms a prerequisite for entry into this world.

- Bacevich, Washington Rules

In The Limits of Power the scholar-veteran wrote in 2007

[T]o imagine that installing a particular individual in the Oval Office will produce decisive action on any of these fronts is to succumb to the grandest delusion of all. The quadrennial ritual of electing (or relecting) a president is not an exercise in promoting change, regardless of what the candidates may claim and ordinary voters believe. The real aim is to ensure continuity, to keep intact the institutions and arrangements that define present-day Washington. The veterans of past administrations who sign on as campaign advisers are not interested in curbing the bloated powers of the presidency. They want to share in exercising those powers. The retired generals and admirals who line up behind their preferred candidate don't want to dismantle the national security state. They want to preserve it and, if possible, expand it. The candidates who decry the influence of money in national politics are among those most skilled in courting the well-heeled to amass millions in campaign contributions.

No doubt the race for the presidency matters. It just doesn't matter as much as the media's obsessive coverage suggests. Whoever moves into the White House on January 20, 2009, the fundamental problem facing the country -– a yawning disparity between what Americans expect and what they are willing or able to pay -– will remain stubbornly in place. Any presidential initiatives aimed at alleviating the crisis of profligacy, reforming our political system, or devising a more realistic military policy are likely, at best, to have a marginal effect.

Paradoxically, the belief that all (or even much) will be well, if only the right person assumes the reigns as president and commander in chief serves to underwrite the status quo. Counting on the next president to fix whatever is broken promotes expectations of easy, no-cost cures, permitting ordinary citizens to absolve themselves of responsibility for the nation’s predicament. The same Americans who profess to despise all that Washington represents look to –- depending on partisan affiliation – a new John F. Kennedy or a new Ronald Reagan to set things right again. Rather than seeing the imperial presidency as part of the problem, they persist in the fantasy that a chief executive, given a clear mandate, will "change" the way Washington works and restore the nation to good health.  Yet to judge by the performance of presidents over the past half century, including both Kennedy and Reagan (whose legacies are far more mixed than their supporters will acknowledge), a citizenry that looks to the White House for deliverance is assured of disappointment.

In 2009, Kevin Baker reminded Obama that politics is a contact sport, and that the oligarchy is no friend to the American people:

Obama will have to directly attack the fortified bastions of the newest "new class"—the makers of the paper economy in which he came of age—if he is to accomplish anything. These interests did not spend fifty years shipping the greatest industrial economy in the history of the world overseas only to be challenged by a newly empowered, green-economy working class. They did not spend much of the past two decades gobbling up previously public sectors such as health care, education, and transportation only to have to compete with a reinvigorated public sector. They mean, even now, to use the bailout to make the government their helpless junior partner, and if they can they will devour every federal dollar available to recoup their own losses, and thereby preclude the use of any monies for the rest of Barack Obama’s splendid vision.

Franklin Roosevelt also took office imagining that he could bring all classes of Americans together in some big, mushy, cooperative scheme. Quickly disabused of this notion, he threw himself into the bumptious give-and-take of practical politics; lying, deceiving, manipulating, arraying one group after another on his side—a transit encapsulated by how, at the end of his first term, his outraged opponents were calling him a "traitor to his class" and he was gleefully inveighing against "economic royalists" and announcing, "They are unanimous in their hatred for me—and I welcome their hatred."

Obama should not deceive himself into thinking that such interest-group politics can be banished any more than can the cycles of Wall Street. It is not too late for him to change direction and seize the radical moment at hand. But for the moment, just like another very good man, Barack Obama is moving prudently, carefully, reasonably toward disaster.

Use the presidency as a bully pulpit.  You gotta choose, Barack: the people or the corporations, Main Street or Wall Street.  At least get out of the way when citizens' movements organize and get the heavy lifting done.

"If democracy were to be given any meaning, if it were to go beyond the limits of capitalism and nationalism, this would not come, if history were any guide, from the top. It would come through citizen's movements, educating, organizing, agitating, striking, boycotting, demonstrating, threatening those in power with disruption of the stability they needed."  - Howard Zinn

Another must-read article comes from Dr. Drew Westen, who predicted last week's Congressional upset:

For his part, from his post-election press conference through his appearance on 60 Minutes through his inexplicable decision to jet off to Asia in a way that seemed to underscore to the American people his disinterest in both their domestic concerns and the feelings they had just expressed at the ballot box, the president once again illustrated three interrelated hallmarks of his presidency: his ability to endorse nearly every side of an issue, his inability or unwillingness to articulate (whether to the American people or perhaps, more importantly, to himself) any governing philosophy or core set of principles that inform his decisions (e.g., a progressive alternative to the Reagan mantra of "government is the problem, not the solution"), and his allergy to leadership, particularly if it means dealing with conflict or aggression from his political opponents. Over the course of the couple of days he stuck around America long enough to take both sides of the issue, President Obama made clear that he will oppose tax cuts for anyone but the middle class but on the other hand might be willing to extend the Bush tax cuts to the rich, perhaps for a couple years. Like his decision a year and a half ago to cut the stimulus and lard it up with tax cuts the prior eight years had proven to be inert in creating jobs -- a decision that just cost Democrats the House, by "proving" to the American people the uselessness of an economic stimulus and of government more generally -- extending the Bush tax cuts to millionaires would be both bad public policy and bad politics, as all available data suggest that any extension of tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires would be deeply unpopular with voters, who expressed more than anything else their angry populism last Tuesday. The president's differing opinions on whether he believes this is a good area for compromise with congressional Republicans was reminiscent of his various speeches on the importance of deficit spending while cutting the deficit, or his major energy speech on why we have to tackle climate change while expanding oil shale (perhaps the dirtiest, most energy-inefficient fuel ever explored), "clean coal" (which sounds great in West Virginia and would be even better if it existed), and offshore oil drilling (not exactly the most prescient moment in a speech made just two weeks before the BP disaster).

Then there was his 60 Minutes interview last night (prerecorded so he could visit Indonesia today), in which he expressed his regret that he and his team were so busy spending money to plug the economic dike that they gave the misimpression that they believed in government spending, when at heart he doesn't really like government all that much, either. In the same interview, when asked about the perception that he's anti-business, he made clear that some regulations are necessary, but they should be made in "collaboration" with the industries that need to be regulated -- a position strongly articulated by his predecessor, who most of us believed we had voted against -- and then proceeded to offer the two most egregious examples he could find, particularly with the swing voters who swung strongly against him and his party this year, namely bankers and health insurance executives. (You can't make this stuff up.) It's a little hard to imagine Franklin Roosevelt speaking of the robber barons of his era in quite such collegial terms. (To be fair, President Obama has said many other things since Tuesday and in his 60 Minutes interview that hit a more responsive chord.)

After watching the returns Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning, happy to be in a hotel with a sorely needed mini-bar, I had intended to dissect the president's role in this election upon returning home to write this piece at the end of the week. Then on Friday I received an email from a blogger at the DailyKos, telling me that a piece I had written had just drawn nearly a thousand responses. Wondering if I'd made one too many trips to the mini-bar while away (because I couldn't recall having written anything since a op-ed on election night), I checked out the DailyKos to see what he was referring to and found an excerpt and a link to a piece I had published here nearly a year ago. As I read it, I realized it was probably a better postmortem than anything I could write today, for two reasons. First, at the time, it expressed a view many people -- whether toward the center or the left -- were starting to feel but not yet articulating or feeling comfortable articulating in print. Today, as I read it, it almost seems mainstream. Second, it is easy to dismiss a postmortem of an election as post-hoc, written with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight. But it's a lot harder to dismiss a postmortem written a year before the election returns, which in American politics is an eternity.

Originally posted to primarydoc on Mon Nov 08, 2010 at 03:39 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I am going to let him speak for himself (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wufacta, tcdup

    concerning his yearning for Clinton.

  •  Primary Wars Anyone? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    btw-the tip's for your quotes from Bacevich (can you provide more precise references).

    There's a part of me that says the worst thing we can do now is go back and re-fight the primary wars.

    Then there's the part of me that thinks "history is the struggle of memory against forgetting".

    What should we remember about Hillary?

    She helped to legitimize McCarthyist rhetoric in the primaries, pushed Obama to the right on foreign policy, and refused to take any responsibility for the triangulation of the Clinton years. And she did all this while promoting  her own very unique, special brand of "I'm a victim second wave feminism".

    I can tell you, that she made the job of many of us here in Southern Ohio much more difficult.

    To believe a Clinton Presidency would have been different/better/  (i.e. more progressive) means you have to believe that Hillary was secretly against the triangulation of the Clinton years and that she would have installed Reich and Krugman instead of Summers and Rubin and Geither. It means you have to ignore her McCarthyist rhetoric and Maggie Thatcher Act. And then you have to ignore her apparent view that Palestinians are not human beings.

    •  primary wars indeed... (0+ / 0-)

      Where to begin...

      McCarthyist rhetoric?  Her own very unique, special brand of "I'm a victim second wave feminism"?  Maggie Thatcher Act?  Her apparent view that Palestinians are not human beings?  

      Any good point you make is lost behind language that clearly shows your animosity toward the Clintons.

      •  Which of my points is incorrect? (0+ / 0-)

        Which of these did Hillary not do?

        My animosity to the Clintons is because of their policies-not the other way around.

        Where do we start?: financial liberalization, the so called "Tequila Crisis", the Asian currency crisis, the Russian currency crisis and the free market "let's raise interest rates" response of Summers and Rubin?

        Or do we start with Clinton himself using weapons inspectors for intelligence gathering in Iraq, maintaining sanctions?

        Or should we start with the Clintons (plural) refusal to speak out against the lies of Bush and Cheney in the build up to the war?

        Or should we talk about Clinton's operatives during the primary spreading the negative dish about Obama as "other", "UnAmerican"?

        Or the debate where Hillary stood there and sanctioned attacking Obama on the lapel pin and Bill Ayres while threatening Iran with nuclear retaliation?

        If this wasn't a "Maggie Thatcher Act" I don't what was.

        And where has Hillary been on the blockade of the Palestinians?

        The list goes on and on. She's a total myth. She's not progressive-she never was and in many ways she is in part responsible for Obama having to backpedal on a few of his better instincts.

        That said-did I overestimate Obama? Yup. Sure did.

    •  That's an unfortunate view.... (0+ / 0-) seem to be taking of Second Wave feminism. I hope you don't believe that Second Wave feminism is about "victimhood." That sounds like something George Will would say. Second Wave feminism was about a host of very important issues that did a serious amount of harm to women: rape, sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination, discrimination against lesbians, and the wage gap. I don't think it would be wise to be dismissive of these issues and Second Wave feminists did a great deal of hard work to address them.

      •  Point taken (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        metal prophet, bluck

        I didn't mean to come off as dismissive of Second Wave feminism per se.

        I meant to criticize a particular kind of Second Wave feminism that Hillary was so adept at playing on. At the same time, she never addressed some of the bigger issues that come up with Third and Fourth Wave feminism-such as challenging militarism. In fact, I would say that her critiques of Obama's stated desire for diplomacy effectively amounted to the kind of gender norming boys engage in against boys when a boy refuses to engage in violence.

        I hope that clarifies.

  •  I don't understand this diary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    You criticize Milbank, but you're conceding the substance of his point, or more directly, Clinton's point during the primaries.  I don't see any point rehashing the past, whether it's Bush waterboarding KSM or what Clinton said against Obama (or vice-versa) during the primaries or whether the atomic bombing of Hiroshima was necessary.

    The most impressive thing about man [...] is the fact that he has invented the concept of that which does not exist--Glenn Gould

    by Rich in PA on Mon Nov 08, 2010 at 04:49:25 AM PST

  •  Her toolkit? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    57andFemale, wwjjd

    Surely Millbank isn't suggesting that Hillary is a more skilled politician than her husband, and his administration suffered significant losses in its first midterm election, too.

    Sorry, but I think the only thing different with a Hillary presidency would be that we'd still be waiting for health care reform.

  •  I know this topic will be met with derision, (0+ / 0-)

    but it is always an interesting thought.  I do not think anyone but Obama could have gotten as far as he has.  Hillary was more in the pocket of the rich, less likely to attempt what Obama has attempted.  She was more likely to have problems with the Republicans.  

    And, although there is nothing I want to do to change the 2012 candidate (Obama), I wonder if a different type of person might not be more successful here on out.  My point is that Obama has set the table, he has clarified what needs to be done, but there may very well be a different type of person who would be effective in the next few years.

    •  Example? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      wonder if a different type of person might not be more successful here on out.

      And WHY?

      •  Oh, I don't want to go to far and get some (0+ / 0-)

        hate but, I do think that Obama has been too conciliatory with the Republicans.  Don't get me wrong, I would tread lightly but he has not done a good job of defining himself and what he has accomplished.  Even his staunchest supporters among my friends call him Obambi.  I think that for every job, there is the right person.  I'm not sure that he is the right person to take us beyond where we are now.

        I think a lot of people wouldn't have tried to do as much as BO has but they might be better at drawing the lines, making the distinctions, and controlling the media/perceptions.

        The thing is, these people I might name might do really well at the job but not so good at winning.  Obama is probably the right person for ALL reasons.

        One person I thought was really good at being an Obama surrogate was Claire McCaskill.  She seemed very clear and had a great personality.  She could NOT win a general election, I think.  You might say that she has been basically a blue dog, but she lives in a conservative state.  As a surrogate, she was excellent.

        Same with Sherrod Brown.  I love him but doubt he could win the POTUS.

        Same with Biden.  I think he would be a fantastic president in his ability to win the blue collar types but ... no way.

        AND, How about Dean!  

        So, I'm not picking anyone in particular but have some concerns about BO.

        One problem is that he really is elitist.  The way he holds a beer.  The tentative way he bowled.  I do not get a feeling about him as a person ...

        Now to Bush ... my sister-in-law who met the Bush when she ran the annual book festival for LB ... HATES Bush and everything GOP.  But, she said to me, "George is charming and you warm up to him.  How can I say that?  And, Laura is a total bitch."

        End quote.

    •  I agree (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      The Republicans would have hated Clinton right off the bat. All that insane hatred from the 1990s would have come back almost instantly. With Obama, well, we still got it, but that hatred took about a month.

  •  Says the man who called Hillary a "Bitch"? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    desiderata, sharonsz, wwjjd

    Republicans secret dream = the impeachment of Bo the Dog LOL

    by LaurenMonica on Mon Nov 08, 2010 at 05:44:51 AM PST

  •  Title doesn't fit the diary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I don't disagree with the quoted observations of Obama's wishy-washy try-to-be-everything tendencies.  But it doesn't really delve into whether Hillary would have been different.

    Obama so far has been much of what I feared Hillary would be...except that I do believe Hillary would have been far more effective on Health Care.  That's why she scared the shit out of the Right Wingers so...and perhaps one of the reasons Obama did not (this latter in hindsight.)

    I voted for Obama, and got a weak version of Hillary.  I am not happy with the outcome and if I had it to do over, I definitely would.  I don't believe I could do worse.

    This election is like going into a job interview with a resume that only says how much the other candidates suck.

    by Celtic Pugilist on Mon Nov 08, 2010 at 09:41:48 PM PST

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