Friday, February 5, 2016

The Bern and Hill Show

Cooper: “One of the things that Senator Sanders points to, and a lot of your critics point to, is you made three speeches for Goldman Sachs, you were paid $675,000 for three speeches. Was that an error in judgment?”
Clinton: “I made speeches to lots of groups. I told them what I thought. I answered questions.”
Cooper: “But did you have to be paid $675,000?”
Clinton: “Well, I don’t know. That’s what they offered so…”
—Anderson Cooper and Hillary Clinton at a CNN Town Hall on Wednesday

 “As for Mrs. Clinton, look, after all she’s done for us and after all she’s suffered on our behalf, she feels she’s owed the presidency, and who could possibly disagree? Her life is meaningless if she doesn’t get at least a shot, and one can only sympathize. Unless you think, as I do, that people should be distrusted, who are running for therapeutic reasons. Because the presidency doesn’t calm those demons, as her husband has already proved.”
—Author/essayist Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)
After watching last night’s Democratic debate in New Hampshire, my impressions of the two remaining candidates is by now pretty much cast in cement—and, I have to assume, so it is for most voters.

Early on in the campaigning, a friend in Seattle declared that she expected to vote for Hillary Clinton in November but that, until the nomination was actually settled, she was going to be giving her full support to Bernie Sanders. Another Seattle friend told me more recently that she was convinced that her man Bernie was going to go all the way. While I do not share their enthusiasm, I certainly understand it.

If someone put a gun to my head and forced me to choose between Clinton and Sanders to be the next president, I would have to reluctantly elect the former first lady, senator and secretary of state. Her experience and pragmatism give her the better chance to succeed as president. But, looking at the two candidates purely as people, I like Sanders a whole lot more. In debates he engages. He listens to questions and answers them. He does not worry about double-checking his answer to avoid a gaffe. His gaffe-avoidance strategy is to simply tell the truth and to say what he really thinks. His style is that of the guy who has had countless informal debates over things he believes passionately in numerous kitchens and living rooms. Clinton, in contrast, is the kind of speaker who has clearly honed her rhetorical skills by addressing large audiences. She is the type of politician who surrounds herself with acolytes and admirers. When she answers a debate question, you can almost see her filing through the index cards in her brain for the stored paragraph that will suit best.

When it comes to economics and foreign policy, Sanders’s world view is on the other side of the universe from my own. But that does not mean I disagree with him on everything. I have been fascinated by the back-and-forth between him and Clinton through each of the debates about the Glass-Steagall Act. Invoking the name of legislation is always a sure-fire way to make an audience doze off, but this is one law that is really key to the U.S.’s economic problems. This is the Depression-era law that erected a firewall between a bank’s savings business and its investment business. It wisely kept ordinary bank customers from being put at risk by a bank’s shenanigans with perilous financial adventurism. It also limited the consolidation that could go on in the financial sector. It was unwisely repealed during the heady days of a booming economy in 1999 by Republican-sponsored legislation which was signed into law by Bill Clinton. You can draw a straight line from the repeal of Glass-Steagall to the financial crisis of 2007-2008 which popularized the term “too big to fail” and led to massive taxpayer-funded bailouts.

Sanders argues correctly that repealing Glass-Steagall was a mistake and that it should be reenacted. Clinton hedges but she is clearly against reenactment. No wonder the big Wall Street players are pouring cash into her campaign. Her way of establishing her anti-Wall Street credentials is to tout the Dodd-Frank Act as some sort of victory for the little guy. Dodd-Frank merely adds additional layers of reporting requirements to financial institutions that are beyond the resources of small and medium-sized companies. The result has been a massive consolidation in the industry, as smaller banks go out of business or else merge with larger ones. Congress couldn’t have done a better job if it had deliberately set out to make banks too big to fail. And politicians like Clinton almost cannot wait to be in a position to do those guys a favor down the road—even while they use them as whipping boys in their campaign speeches.

To my surprise this business with Clinton’s email server actually seems to be getting serious. Tellingly, when Sanders was given the opportunity to defend her last night, he merely demurred on the basis that there was a process going on. That process is an FBI investigation, and until recently the betting was against the Justice Department taking action because it would look like meddling in the presidential campaign. But now it’s gotten to the point where it would nearly look like meddling if Justice does not taken action.

Clinton’s defense on this problem last night was a perfect example of why people like me don’t trust her—even while admiring her. She pointed out that other (Republican) secretaries of state have had private email accounts. While that is true, it is also completely irrelevant, and it’s an insult to our intelligence that she figures people cannot see that. The fact is that she used a private email account exclusively, but even that is not the salient point. The problem is that she had her own email server—in her own house. It did not have the protection of government security, and we now know that it held a lot of highly sensitive information. It is not an issue of “over-classification” as she keeps saying. Either she did not understand what a risk she was taking with national security—or she simply didn’t care. It was apparently more important that the public never see her communications that melded government business with her personal affairs and Clinton Foundation donor service.

Her home brew server may not be the most egregious or arrogant or illegal act committed by any politician. But the way she has handled it in the campaign certainly exemplifies what is unappealing about Hillary Clinton as a potential president. Even while she is pandering for our votes, she looks out at us and thinks we are idiots.

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