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Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Left’s Rage and Trump’s Peril - The Democratic base is even worse-tempered than the president. But Mueller could still harpoon him.

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

The State of the Union speech was good—spirited, pointed, with a credible warmth for the heroes in the balcony, who were well chosen. They were beautiful human beings, and their stories were rousing—the cop and his wife who adopted the baby, the hardy North Korean defector who triumphantly waved his crutches, the mourning, dignified parents of the girls killed by MS-13. My beloved Cajun Navy.

The thing about the heroes in the balcony is it reminds you not of who the president is but of who we are. “With people like that we can’t miss.” I had that thought when Ronald Reagan gave tribute in 1985 to a young woman who as a child desperately fled Saigon as it fell. She and her family were among the boat people, spotted and saved by a U.S. ship. Reagan called her to stand, and Jean Nguyen stood—proudly, in the gleaming uniform of a West Point cadet. She would graduate within the year.
The recognition of heroes in the balcony is called a cliché. It certainly is. An inspiring and truthful one, and long may it live.
The Democrats in the chamber were slumped, glowery. They had chosen to act out unbroken disdain so as to please the rising left of their party, which was watching and would review their faces. Some of them were poorly lit and seemed not resolute but Draculaic. The women of the party mostly dressed in black, because nothing says moral seriousness like coordinating your outfits.
Here it should be said of the rising left of the Democratic Party that they are numerous, committed, and have all the energy—it’s true. But they operate at a disadvantage they cannot see, and it is that they are loveless. The social justice warriors, the advancers of identity politics and gender politics, the young who’ve just discovered socialism—they run on rage.

But rage is a poor fuel in politics. It produces a heavy, sulfurous exhaust and pollutes the air. It’s also gets few miles per gallon. It has many powers but not the power to persuade, and if anything does them in it will be that. Their temperament is no better than Mr. Trump’s . It’s worse. But yes, they are intimidating the Democratic establishment, which robs itself of its dignity trying to please them. It won’t succeed.

As for the president’s base, I am coming to a somewhat different way of thinking about it. It’s true they are a minority, true that his approval ratings are not good, are in fact historically low for a president with a good economy at the end of a first year. But Mr. Trump has just more than a solid third of the nation. They are a spirited, confident core. What other political figure in this fractured, splintered country has a reliable third of the electorate? And it’s probably somewhat more than a third, because Trump supporters know they are not and will never be respected, and just as in 2016 you have to factor in the idea of shy Trump voters.

What they are not sufficiently concerned about is that Mr. Trump has not expanded his popularity. He has kept his core but failed to reach out consistently and successfully to others. He has not created coalitions.
His position is more precarious than his people see.

He has too much relished the role of divider. When you’re running for office you are every day dividing those who support you from those who don’t, and hoping your group is bigger. But when you win you reach out to your enemies with humility, with patience—with love!—and try to drag ’em in to sup in your tent. You don’t do this because you’re a hypocrite but because you’re an adult looking to win. Or a constructive idealist. That happens sometimes.
His supporters don’t know what he doesn’t know: He must grow or die.

They are happily watching The Trump Show as he sticks it to people they hate. They don’t know Shark Week is coming.
In November he may lose the House. That’s what the generic ballot says is coming, that’s what was suggested by last year’s GOP defeats in Virginia and Alabama.

I know what Republicans are thinking. They are going to run on an economy that is expanding thanks to tax reform and deregulation. They are going to run on bigger paychecks and unexpected bonuses. They’ll run on the appointment of conservative judges to balance out Barack Obama’s liberal judges at a time when the courts have taken a more powerful role in American culture. They’ll run on We Will Stop Illegal Immigration and Give a Break to the Children of Illegal Immigrants.
The Democrats, on the other hand, are running on Trump is unpopular and so is his party, he is a fascist, and any limit on immigration is like any limit on abortion, tyrannical on its face.
Republicans are thinking nobody’s noticing but they’re in a pretty good place. I suspect they are right.

Except. Special counsel Robert Mueller will likely, before November, report his findings to the Justice Department, and you have to assume he is going to find something because special prosecutors exist to find something. When Mr. Mueller staffed up he hired Ahabs, and Ahabs exist to get the whale. You have to assume Mr. Trump will be harpooned, and the question is whether it’s a flesh wound or goes deeper. If it goes deep the Democrats may well win the House, in which case he will be impeached.
Trump supporters don’t view this with appropriate alarm. They comfort themselves with the idea that he is playing three-dimensional chess and his opponents are too stupid to see it. That’s not true—he is more ad hoc and chaotic than they think. They should help him by trying to improve his standing, which means telling him what doesn’t work.

He thinks he rouses and amuses his supporters with feuds and wars, tweets and grievances. In reality, as Trump supporters know, it’s something they put up with. For everyone else it’s alienating, evidence of instability.
He calls out fake news and wars with the press while at the same time betraying a complete and befuddled yearning for their approval. Mr. Trump is a little like Nixon in this—embittered and vengeful at not getting the admiration of those he says he doesn’t respect.
These things don’t speak of tactical or strategic brilliance.

His supporters argue the media is against him, and this is true and should be acknowledged. But they were totally opposed to Reagan, too. They more or less admit his greatness now, or at least concede his towering adequacy, in part because Trump-shock has left them reconsidering the bogeymen of the past, in part because they like all dead Republicans.
But Reagan didn’t need the press to feel like a big man or be a success, and Mr. Trump looks unmanned to be so destabilized by their antipathy.

The president’s supporters should be frank with him about his flaws. They’re so used to defending him, they forget to help him. They should give him the compliment of candor.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

What Truman Can Teach Trump The politically astute Cold Warrior knew how to navigate the tides of populism at home while maintaining America’s leadership abroad.

Walter Russell Mead writes in The Wall Street Journal:

The foreign policy of the United States hasn’t seen a strategic crisis this profound since 1947, when President Harry Truman summoned the American people to fight Soviet ambitions in Europe. The Cuban missile crisis was more dramatic and the agony of Vietnam more wrenching, but since Truman, American presidents have believed that a global, outward-looking, order-building foreign policy was the necessary foundation for U.S. strategy and a peaceful, prosperous world.

No longer. President Donald Trump, backed by a substantial segment of the American public, has distanced himself from some of the key foreign-policy assumptions and policies of the postwar era. Longstanding pillars of American strategy—free trade, alliances in Europe and Asia, defense of human rights, commitment to international institutions and the rule of law—have come into question as the new president denounces today’s global architecture as a bad deal for the U.S.

Responses to the shift have ranged from bewilderment to outrage. Mr. Trump’s exit from the Trans-Pacific Partnership—a carefully negotiated trade agreement intended to lock the major Asian trading states into a relationship with the U.S. that would exclude China—shocked free-trade advocates and Asia experts. His repeated descriptions of NATO as obsolete and his refusal (until his recent trip to Poland) to endorse the mutual-defense commitment at NATO’s heart left many wondering whether Mr. Trump still considers the alliance essential to U.S. security. A drumbeat of news stories pointing to alleged collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign has further muddied the waters, with many concluding that the president’s Russia policies have more to do with his personal concerns than with the national interest.

What explains this reversal in America’s priorities? A chorus of observers has identified the problem as “populism.” As they see it, ignorant voters, angry about domestic economic conditions and cultural trends, were beguiled by empty promises of prosperity and driven by racism and xenophobia to back an agenda isolating the U.S. from the rest of the world.

But populism is nothing new in American politics. In 1947, when Truman, George Marshall and Dean Acheson laid the foundations of postwar U.S. foreign policy, populism was every bit as strong a force in our politics as it is now. Determined to engage with the wider world but also deeply aware of their political situation at home, Truman and his team acted pre-emptively to head off a populist revolt. They modified their rhetoric and policies to address the concerns of a skeptical public and found ways to make their assertive Cold War policies appealing to, among others, angry heartland populists.

This is something that foreign-policy leaders in both parties have failed to do in recent years, and the election of Mr. Trump was in large part a consequence of that failure. His populist attacks on the sacred totems of establishment foreign policy probably attracted more voters to his candidacy than they scared off, and the Trump administration now threatens to undo many of the historic accomplishments of the Truman years.

For those of us who continue to believe that the policies and institutions devised after World War II served the U.S. well and remain essential today, the question is what to do now. In a best-case scenario, Mr. Trump’s impressive foreign-policy team would convince their chief and his more populist advisers that Trumanism makes sense, and the president would work to make this case to his political base. Failing that, the best alternative is to convince the American people themselves that Trumanism is a better choice for the U.S. than Trumpism. Whatever the case, those of us who want to conserve the achievements of postwar American policy will need to do what Truman did: meet populists on their own turf and engage them.

In the winter and spring of 1947, as the White House followed the dismal economic and political news from Europe, Truman and his team knew that American public opinion stood firmly opposed to any big new overseas commitments, including foreign aid. Republicans had captured control of Congress, and an angry GOP majority that included the communist-baiting Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin was intensely skeptical of foreign involvement and entangling alliances.

The Truman team was clear about its own strategic priorities. The U.S. needed to block Soviet expansionism in a shattered Europe at a time when the continent’s traditional great powers had collapsed and could neither defend themselves nor rebuild their economies without massive American help. The U.S. also needed to take on the global role that the British Empire had played at its zenith: The dollar would replace the pound as the world’s reserve currency, the U.S. Navy would replace the British fleet as the guarantor of freedom of the seas, and American power and diplomacy would replace the British in building international institutions to manage the global economy and the emerging postcolonial world.

This was all very well in theory, but Truman faced widespread political resistance to this agenda. On the left, many liberals still wanted to conciliate rather than to confront our wartime ally Stalin. On the right, many conservatives were isolationists or unilateralists who had just cut U.S. spending on foreign aid. “Mr. President,” Sen. Arthur Vandenberg told Truman in a meeting at the White House about the urgent need for American aid to Greece and Turkey, “the only way you are going to get this is to make a speech and scare the hell out of the country.”

Truman and Vandenberg understood something profound about the politics of American foreign policy. While foreign-policy professionals in government, the academy and the media are often motivated by hope—the prospect of building a global trading order, for example, or of making the world more democratic—the public at large tends to be more focused on fear. If the American public had no fears about emerging threats elsewhere in the world, it would be very hard to get public support for an activist foreign policy with high-minded ambitions. Truman took the fears of the public seriously and tried to give them constructive expression: They were a crucial source of the political energy needed to power America’s global engagement.

To this end, Truman and his team summoned the specter of a global communist conspiracy directed by the Kremlin and told the American people that defeating this enemy was its highest priority. Administration surrogates painted a terrifying picture of communist advances across Europe and warned that if Europe fell, America would be next. And it worked. Congress appropriated the funds and passed the key legislation that gave Truman the foreign-policy tools he needed. American public opinion would continue to support a strong anti-Soviet foreign policy through the long years of the Cold War.

The Truman administration’s anticommunist rhetoric was denounced by many intellectuals and academics as crude, naive and counterproductive. George F. Kennan, one of the architects of the administration’s strategy, was so distressed by what he saw as the militarism of America’s subsequent containment policies that he left government and became an eloquent critic of U.S. foreign policy. Walter Lippmann, the most influential foreign-policy pundit of the day, made known his displeasure with Cold War fearmongering again and again. Sophisticated Europeans shuddered at what they saw as an excessively harsh and Manichaean view of communism—even as they gratefully accepted the American aid and protection that Truman’s rhetoric made possible.

Truman’s secretary of state, Dean Acheson, defended the administration’s approach in his memoirs. An official trying to gain public support for foreign policy, he wrote, is not “the writer of a doctoral thesis. Qualification must give way to simplicity of statement, nicety and nuance to bluntness, almost brutality, in carrying home a point.” Acheson estimated that the average American with a job and a family had perhaps 10 minutes a day in which to think about foreign policy. “If we made our points clearer than truth, we did not differ from most other educators and could hardly do otherwise.”

Today’s advocates of continuing U.S. global leadership and engagement need to keep in mind both parts of Truman’s achievement: formulating a farsighted national strategy to address the issues of the day and then educating the public to support it.

The world is more complicated today than it was in 1947. America’s challenges are more complex and, in some ways, harder to address, even if no single threat is as urgent and overwhelming as the one posed by the Soviet Union under Stalin. But the fears of the American people are also more complex, and a national strategy that clearly addresses those concerns can succeed both in domestic politics and in the world at large.

The threat of jihadist terror on a mass scale, the growing danger of nuclear weapons in the hands of radical regimes, the possibility of debilitating cyberwarfare, the economic and political challenge posed by a rising China, the impact of globalization on American jobs—these are widely shared concerns for millions of Americans. Even in our current moment of populist retreat, such fears, together with abiding popular attachment to trusted allies such as the U.K. and Israel, are strong enough and real enough to serve as the political foundation for a new wave of American global engagement.

The same cannot be said, however, for a cause dear to many in the foreign-policy establishment: There is today very little popular support for the Wilsonian belief that the spread of democracy can solve America’s most urgent foreign-policy problems.

Promoting our values abroad remains important to many Americans, and our foreign policy cannot succeed in the long run without a clear moral basis, but the serious, recurring failures of this project since the end of the Cold War have gravely damaged its credibility. President George W. Bush turned the Iraq war into a war to make the Middle East safe for democracy. President Barack Obama tried to build democracy in the Middle East by embracing Turkey’s Islamist leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and again by supporting the 2011 revolution that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. Mr. Obama then sought to make a humanitarian gesture by helping to overthrow Moammar Qaddafi in Libya.

The disasters that have unfolded in all of these countries in recent years have driven home the idea, for many Americans, that foreign-policy experts have no idea what they are doing. It is useful, in this regard, to acknowledge that it’s not just populists who sometimes get foreign policy wrong.

A Trumanist approach—popular but not populist, moral but not moralistic—would start by showing some trust in the foreign-policy instincts of the American people. To take one obvious instance where popular and elite views diverge: Ordinary Americans are inclined to favor a firm, decisive response to jihadist threats, while foreign-policy elites tend to worry much more about the possible effects of American overreaction.

This, too, follows a familiar pattern. The same arguments were made about anticommunism in Truman’s day. But just as you could then be worried about communism without wanting to nuke Russia, you can be deeply concerned about the growth of jihadist ideology and violence today without wanting to start a war with Islam.

Indeed, it is when people think that their leaders don’t share their fears, or are incapable of acting on them, that popular fear often turns to populist rage. If the average American thinks that the political establishment isn’t really worried about terrorism, the public is likely to become more xenophobic, not less. If the public thinks that American trade negotiators don’t put the protection of American jobs first, people are more likely to become protectionist than to study the economics of the issue. If the average American thinks that the political class doesn’t really care about illegal immigration, the demand for border walls will grow, not diminish.

Truman and Acheson could have joined the intellectuals and the pundits who scoffed at the public’s “naive” and “simplistic” views of the communist threat and the other challenges of the day. But they had better sense than that. They understood that connecting their strategic goals with public fears was the key to success—even if there was a certain cost to be paid at times in policy. They preferred a blunt, accessible strategy that the public and Congress would support to a more intellectually sophisticated one that could never take hold in the real world. As a result, they were able to set the U.S. and the world on a course that, for the past 70 years, has yielded an extraordinary stretch of prosperity and peace.

We must hope today that American leaders, from the president on down, can be informed and inspired by the example of that historic success. Truman’s combination of strategic vision and political pragmatism is exactly what the U.S. and our turbulent world need right now.

Mr. Mead is a distinguished fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., a professor of foreign affairs at Bard College and editor at large of the American Interest.

The Democrats’ Biggest Problem Is Cultural Since 1968, the party has been alienating working-class voters. President Trump is the latest result.

Ted Van Kyk writes in The Wall Street Journal:

Six months into the Trump presidency, congressional Democrats have begun to frame an alternative agenda. Recognizing their abandonment in 2016 by so-called working-class voters, they have unveiled a handful of spending and tax-policy benefits targeted to that constituency.

A much larger, comprehensive policy package is needed. Beyond that, Democrats need to recognize a profound voter shift that has been under way since 1968 and is centered on cultural issues.

Three statements in recent years illustrate why former Democratic voters have abandoned their party. First, Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign remark that small-town Americans “cling to guns and religion.” Second, Michelle Obama’s statement, also in 2008, that “for the first time in my adult lifetime I am proud of my country.” Third, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 characterization of Trump supporters as “deplorables”: “They are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.”

None of these statements had anything to do with national security or economics. They revealed a mind-set that many voters find offensive—a huge cultural chasm that cannot be bridged by offering voters economic goodies.

The Democratic voter exodus began in 1968 when millions of traditional blue-collar and middle-income voters moved to Republican Richard Nixon or third-party candidate George Wallace, a Democratic former governor of Alabama. Alienated by street and campus riots and disorder, these voters bought into the Nixon/Wallace law-and-order themes. Some also were attracted to their message that Great Society programs had overreached.

As Vice President Hubert Humphrey’s assistant, I stood with him on election night when we learned that he had lost both Ohio and New Jersey, and the national election, because old-style Democrats had defected in those key states. I recalled visiting Democratic Rep. Pete Rodino’s campaign headquarters weeks earlier in New Jersey and seeing posters of Rodino and Wallace but none of Humphrey.

The shift, and the margin of Democratic loss, became far more dramatic in 1972. I was policy and platform director for George McGovern’s campaign. Our organizers and convention delegates were mostly from the generation that had come of age during the 1968 protests. They opposed the Vietnam War. But they were mostly interested in cultural and lifestyle issues—“acid, amnesty and abortion,” as Republicans called them, picking up a line that turned out to have originated with McGovern’s first running mate, Sen. Thomas Eagleton. Those Democrats gave short shrift to jobs, economic growth, public safety and other traditional voter concerns.

Their successors in the party have continued to focus on cultural issues with limited appeal. Their focus on political correctness and conformity has left an impression on traditional Democrats that their party leaders care more about transgender bathroom access than employment, the cost of living, education or public safety. Mrs. Clinton’s “deplorables” reference struck home with these voters.

The Democrats’ post-1972 evolution also has turned upside down the party’s approaches to racial and economic justice. The Great Society approach was to enact laws, such as the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts, removing legal obstacles to justice. Medicare and Medicaid provided a health-care safety net to the elderly and poor. Job training, early education, nutrition, health and other War on Poverty programs were provided to the poor and only incidentally benefited minorities disproportionately. They were designed to help lift disadvantaged Americans to an equal place at the starting line—never to guarantee equality at the finish line. We also talked of “equal law enforcement,” which would protect citizens in minority neighborhoods while at the same time assuring race-blind treatment of offenders and suspects.

Decades later, urban black communities in particular are in crisis. School dropout and incarceration rates, high black-on-black murder and other crime rates, births out of wedlock far outnumbering intact families, pervasive drug dealing and use, and a disgraceful poverty rate should shame all of us.

The answer to this crisis does not lie in cries of black victimization by police or other authorities. It lies instead with tangible, practical programs like those we launched in the 1960s. We purposely sought bipartisan sponsorship in Congress and enlisted labor, business, academic and other support in society more broadly. We did it that way because we believed we were all in it together and had to address priorities together. Most Americans today would agree this is the way to go, but their leaders are offering mainly partisanship and polarization.

Political scientist V.O. Key famously observed that “the voters are not fools.” Millions of them, including traditional Democrats, driven by anger and frustration, abandoned their political roots last November to make Donald Trump president. Many probably sensed that chaos and fumbling would follow. By their lights, it was an acceptable price to pay to rid themselves of leaders who had forgotten them.

Congressional Democrats are right to begin construction of an alternative agenda. But as they do so, they must recognize that most Americans are not racist, sexist, ignorant or opposed to alternative lifestyles. Most largely accept the cultural and social changes of the past half-century. To recapture traditional Democratic voters, and attract new ones, Democrats must learn empathy for those who believe they are being mocked for working hard, going to church, serving in the military, and trying to instill moral standards in their children.

Back in the day we spoke admiringly of officeholders and candidates who were “for the people.” Those same people now must come to feel again that there are Democrats who understand them, their values and their aspirations and do not view them as cultural inferiors to be manipulated in campaign years. President Trump is not our problem.

Mr. Van Dyk was active for more than 40 years in Democratic administrations and campaigns.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Democrats’ Broad Challenge: Middle-Class Appeal - As the party debates its path forward, its pitch to the political sweet spot is losing resonance

Gerald Seib writes in The Wall Street Journal:

Democrats have entered a summer of discontent, in which their disdain for President Donald Trump is matched by their frustration at an inability, so far at least, to notch an election victory that would show they can translate anti-Trump sentiment into success at the ballot box.

They are troubled most immediately by their failure to capture a seemingly winnable vacant House seat in suburban Atlanta last week. That has precipitated a round of backbiting and second-guessing, and a debate about whether the party’s success lies in staking out the political center, to claim the votes of independent and moderate Republicans put off by the coarseness and unpredictability of Mr. Trump, or in moving left to capture and spread the passion of those who want a clean and sharp break from the status quo.

Democrats might want to pause, though, to consider a broader problem: Why has their hold on the middle class loosened?

This is the trend that made the Trump phenomenon possible, and that Mr. Trump in turn appears to have exacerbated. The scope of Democrats’ problem is visible in the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. Less visible is what the party can do to reverse it.

For more than a quarter of a century, the Journal/NBC News poll has been asking Americans which party—the Democrats or the Republicans—would do a better job of looking out for the middle class. In 1990, the Democratic advantage was enormous: By a whopping 29-point margin, 47% to 18%, Americans said the Democrats would do the better job for the middle class.

By 2011, the Democratic margin had shrunk to 20 points. Now, in the latest survey completed last week, the Democratic advantage has shrunk to 13 points, the smallest gap ever.

This isn’t an incidental data point. In American politics, the middle class occupies hallowed ground that parties yearn to control. Americans with lower incomes want to become part of the middle class, and thus are drawn to the party that can pave the way there. Those already in the middle class want to be assured they won’t slip backward and out of it. And at least some of those who have risen above the middle class are grateful to whichever party and policies gave them the chance to do so.

So just about every economic policy from both parties is pitched as a magic elixir for the middle class. The question for Democrats is why their pitch doesn’t have the same resonance as before.

Part of the answer may lie in the party’s priorities. Democrats’ signature domestic achievement in recent years, the Affordable Care Act, was designed in large measure—and admirably so—to extend health coverage to Americans who couldn’t otherwise afford it. But while providing health security to many low- and middle-income people, it also produced a fair amount of health insecurity to others in the middle class, through higher insurance premiums and shrinking coverage options.

Similarly, Democratic efforts to raise the minimum wage speak more loudly to low-income Americans than to the middle class.

By contrast, middle-class worries trend more toward finding a way to buy a home and paying for college costs. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel says that’s a reason one of the most politically successful initiatives he has pursued has been a program to provide tuition-free community-college educations to city high-school graduates.

Increasingly, middle-class voters also worry about job security. That’s where Mr. Trump has sapped away some of Democrats’ middle-class appeal, particularly with his tough trade rhetoric.

“Especially in Pennsylvania and the Midwest, there is a real belief the country hasn’t stood by them,” says Larry Cohen, chairman of Our Revolution, an activist group that has absorbed much of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign. “In Iowa, somebody said to me, ‘We like to make things and grow things.’ Well, good luck making things today.”

Part of the issue is cultural. As the Democratic Party has become more centered in urban areas and along the coasts, it has cemented its connection to younger and more highly educated Americans but has lost its appeal to some middle-class and would-be middle-class voters.

Hints of all these effects lie within the Journal/NBC News poll. Belief that Democrats are the champions of the middle class is notably low in the Midwest (33%), among rural voters (31%) and among white men with less than college educations (25%). Taken together, those voters make up the core Trump constituency.

The problem as well as the potential for Democrats can be found in another set of numbers. Just 20% of self-identified political independents say Democrats do a better job at looking out for the middle class. But belief in the Republicans is almost identically low. Perhaps the Democrats’ challenge is less to move left or right than to craft a message that appeals to them.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Peggy Noonan - On Health Care, a Promise, Not a Threat

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

We are coming up on a great American holiday. There will be fireworks and children frolicking in pools; there will be baseball games, cookouts and flags. America will be looking and acting like America. So this is no time for gloom.

This moment in fact may be, perversely, promising. The failure so far of Senate Republicans to agree on a health-care bill provides an opening. Whatever happens the next few days, moderates and centrists on both sides can and should rise, name themselves, and start storming through.

The difficulties the Republicans have faced were inevitable. They are divided; they don’t have the will or the base. The party is undergoing a populist realignment, with party donors, think-tankers and ideologues seeing things more or less one way, and the Trump base, including many Democrats, seeing them another. The long-stable ground under Republican senators has been shifting, and they’re not sure where or how to stand. The president, philosophically unmoored and operating without a firm grasp of the legislation he promotes, is little help. He has impulses and sentiments but is not, as the French used to say, a serious man. He just wants a deal and a win, and there’s something almost refreshing in this, in the lack of tangled and complicated personal and political motives. It makes so much possible.

Many Republican senators see that the American people are not in the mood for tax cuts to the comfortable and coverage limits on the distressed. Democratic senators, on the other hand, are increasingly aware that ObamaCare is not viable, and in some respects is on the verge of collapse.

This gives both parties motives to join together and make things better.

Republicans believe they must repeal ObamaCare because they’ve long promised to do so. Keeping promises, especially in our untrusting political climate, is a good thing. But polling suggests America isn’t eager that promise be wholly kept. The Senate’s repeal-and-replace bill is deeply underwater in most polls, barely above water even with Republicans. If you campaign promising mayonnaise but once you’re in office voters start saying they prefer mustard, Politics 101 says, at least for now, hold the mayo.

Here again is our big wish: that both parties join together and produce a fix. It would no doubt be ungainly and imperfect, but it would be better than the failing thing we have. And Americans, being practical, will settle, for now, for better.

The GOP’s donor class would likely hate the eventual bill, as the Democratic Party’s nihilist left, which wants no compromise, would hate it. But their opposition would suggest to everyone else the bill must be pretty good.

There is the beginning of a movement in the Senate for a bipartisan approach. Republican Susan Collins of Maine has it exactly right: Asked if she thinks it necessary for both parties to work together, she said: “That’s what we should have done from the beginning.” Republican Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia said on Fox News Wednesday night: “I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and work with the Democrats.” Republican Ron Johnson of Wisconsin says it’s a ‘mistake’ to attempt a partisan fix. Democrat Joe Manchin, also of West Virginia, says he’s “ready” for a bipartisan effort. The New York Times reports senators from both parties met privately weeks ago to discuss core issues. Mr. Manchin was there along with Democrats Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. Among the Republicans were Sens. Capito and Collins, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

That’s a good start.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, disappointed in the GOP failure earlier in the week to get to yes, told his own members, in front of the press, that if they can’t get it together, they’ll have to work with the Democrats. It sounded like a threat, not an invitation; he seemed to be saying Republican voters wouldn’t like it. Many wouldn’t, but the polling suggests many would.

This column respects history and tradition. I’ve banged away on the fact that any big legislative change that affects how America lives, especially on something so intimate and immediate as health care, has to receive support from both parties or it will never work.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, in creating Social Security in 1935, knew he had to get Republicans behind it and owning it, or America would see it as a Democratic project, not an American institution. In the end he persuaded 81 Republicans to join 284 Democrats in the House. So too with the creation of Medicare in 1965: Lyndon Johnson wrestled and cajoled Republicans and got a majority of their votes.

Every president until Barack Obama knew this. He bullied through ObamaCare with no Republican support, and he did it devilishly, too, in that he created a bill so deal-laden, so intricate, so embedding-of-its-tentacles into the insurance and health systems, that it would be almost impossible to undo. He was maximalist. His party got a maximal black eye, losing the House and eventually the Senate over the bill, which also contributed to its loss of the presidency.

Is it fair that both parties must fix a problem created by one party? No. But it would be wise and would work.

Here is a thing that would help: a little humility from the Democrats, and a little humanity.

It would be powerful if a Democratic senator would go on the Sunday shows this weekend and say something like this: “Republicans have proved they can’t make progress. They’re failing in their efforts, and I’m not sad about it, because their bill is a bad one. But I’m not going to lie to you, ObamaCare has big flaws—always did. It was an imperfect piece of legislation and it’s done some things my party said wouldn’t happen, such as lost coverage and hiked deductibles. The American people know this because they live with it. The answer is to do what we should have done in the past, and that is joining with Republicans to hammer out changes that will make things better, that we all can live with, at least for now. We’ll make it better only by working together. I’m asking to work with them.”

That person would be a hero in the Beltway, which prizes compromise and constructiveness, and admired outside it. “My God, it isn’t all just partisan for her.”

The Democratic Party made this mess. It’s on them to help dig out of it. If they show some humility, Republicans would look pretty poor in not responding with their own olive branch.

Show some class, help the country. When it’s over, use whatever words you want: “We forced Democrats to admit the bill was flawed and dying.” “We forced Republicans to back down.” America won’t mind the propaganda, they’re used to it. Just make a bad thing better.

Don’t give what you produce a grandiose name. Call it the Health Reform Act of 2017. There will be more. Wait till we’re debating single payer in 2020.

But move now. Do the work, break Capitol Hill out of its shirts-and-skins stasis. Solve this thing.

A happy 241st anniversary to America, the great and fabled nation that is still, this day, the hope of the world.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Rage Is All the Rage, and It’s Dangerous - To the media: Take it down some notches, cool it. We have responsibilities to each other.

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

What we are living through in America is not only a division but a great estrangement. It is between those who support Donald Trump and those who despise him, between left and right, between the two parties, and even to some degree between the bases of those parties and their leaders in Washington. It is between the religious and those who laugh at Your Make Believe Friend, between cultural progressives and those who wish not to have progressive ways imposed upon them. It is between the coasts and the center, between those in flyover country and those who decide what flyover will watch on television next season. It is between “I accept the court’s decision” and “Bake my cake.” We look down on each other, fear each other, increasingly hate each other.

Oh, to have a unifying figure, program or party.

But we don’t, nor is there any immediate prospect. So, as Ben Franklin said, we’ll have to hang together or we’ll surely hang separately. To hang together—to continue as a country—at the very least we have to lower the political temperature. It’s on all of us more than ever to assume good faith, put our views forward with respect, even charity, and refuse to incite.

We’ve been failing. Here is a reason the failure is so dangerous.

In the early 1990s Roger Ailes had a talk show on the America’s Talking network and invited me to talk about a concern I’d been writing about, which was old-fashioned even then: violence on TV and in the movies. Grim and graphic images, repeated depictions of murder and beatings, are bad for our kids and our culture, I argued. Depictions of violence unknowingly encourage it.

But look, Roger said, there’s comedy all over TV and I don’t see people running through the streets breaking into laughter. True, I said, but the problem is that, for a confluence of reasons, our country is increasingly populated by the not fully stable. They aren’t excited by wit, they’re excited by violence—especially unstable young men. They don’t have the built-in barriers and prohibitions that those more firmly planted in the world do. That’s what makes violent images dangerous and destructive. Art is art and censorship is an admission of defeat. Good judgment and a sense of responsibility are the answer.

That’s what we’re doing now, exciting the unstable—not only with images but with words, and on every platform. It’s all too hot and revved up. This week we had a tragedy. If we don’t cool things down, we’ll have more.

And was anyone surprised? Tuesday I talked with an old friend, a figure in journalism who’s a pretty cool character, about the political anger all around us. He spoke of “horrible polarization.” He said there’s “too much hate in D.C.” He mentioned “the beheading, the play in the park” and described them as “dog whistles to any nut who wants to take action.”
“Someone is going to get killed,” he said.

That was 20 hours before the shootings in Alexandria, Va.

The gunman did the crime, he is responsible, it’s fatuous to put the blame on anyone or anything else.

But we all operate within a climate and a culture. The media climate now, in both news and entertainment, is too often of a goading, insinuating resentment, a grinding, agitating antipathy. You don’t need another recitation of the events of just the past month or so. A comic posed with a gruesome bloody facsimile of President Trump’s head. New York’s rightly revered Shakespeare in the Park put on a “Julius Caesar” in which the assassinated leader is made to look like the president. A CNN host—amazingly, of a show on religion—sent out a tweet calling the president a “piece of s—” who is “a stain on the presidency.” An MSNBC anchor wondered, on the air, whether the president wishes to “provoke” a terrorist attack for political gain. Earlier Stephen Colbert, well known as a good man, a gentleman, said of the president, in a rant: “The only thing your mouth is good for is being Vladimir Putin’s c— holster.” Those are but five dots in a larger, darker pointillist painting. You can think of more.

Too many in the mainstream media—not all, but too many—don’t even bother to fake fairness and lack of bias anymore, which is bad: Even faked balance is better than none.

Yes, they have reasons. They find Mr. Trump to be a unique danger to the republic, an incipient fascist; they believe it is their patriotic duty to show opposition. They don’t like his policies. A friend suggested recently that they hate him also because he’s in their business, show business. Who is he to be president? He’s not more talented. And yet as soon as his presidency is over he’ll get another reality show.

And there’s something else. Here I want to note the words spoken by Kathy Griffin, the holder of the severed head. In a tearful news conference she said of the president, “He broke me.” She was roundly mocked for this. Oh, the big bad president’s supporters were mean to you after you held up his bloody effigy. But she was exactly right. He did break her. He robbed her of her sense of restraint and limits, of her judgment. He broke her, but not in the way she thinks, and he is breaking more than her.

We have been seeing a generation of media figures cratering under the historical pressure of Donald Trump. He really is powerful.

They’re losing their heads. Now would be a good time to regain them.

They have been making the whole political scene lower, grubbier. They are showing the young what otherwise estimable adults do under pressure, which is lose their equilibrium, their knowledge of themselves as public figures, as therefore examples—tone setters. They’re paid a lot of money and have famous faces and get the best seat, and the big thing they’re supposed to do in return is not be a slob. Not make it worse.

By indulging their and their audience’s rage, they spread the rage. They celebrate themselves as brave for this. They stood up to the man, they spoke truth to power. But what courage, really, does that take? Their audiences love it. Their base loves it, their demo loves it, their bosses love it. Their numbers go up. They get a better contract. This isn’t brave.

If these were only one-offs, they’d hardly be worth comment, but these things build on each other. Rage and sanctimony always spread like a virus, and become stronger with each iteration.

And it’s no good, no excuse, to say Trump did it first, he lowered the tone, it’s his fault. Your response to his low character is to lower your own character? He talks bad so you do? You let him destabilize you like this? You are making a testimony to his power.

So many of our media figures need at this point to be reminded: You belong to something. It’s called: us.

Do your part, take it down some notches, cool it. We have responsibilities to each other.

Jim Galloway: Handel stitched pro- and anti-Trump Republicans together, and Ossoff let her

Jim Galloway writes in the AJC's Political Insider:

The first Washington recipient of Handel’s gratitude was U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan. Never mind that social media expert currently at the center of three congressional investigations. It was Ryan’s super PAC that allowed Handel to compete financially with Ossoff. Vice President Mike Pence, who came down here for a public rally with Handel, was mentioned by name, too.

But when it came to the fellow who lives in the White House, the guy who Tweeted those nice things about her, Handel gave her specific thanks to “the President of the United States,” carefully avoiding the words “Donald” and “Trump.”

She left it to her audience to fill in the blank. “Trump! Trump! Trump!” they shouted.

And about those several Election Day tweets from @realDonaldTrump, urging her on to victory. An inspection of the official Twitter account of the candidate indicates that only one 140-character message from Trump was ever retweeted by the Handel campaign. That was on April 19, when the president congratulated her for making it into the runoff.

All of which is to say that the first GOP congresswoman from Georgia is headed to Washington this week because she successfully threaded the needle and kept Republicans who love Trump, and Republicans who can’t abide him, stitched together.

Jon Ossoff and the Democratic machine behind him allowed Handel to do it.

Thirty million dollars will buy a lot of second-guessing, but that avalanche of cash is largely spent now. So I’ll offer mine for free. It wasn’t that Jon Ossoff wasn’t a resident of the Sixth District — a fact pointed out by Handel time and again.

No, it was that Ossoff was too much a part of the Sixth, and feared offending Mom and Dad’s old Republican neighbors with attacks that tied his opponent to current events in and current concerns about Washington.

When Handel slipped in a debate, and said she “opposed a livable wage,” Ossoff made no use of the gaffe. Given that the Sixth is well-heeled and minimum-wage earners are often bused in, I can understand why Democrats might have let that pass.

But the entire Sixth District runoff coincided with a Washington debate over the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. House Republicans passed their version in early May. Senate Republicans continued to keep their version of Trumpcare — McConnell care? – a very big secret.

A Journal-Constitution poll showed that three-quarters of the Sixth opposed the House repeal of Obamacare, and that Handel’s Republican supporters were fractured on the issue.

Trump, in Atlanta for a National Rifle Association convention, held a closed-door fundraiser for Handel. The president’s Tweets posed daily worries for the Republican candidate in the Sixth.
Yet Ossoff scarcely pressed Handel on any of that.

As a matter of fact, in his quest to label Handel unsuitable for office, Ossoff largely limited himself to attacks with a GOP-stamp of approval. Seriously.

Handel’s purchase of furniture while secretary of state dated to 2010 and earlier, as did her acceptance of a state allowance for her Lexus. And her allegedly spendthrift trade mission to China. The fracas over Handel’s stint at the Susan G. Komen Foundation, a favorite Ossoff topic, occurred in 2012 – several political lifetimes ago.

If you looked carefully, some of the TV attack ads leveled against Handel cited previous Republican primary campaigns as the source for their charges. “If they could say it, so can we,” seemed to be the thinking. “If they didn’t, we can’t.”

National money followed Ossoff’s lead. Federal law stipulates that candidates, who are limited by the amount of cash they can accept from single sources, may not coordinate with groups making independent expenditures. Groups that have no financial limits.

Yet there are ways of passing messages. On May 23, the Ossoff campaign posted silent B-roll material on YouTube that featured: a) a shot of a white Lexus SUV; b) a cushy leather armchair; and c) a private jet. All under the headline, “Karen Handel Spends Your Money on Herself.”

The video and its headline/instruction was there for super PACs to use as they wish. And they did.
But if Ossoff was to get past the 48 percent mark he earned last April 18, he needed to split off at least some of the Republicans lined up and ready to vote for his opponent.

In the end, reruns of long-ago GOP primaries didn’t do the trick. Forcing a debate over Donald Trump, health care or both might have. But Ossoff and his fellow Democrats chose not to take the chance.

You have to wonder if the responsibility of spending tens of millions of dollars wisely made the 30-year-old Democrat just a little too risk-averse — conservative would be the wrong word — for his own good.

Beyond opposing Trump, Democrats keep searching for a message

Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post:

The loss in last week’s special congressional election in Georgia produced predictable hand-wringing and finger-pointing inside the Democratic Party. It also raised anew a question that has troubled the party through a period in which it has lost political ground. Simply put: Do Democrats have a message?

Right now, the one discernible message is opposition to President Trump. That might be enough to get through next year’s midterm elections, though some savvy Democratic elected officials doubt it. What’s needed is a message that attracts voters beyond the blue-state base of the party.

The defeat in Georgia came in a district that was always extremely challenging. Nonetheless, the loss touched off a hunt for scapegoats. Some Democrats, predictably, blamed the candidate, Jon Ossoff, as failing to capitalize on a flood of money and energy among party activists motivated to send a message of opposition to the president. He may have had flaws, but he and the Democrats turned out lots of voters. There just weren’t enough of them.

Other critics went up the chain of command and leveled their criticism at House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). She has held her party together in the House through many difficult fights — ask veterans of the Obama administration — but she also has become a prime target for GOP ad makers as a symbol of the Democrats’ liberal and bicoastal leanings. Pelosi, a fighter, has brushed aside the criticism.

Perhaps Democrats thought things would be easier because of Trump’s rocky start. His presidency has produced an outpouring of anger among Democrats, but will that be enough to bring about a change in the party’s fortunes?

History says a president with approval ratings as low as Trump’s usually sustain substantial midterm losses. That could be the case in 2018, particularly if the Republicans end up passing a health-care bill that, right now, is far more unpopular than Obamacare. But Trump has beaten the odds many times in his short political career. What beyond denunciations of the Republicans as heartless will the Democrats have to say to voters?

Though united in vehement opposition to the president, Democrats do not speak with one voice. Fault lines and fissures exist between the ascendant progressive wing at the grass roots and those Democrats who remain more business-friendly. While these differences are not as deep as those seen in Trump’s Republican Party, that hasn’t yet generated a compelling or fresh message to take to voters who aren’t already sold on the party.
Hillary Clinton, whose rhetoric often sounded more poll-tested than authentic, never found that compelling message during her 2016 campaign. She preferred to run a campaign by demonizing Trump and, as a result, drowned out her economic platform. This was a strategic gamble for which she paid a high price.

The absence of a convincing economic message did not start with Clinton. Former president Barack Obama struggled with the same during his 2012 reelection. He wanted to claim credit for a steady but slow recovery while acknowledging forthrightly that many Americans were not benefitting from the growth. It was a muddle at best, but he was saved by the fact that Mitt Romney couldn’t speak to those stressed voters either. In 2016, however, Trump did.

Clinton’s loss forced Democrats to confront their deficiencies among white working-class voters and the vast areas between the coasts that flipped in Trump’s direction. Their defection from the Democratic Party began well before Trump, but until 2016, Democrats thought they could overcome that problem by tapping other voters. Trump showed the limits of that strategy.

The Georgia loss put a focus on a different type of voter, the well-educated suburbanites, particularly those who don’t live in deep-blue states. While losing ground among working-class whites, Democrats have been gaining support among white voters with college degrees. In the fall, Clinton advisers believed she would do well enough with those college graduates to overcome projected erosion among those without college educations. She fell short of expectations, however, allowing Trump to prevail in the pivotal Midwest battlegrounds.

The Georgia district had the highest percentage of college graduates of any in the nation. Ossoff tried to win over those suburban voters with a moderate message on economic issues, but it wasn’t powerful or persuasive enough to overcome the appeal of the Republican brand in an election in which the GOP made Pelosi-style Democrats a focus. Loyalty to party was strong enough to allow Karen Handel to prevail.

The long-running debate over the Democrats’ message probably will intensify as the party looks to 2018 and especially to 2020. It is a debate that the party needs. Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, writing in the American Prospect, sees a problem that goes beyond white working-class voters to those within the Democratic base who also were left behind by the post-2008 economic gains. He argues that the party’s problem is with working-class voters of all types, not just whites.

Greenberg has long been critical of the tepidness of the party’s economic message and puts some of the blame on Obama. He believes the former president’s economic message in 2012 and 2016 focused on progress in the recovery largely to the exclusion of the widespread pain that still existed. “That mix of heralding ‘progress’ while bailing out those responsible for the crisis and the real crash in incomes for working Americans was a fatal brew for Democrats,” he argues.

For progressives, the answer to this problem is clear: a boldly liberal message that attacks big corporations and Wall Street and calls for a significant increase in government’s role in reducing income and wealth inequality. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has been aggressive in promoting exactly that, as he did during the 2016 campaign, with calls for a big investment in infrastructure and free college tuition at public colleges and universities. He has said he intends to introduce legislation he calls “Medicare for All.”

That kind of message probably will spark more internal debate, particularly among Democrats from swing districts or swing states. It points to one of the biggest challenges Democrats face as they move beyond being the anti-Trump party. That is the question of whether they are prepared to make a robust and appealing case on behalf of government in the face of continuing skepticism among many of the voters they are trying to win over. Trump might not succeed in draining the swamp, but he has tapped into sentiments about Washington that Democrats ignore at their peril.

Nor can Democrats ignore voters’ concerns about immigration. The Democrats’ message on immigration and immigrant rights (and some other cultural issues) plays well in many blue states, but it draws a much more mixed reception in those parts of the country where Trump turned the election in his direction.

In this divided era, it’s easy for either party to look at the other and conclude the opposition is in worse shape. That’s the trap for Democrats right now as they watch Trump struggle in office. But Democrats are in the minority in the House, Senate, governorships and state legislatures. Clinton may have won the popular vote, but that proved about as satisfying as coming close while losing last week in Georgia. It’s no substitute for the real thing. If continued frustration with losing doesn’t prompt rethinking about the message, what will?

Sunday, November 13, 2016

TIME article from after the convention on 8-1-2016 and so true: The Hardest One to Know - Hillary Rodham Clinton has proven she can make history. But can she ever make herself understood?

From August 1, 2016 issue of TIME:

The primaries were finally over, the general election loomed, and as Hillary Clinton stood in June to address a friendly audience at a Chicago luncheon, she faced a profoundly unfinished item of business. With history in her pocket and the polls tilting in her favor, the former Secretary of State and First Lady finally named the problem that has dogged her for decades. “A lot of people tell pollsters they don’t trust me,” Clinton told her audience, in a voice that, minus the microphone, would have evaporated. “I don’t like hearing that, and I’ve thought a lot about what’s behind it.

“You can’t just talk someone into trusting you. You’ve got to earn it,” Clinton continued, to a smattering of applause that was tentative and awkward, like the moment.

It’s hard to trust someone you don’t know, and few people should be better known by now than Hillary Rodham Clinton. For years, her every utterance, gesture and hairstyle has been scrutinized, yet she is still something of a mystery to voters.

Millions of Americans still don’t know what to make of this trailblazing, catalyzing, polarizing woman–a fact that her friends chalk up to her bone-deep feminism. Growing up in the vanguard of the women’s-rights movement, Clinton asked NASA how to become an astronaut, only to encounter a no-girls policy. When a professor at Harvard Law School said his august school needed no more women, she made herself a superstar at Yale. She kept her maiden name after marriage, in a time and place where that wasn’t done. She outearned her husband for much of her career. And she scoffed at the notion that she could ever be a cookie-baking, stand-by-your-man kind of woman.

The feminist revolution promised that such freedoms would empower women to forge their own strong identities, but for Clinton the promise remains unfulfilled. Her identity is protean, shape-shifting, no less mysterious today than it was more than 40 years ago, when she entered the national spotlight. Her favorability ratings rise and fall, peaking when she is serving the country and sinking when she is on the campaign trail. No speech, no memoir, no interview or barrage of ads has brought her essence fully into focus. Her foes artfully define her even as she struggles to define and redefine herself.

Former chief of staff Melanne Verveer recalls a limo ride with the then First Lady some two decades ago. Clinton slumped into the leather seat and thumbed through a sheaf of papers. This daily task gave her no pleasure, paging through one unsatisfying, unflattering analysis after another of a particular global figure who seemed impossible to describe. “I wouldn’t like this person either,” she remarked wearily. “This person” was, of course, herself.

Things haven’t changed much as she has moved from the White House to the Senate to the Cabinet and now to the final phase of her second presidential bid. Armchair psychologists still muse about her motives, and critics still comment on her character. “Hillary for prison” is a tuning note for the Republican-convention chorus. From her vantage, her career looks straightforward enough: a life of pragmatic politics in service of idealistic ends, like justice and opportunity for women and children. By any objective or reasonable standard, she is someone who has matched every professional challenge placed before her, from the courtrooms of Little Rock, Ark., to the brutish back rooms of high-stakes diplomacy. But from the outside looking in, the pieces don’t easily fit. The champion of working moms who hobnobs with Wall Street bankers. The “dead broke” (her words) public servant who buys mansions in Washington and New York. The hyperqualified executive who proves “extremely careless” (the FBI director’s words) with her unapproved email system. The feminist paragon who defends a philandering husband.

Clinton’s opponent through an unexpectedly bruising primary, Senator Bernie Sanders, made the most of her amorphous identity. He’s the opposite, a figure of almost cartoon clarity. Clinton is not what she claims to be, Sanders charged. She claims to be on the side of underdogs, but she runs with big dogs. She says she will protect jobs, but she championed free trade. She extols the pragmatism that gets things done, but how is that different from cronyism and corruption?

Hillary Rodham Clinton is, in the words of one adviser, the most famous woman no one truly knows. And if distortions wrought by white-hot fame are partly to blame, she, too, is at fault. She has never made it easy to know her. She maintains a tiny circle of trust inside a fortress of supreme caution. Her brother-in-law Roger Clinton noticed this not long after Hillary Rodham joined the Clinton clan. “It was fried chicken and mashed potatoes,” he once said of his Southern family, “vs. a concrete wall.”

To Verveer, Clinton’s trouble is simply the human condition as magnified by the relentless lens of public scrutiny; we all contain multitudes. “At any given time, if you take a snapshot of her, it may not look like the previous snapshot. But in truth, we are all more complex than we may appear on our face,” Clinton’s longtime aide and confidante explained. “Depending on how you look, you see one thing and not another.”

Clinton’s identity could be a collection of nesting dolls, those nearly identical figures that fit neatly one inside the next. You unpack each lacquered image in hopes of finding something new and essential inside, but there is only another version of the same face in different proportions. For Hillary Clinton, the task between now and November is to make those faces add up to one integral, compelling, believable figure.


Picture Hillary Diane Rodham at 21, marching around Lake Waban in the Boston suburbs to 735 Washington Street, the home of Wellesley College president Ruth Adams. Rodham is a familiar visitor. She has lobbied the venerable women’s college on everything from admitting more black students and adding black studies to the curriculum, to grading some courses pass-fail and ditching the skirt-required dress code in the dining hall.

Now it is spring of her senior year; Rodham is the student-government president, and her classmates want a student speaker as part of the commencement ceremony. Coming at the end of the tumultuous and often violent ’60s, the request seems modest enough. “What is the real objection?” the young activist pushes. “It’s never been done,” Adams protests weakly.

This is how Rodham arrived at her first burst of national attention: as a representative crusader in a generation of change seekers. When the Wellesley president backed down, she was given a platform for her speech. And stepping to the microphone on graduation day, she felt compelled to offer an impromptu critique of the milquetoast address delivered by Senator Edward Brooke, the featured orator.

This decision to take on a Senator was a measure of the distance her restless mind and political passions had taken her in a few years. A devout churchgoer and eager Republican–she volunteered as a “Goldwater girl” in high school–Rodham was now scorching the status quo. Her conservative father had done little to seed such confidence. “You must go to a pretty easy school,” Hugh Rodham grunted when shown her perfect grades. It was at Wellesley where she caught fire.

Her speech became one of the most celebrated of that graduation season. “We are, all of us, exploring a world that none of us even understands, and attempting to create within that uncertainty,” Clinton said in a clipped accent few would recognize today. “And so our questions–our questions about our institutions, about our colleges, about our churches, about our government–continue.” The applause when she finished reportedly lasted for seven minutes.

LIFE magazine noted her triumph. Photographed in striped pants and thick glasses, Rodham appeared with a headline borrowed from her speech: Protest is an attempt to forge an identity.

And yet: her soul mates of today, the young activists on campuses across the country, shunned her by the millions in favor of Bernie’s bugle call. In their protests against her campaign machine, they forged their own identities–and she somehow became another institution in need of questioning.

“When I go back and read it today, I have to admit it wasn’t the world’s most coherent address,” Clinton has said. What seemed so vivid in 1969 looks to her now like a study in grays. The flaws in her speech reflected a tension within Rodham herself, for she had a mixed view of social protest. She cared less about purity of intentions than about actual results. Student strikes, for example, seemed pointless to her without something to show for them. As she once mused to a friend, she had a liberal’s heart and a conservative’s head.

In any event, “the accolades and attacks turned out to be a preview of things to come,” Clinton wrote years later in her memoirs. “I have never been as good as or as bad as my fervid supporters and opponents claimed.”


After Wellesley and Yale Law School, Hillary Rodham distinguished herself as a young attorney on the team that prepared the impeachment of President Richard Nixon. What happened next shocked many of her friends and admirers. Instead of making her way up through the ranks of Washington, she moved to Arkansas to follow her law-school boyfriend, Bill Clinton, and soon entered the fraught role of wife, placing herself in the outsize shadow of the most talented, magnetic and undisciplined politician of the baby-boom generation.

Most marriages are opaque. The seemingly tranquil and loving union can suddenly collapse, while next door an apparently ill-matched pair sails onward through year after stormy year. Hillary Rodham’s marriage quickly became unusually complicated–and therefore hard to read–because it was only one aspect of a larger partnership embarked on a supremely ambitious undertaking. As she alerted a friend in 1974, “Bill Clinton is going to be President of the United States someday.”

When her identity as an individual has clashed with the demands of the partnership, the union has come first. Arkansas voters were put off by this high-powered young woman who dressed like a hippie, loved policy and spoke with a flat Midwestern accent. In 1980, after a single term, they converted Bill from the youngest governor in America into the youngest ex-governor, and many observers assigned a large share of the blame to his wife. What manner of First Lady didn’t even share her husband’s surname, and why call herself Ms. when she ought to be Mrs.?

So Hillary Rodham added Clinton to her handle, lightened her hair and ditched her glasses in favor of contacts. G’s began fallin’ from the ends of her words. Sunday mornings found the lifelong Methodist in her husband’s pew at a Southern Baptist church.

This was no casual makeover, but it worked. Bill Clinton was re-elected after two years in the public’s doghouse. Husband and wife returned to the governor’s mansion with a toddler in tow. Chelsea delighted her mother even as she further complicated the question of identity, because it was more urgent than before that Hillary assume the role of chief breadwinner. The governor of Arkansas was paid only a modest salary.

Many doors were opened to the governor’s wife, and given Clinton’s talents and education, she made the most of the opportunities. Hillary Rodham Clinton reported a 1992 income of $203,172 compared with her husband’s take-home pay of $34,527. She became a partner at Little Rock’s leading law firm and held plum seats on the boards of Walmart, the frozen-yogurt chain TCBY and the French industrial giant Lafarge. A foray into commodities trading guided by a family friend yielded a tidy 10,000% return. “The ’80s were about acquiring wealth, power, prestige,” Clinton reflected in 1993. “I know. I acquired more wealth, power and prestige than most. But you can acquire all you want and still feel empty.”

She filled the chasm with still more roles. She was her husband’s top adviser in private and his best character witness in public. When Bill Clinton won the White House in 1992, it was Hillary Clinton who carried her husband’s speech in the pocket of her blue suit as they arrived onstage outside the Old State House in Little Rock. She helped the President-elect choose his top aides and his Cabinet. She was the first First Lady to have an office in the West Wing. “She knows more about a lot of this stuff than most of us do,” Bill Clinton told the Wall Street Journal.


With her assignment to lead the Administration’s ambitious health-care-reform effort, Hillary Clinton upended the traditional role of First Lady. She had spearheaded projects for the partnership before, but never on such a scale. She shaped policy, plotted tactics, lobbied lawmakers and pitched the public as Cabinet members and presidential aides jumped to her command. But the project ended in defeat, helping to fuel the first Republican takeover of Congress in some 40 years. Her failure was so bitter that Hillary Clinton mused in 1996 that someone in her position might “totally withdraw and perhaps put a bag over [her] head.”

Instead, she chose to fight. Dorothy Rodham, Hillary’s mother, loved to tell about a day in the 1950s when her daughter thrashed the neighborhood bully. But most Americans did not see the fighting side of Hillary until she was embattled in the White House. When they did, this aspect of her identity reshaped what they felt about her–whether they liked or hated what they saw.

The first gauntlet landed at the site of her own initial triumph. She was paying a courtesy call on the president of Wellesley when she received a call from her attorney. She had been subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury about a long-ago land deal in Arkansas. It was, Clinton believed, a purely political and mean-spirited investigation.

She prepared so intensely that she lost 10 pounds. When the morning of her testimony arrived, she chose to walk through the front door of the federal courthouse rather than direct her motorcade into the underground garage. Smiling and waving at the crowd that had gathered to see history–the first presidential spouse to testify in such a forum–Clinton was pure sangfroid. “Cheerio! Off to the firing squad,” she said as she left her lawyers and entered the sealed grand jury room.

Afterward, a reporter asked if the First Lady would have preferred to be anywhere else that day. “Oh, about a million other places,” she said drily–but something about Clinton must love the trenches, because she fights so doggedly in them. “I never saw her go into a meeting or a speech or even informal remarks less than fully prepared,” said Bill Galston, a policy adviser in the Clinton Administration. “She has a lot of faith in the capacity of hard work and evidence to win people over.”

On another occasion, when even the White House staff seemed to doubt her innocence of some charge or other, tears welled in her eyes as she said, “I don’t want to hear anything more. I want us to fight.”

And there have been so many, many fights. But as so often in trench warfare, the battle ends in grim stalemate. “Whenever I go out and fight, I get vilified, so I have just learned to smile and take it,” she told White House adviser George Stephanopoulos in 1995, according to his memoirs. “I go out there and say, ‘Please, please, kick me again, insult me some more.’ You have to be much craftier behind the scenes.”

Candidate Clinton was back at the witness table last autumn, when lawmakers grilled her for 11 hours over the deaths of four Americans at a diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. In public and to the FBI, she has stubbornly defended every inch of crumbling clifftop beneath her feet in the controversy over her private email server. Under attack by Sanders, she refused to release transcripts of her paid speeches to Wall Street audiences, or even to concede that the speeches were a mistake.

Friends muse that the years of combat have left her unrecognizable in public: hedging, defensive, even misleading. “Sometimes, I am saddened by her understandable loss of spontaneity,” the late Diane Blair reflected on this lasting change to her friend’s personality. “It was one of her most endearing qualities. But in public now, she filters out her first response and sometimes her second one, and that contributes to a sense that she is aloof and haughty.” Another friend of long standing put it this way: “There is a wellspring of bitterness and anger and bewilderment, a deep reservoir of hurt.” Clinton’s explanation for her reticence: “The reason that I sometimes sound careful with my words is not that I’m hiding something. It’s just that I’m careful with my words.”


Identity is not only what we intend to reveal but what is actually seen–and how this is perceived. Now, in the late phase of Clinton’s long career, the face she most wants the public to see, the essential figure at the center of the nesting dolls, is the doer, the person who makes things happen, artist of the nitty-gritty when necessary, a compromiser if that’s what it takes.

After her failure with health care, the First Lady embraced her husband’s strategy of pragmatism. To the extent that two huge characters can lower their profiles, they did. They went to work on projects acceptable to a hostile Congress. Some continue to be a source of pride, like the children’s health-insurance plan that now serves 8 million kids.

Persuaded to run for a vacant Senate seat in New York in 2000, Clinton took the same approach. Though she was a global celebrity, she put her head down and worked on parochial issues. She passed up a seat on the glamorous Senate Committee on Foreign Relations for one on the Armed Services panel, where she could wrangle the concerns of New Yorkers in uniform and build her national-security credentials.

Senator Clinton also grappled with the decidedly unsexy issue of upstate agriculture, connecting New York City’s restaurant industry to the struggling operations of New York farmers. She ferried a delegation of city restaurateurs to the fields and vineyards of the Empire State, where the foodies found produce as good as any shipped from out of state. At the same time, she nudged the farmers to plant heirloom tomatoes, microgreens and other trendy crops that city diners fancied.

Noting the spicy peppers growing in the elephant enclosure of the Bronx Zoo, she asked a shipping distributor to persuade zoo officials to sell their own line of hot sauce. News that small-business owners in rural New York lacked computer resources sent her to cajole Hewlett-Packardexecutives into donating laptops to enable online sales of moccasins and fishing rods.

It was the same when she served as Secretary of State. Circling the globe to conduct diplomacy face-to-face, Clinton rebuilt a badly frayed U.S. image and along the way specialized in minor, tangible victories, like the clean cookstoves and microloans she put in the hands of poor people. Such achievements don’t tame Putin or stabilize Libya, but as one senior aide put it, a woman in an African village who can feed her children because of a microloan cares passionately about that program. “As an advocate, she is practical about getting results,” said Neera Tanden, a longtime Clinton adviser and friend. “Her real measure is, how do you accomplish something in people’s lives?”


Among the many faces Clinton has slipped on and off, there was–back in the White House years–the Mystic. Critics had a short but happy romp with the news that she was channeling the spirit of Eleanor Roosevelt during sessions with a “human potential researcher.” Clinton was open about such conversations, dating back to her first days as First Lady. In her own head, Clinton asked Roosevelt, “How did you put up with this?” And that much-criticized First Lady replied, “You’re just going to have to get out there and do it. And don’t make excuses.”

In that spirit, Clinton has waged many fights, some admirable, some unnecessary, against enemies real and imagined. Over time, she has built up an outer shell, an armor, that makes her difficult to comprehend. Michael Muzyk, a New York trucking executive, tells the story of a day in 2004 when he accompanied the Senator on one of those upstate missions to promote local farmers’ produce. At the state fairgrounds, Clinton received word that her husband had been hospitalized for emergency heart surgery.

“I guess you gotta go,” Muzyk said immediately. But Clinton demurred. People were waiting to hear her speak. Her husband, of all people, would understand.

“You’re crazy,” Muzyk remembers thinking. And he watched her do her duty, as she has done for years, with admiration–and mystification.

Those closest to her have long worried that she has conditioned herself never to let others in. “I just hope people don’t forget,” the late Dorothy Rodham said of her daughter, “that Hillary’s a human being.” But voters can hardly forget what they haven’t been given a chance to see.

“I personally know I have work to do on this front,” she told the audience in Chicago in June.

But after all that has happened–all the misunderstandings and misdirection, all the identities pried open to reveal other identities that turn out to contain others and so on–perhaps it is too late for a revelation of the “real Hillary,” the authentic champion that her friends tell us we would love, if only we could get to know her. If she opened up, which of the nesting dolls would she be? The activist, pushing for a Sanders-like agenda? The pragmatist, cutting deals with congressional Republicans over a stiff drink? The brawler, leading her band of true believers against a hostile, uncomprehending enemy?

Perhaps the bargain that she struck with herself as a young woman has made these questions as inevitable as they are unanswerable. Free to choose any life she could imagine, Hillary Rodham Clinton tasted many, discarded most and arrived in a place so unique, so vast and variegated, that simply being herself could never be enough.