A Quick Comment on Hillary Clinton

The problem I have with Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate is not that she’s too liberal (or not liberal enough), not her gender, not her association with Bill Clinton, not many of the things that are said for or against her.

I think the basic problem is not how she is different from other Democratic candidates of years past but how much the same she is. She is in fact very much like Dukakis, Gore and Kerry (and arguably even Mondale): a technocratic policy-wonk whose main appeal lies in the promise of a superior kind of managerialism in the executive. (Very much not Bill Clinton’s appeal, whatever you might think of him.) It strikes me as a strategic mistake to nominate yet another candidate of this kind, whatever gender and general ideology they might be.

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25 Responses to A Quick Comment on Hillary Clinton

  1. emschwar says:

    The problem is that managerial aptitude is all the Democractic Party really has to offer of late. They do not appear to have any actual ideas; as best I can tell their strategy for 2006 was “We’re not Republicans!”, and they seem to be intent on carrying that over into the 2008 election. Regardless of whether or not you feel that’s a winning strategy (I don’t), Hillary at least can display an aura of competence at managing things.

    And hey, I might be wrong. We’ve endured an Administration of incompetent technocratic policy wonks; who’s to say that people won’t vote for someone they see as a competent one? Mind you, Hillary’s actual record at getting stuff actually done might not be so great, but if the Democrats are still hitting the “We’re not Republican!” message hard in ’08, that might not be a killer.

  2. withywindle says:

    I’m not sure I think of Hilary as just offering managerialism. It seems to me rather that the situation (and her problem) is that she proffers gender-related charismatic appeal to a significant fraction of the electorate, which simultaneously repels an equally significant fraction of the electorate, and renders the broad middle hesitant about her. Her managerialism, therefore, is not so much her essence, as a way to appeal to a middle ambivalent about her charismatic appeal. There is some tension between the two appeals she projects–possibly creative, possibly crippling.

    It would be interesting to speculate *why* she chose managerialism as her means to broad based appeal, as opposed to some other way. One might speculate that it is a default attitude among a swath of Democrats–Dukakis, Gore, Kerry–and that there is some ideological overdeterming in her choice of strategy. But whatever the reason, I think she’s not “simply” a technocrat, or simply anything; she’s fascinatingly complicated.

    She’s currently my favorite Democratic presidential candidate–largely because she is the most hawkish on foreign policy. I have, shall we say, mixed feelings about her character, but I have a more positive judgment of her as a result of her tenure as Senator.

  3. Joey Headset says:

    If I’m not mistaken, nobody actually finds Hilary Clinton appealing. Not even her own husband. I thought that the whole notion of her as a viable candidate was simply a scare tactic used by right wing fundraisers.

    Let’s be real for a moment: unless republicans flock to democratic primaries and the news media manipulates the living crap out of the primary season (which they done), Hilary Clinton won’t be running for the presidency. And when — after years of viciously attacking her — the conservative pundit corps starts endorsing her as the Democratic candidate, you’ll know why they’re doing it. Because they know she’ll lose.

    Anyway, as far as the democractic primary goes, I’m still holding out for LaRouche. I think this may be his year.

  4. Bill McNeill says:

    Proofreading nitpick: it’s “Hillary” with two l’s.

  5. Timothy Burke says:

    Whoops! Fixed.

  6. hestal says:

    I like Hillary, and I liked Ike. Hope she wins. The reason the folks around here (Texas oil types) don’t like her is that they know she will not let them rob the Treasury. She is sort of like the third grade teacher who won’t let the big kids take the little kids’ lunch money. I know, I know, it will be a big change and honesty in government is not exactly what America is all about, but I’m game. If the average white male is so dammed wonderful then he won’t object to playing on a level field — playing with a stacked deck year after year must be boring, sort of like inheriting a family business. Hell they even make everybody start with the same number of chips in poker tournaments. No chance to overpower the little guys, no way to deal from the bottom. Could this be the start of something new? Naaah. But Pelosi and Cllinton might just transform the culture of corruption that passes for good citizenship these days.

  7. Neel Krishnaswami says:

    hestal: the reason I don’t like Senator Clinton is that she’s never found a cause too trivial to criminalize. She wants to make making video games into a federal crime; can you sincerely believe that she has any sense of the limits of power at all? Without that sense of humility, her pose of technocratic competence is just that, a pose — we will get the stifling technocratic regulation and we won’t get any competence.

    Nevertheless, I’m voting Democratic in 2008 because the Reoublicans are simply too tainted: right now they are the party of torture. But pulling that lever will be a lot easier if it’s not Clinton in the donkey column.

  8. withywindle says:

    Ah, the Democrats … the Halifax party. “Is that an approaching genocide abroad? Nuclear firestorms about to blaze? Is it the time of the breaking of nations? Ah me, time for a strategic redeployment. Nothing to be done.”

    “All sleeping the deep, deep sleep of England, from which I sometimes fear that we shall never wake till we are jerked out of it by the roar of bombs.”

    But the Democrats hit the snooze button and wiggle their head under the pillow to drown out the dreadful noise. And preen themselves while sleeping! A remarkable talent.

    Ah, yes, Hillary … there is a vague chance Hillary is only feigning sleep. She does seem peculiarly reluctant to mouth the chorus of the lotos-eaters. But maybe I’m just an irrational optimist.

  9. cjlee says:

    First off, I’m delighted by the idea of there being a quick comment about Hillary Clinton. I didn’t know that was possible. Having said that, after a couple of days of resisting posting, I don’t quite get why being skilled at management–having a _concern_ for capable management and expertise–is somehow a negative quality. What gives? I want my leaders to be like that. And frankly I think most people do. Hence, the popularity of figures like Alan Greenspan, Robert Rubin, and (at one point in time) Colin Powell, for example. People like leaders who do their jobs and do them well, without the fire and brimstone of rhetoric that quickly fade away. Am I alone here??? The responses to this initial posting seem so agreeable, disturbingly so.

    Second, gender is a crucial aspect as to why people feel ambivalent about Hillary Clinton. I don’t believe people when they say it isn’t a factor for their positive or negative assessments of her. There should be enough honesty in the room to say that it is a key part of who she is, what she stands for, and the kind of historic change she would represent if she were to be elected. Same applies to Senator Obama. Their gender and racial backgrounds inform who they are. That is something to be embraced and appreciated, not overlooked.

    (Apologies too in advance if this comes across as too much like a rant.)

  10. Neel Krishnaswami says:

    withywindle: our country has not even given up essential liberties for temporary safety — we have lost essential liberties for nothing. The world is more dangerous to Americans than it was in 2002, and it is more dangerous because of the doings of our government. Our government now imprisons citizens without trial, tortures them, opens our mail without warrants, claims the right to make secret laws and refuses to show them even to judges. Our treatment of foreigners is even worse. And all this, for nothing.

    If you call that optimism, then wrong is right, folly is wisdom, and cruelty is justice.

    Me, I will take the deep sleep of England, because only in that sleep people can dream of liberty. Homage to Catalonia is a well-observed book rather than a well-reasoned one; Orwell showed how easily the desire to remake the world leads to violence and tyranny, even among people who began with good intentions. But he was unable to shake the deadly allure of revolution, and mistook the prudent, sane, intelligent, and wise reluctance to commit to it for sleep. These are all bourgeois virtues rather than the glamourous martial virtues, but they have the great advantage that you can actually build a successful modern society on them.

  11. withywindle says:

    I of course disagree about everything at issue in your first paragraph.

    Your second paragraph peculiarly implies that Orwell was wrong about the danger threatening England in 1937–that martial virtues had nothing to do with the survival of England between 1939 and 1945–that England was better off not going to war in 1937, and waiting until 1939. If you have so peculiar views about the past, how can one lend credence to your views about the present?

  12. hestal says:

    Withywindle, as an aid in your speculations as to “why” Hillary chose managerialism you might determine “when” she made the change — I mean, if she chose it then she made a change, right? Her age, the duration of her separation from her Republican upbringing, pre-or-post exposure to college professors, employment history, marriage, etc. all should help you come to the answer your insula seeks. But that is a substitute for speculation and it takes time, talent, and toil. Forget I mentioned it.

    I have spent 3/4 of my adult life designing systems for large enterprises. Managerialism in that setting was not a bad thing. The tool you use to so glibly insult so many would not be sitting in front of you if not for managerialism. The right to express yourself, or is it relieve yourself — I confuse them in your case — would not be available were it not for that managerialist general, Dwight Eisenhower.

    And the A-bomb, which I speculate you use as a pretext for castigating Truman, would not have kept us free were it not for managerialism. So while you are at it why not explain why managerialism is bad, that is, if you can.

    Of course the Constitution is at once an example of managerialism and a reflection of poor technology. The Framers, if you look at their histories, were primarily managerialists, not idealists, nor religionists, but practical men who managed all they could. I speculate, it is fun, that if the Framers had designed the Constitution in the late 20th century it would be filled with modern technologies and with detailed, managerialist, instructions on how things should be done. For example they might correct their most serious error — the omission of a process for translating public wishes into public policy. A classic example of such a failure is universal healthcare, long a public wish, but never a public policy. But, wait, that is where we, and Hillary, came into this discussion — applying managerialism to the important aspects of our lives. Hold on, have I stumbled on an inconvenient truth?

  13. withywindle says:

    Managerialism was Tim Burke’s word, not mine. I don’t believe I used any pejorative in regard to managerialism; merely commented that her choce of it might be ideologically overdetermined. As it so happens, I do have a distinct aversion to managerialism in the political sphere, and prefer it tightly constrained by the democratic oversight of the executive and legislature. This, of course, has not always been a critique confined to conservatives; the left had some objections on occasion to “the best and the brightest,” the military-industrial complex, fascism, and other movements not unrelated to managerialism.

    I think you are profoundly wrong in your understanding of the Founders. Managerialism is not the spirit of Madison.

    And I am extremely allergic to the idea that what’s good at making widgets is a good way to run the country. What’s good for inventing computers most assuredly is not what’s good for making public policy.

  14. hestal says:

    Withywindle, so you were against managerialism before you were knew its name, huh? I see.

    As for Madison, just take a look at the famous Federalist Number 10. He recognizes the existence of a certain kind of human being, as does Hamilton in Number 1. This kind of human has the characteristic of destroying democracy and replacing it with tyranny. He recognizes that political parties can be invaded by this type of human and be converted to destructive machines. He investigates the causes of these humans and determines that they cannot be eliminated or avoided. He says that their characteristics are natural to them, almost as if they are a separate species, or at least a variety of Homo sapiens.

    In a perfect example of managerialist recognition of human nature he declares that these humans will always be with us and therefore we must control their “effects,” or our democracy will be lost. He analyzes the mechanisms by which these effects can be managed, we call these mechanisms “checks and balances.” Pure managerialism. But he does not stop there, he next analyzes the limitations of small, pure, direct democracies, small republics and large republics. He compares their weaknesses and presents an argument in favor of the large republic that is now us.

    Either Hamilton or Madison, in Number 51 I think, spent a lot of time explaining how certain professions would likely produce the best representatives among Americans of the time. A purely rational, if elitist, argument. He provides examples of behavior that would not be acceptable for the representatives, a detail that supports the checks and balances mechanisms for managing human nature. One of the examples is that our representatives should never pass a law that is applicable to them and not to the general population or vice versa. Having millions of citizens without health insurance while Congress is well-insured is a classic example of a violation of the trust such men should honor.

    There is a mechanism in place for punishing the miscreants, there is a definition of the crime, but there is no will to exact punishment among the community of those with the power to punish — the representatives themselves. The Framers’ mangement mechanism needs improvement.

    Terms of office in the Constitution are designed with good management in mind. The Framers considered travel time, education level, competing interests, methods of election or appointment, and organizational memory. A casual reading of the Constitution itself will supply a list of functions that the Framers addressed: law, military power, patents, and even compromises needed to get the states to stick together.

    So if more evidence is needed to convince one that the Constitution is simply a system, of the sort I myself have designed, to manage society, one need only look at the amendment process. George Washington said many times, at the time, that such a process was needed because there were probably faults in the original document and changes in circumstances brought on by the passing of time and events would make it necessary to adjust the Constitution, to improve and correct it — again a purely managerialist idea.

    Mr. Washington, in his Farewell Address, which Hamilton and Madison helped write, again identified the subspecies or variety of human beings that Madison had guarded against during the Constitutional Convention, only he called them “cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men.” His words are amazingly applicable to our times. Just think of Tom Delay, Dennis Hastert, Bill Frist, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Alberto Gonzales, Donald Rumsfeld, Karl Rove, etc. Mr. Washington even said, he devoted 20% of his Address to the topic, that the unifying factor of such “cunning, ambitious and unprincipled men,” would be common membership in a single political party. Bingo. I say again, Bingo.

    But to return to Mr. Madison. The Constitution is, more than anything else, a managerialist document, a system of the sort that we moderns have been building and refining for centuries, and Mr. Madison, more than anyone else, is rightly regarded as the “Father of the Constitution.” So your assertion that “Managerialism is not the spirit of Madison,” is, and I mean this with all due respect, ridiculous.

    Your argument that managerialism should be tightly constrained by the executive and legislature makes no sense. Such oversight and constraint is nothing if it is not an example of managerialism. You are calling for the government to manage managerialism. Huh?

    Your statement that the “left” has sometimes objected to managerialism is a little off point. The left objects, not to management in general, but to bad management with a good purpose, or management applied to a bad purpose. Try not to be confused. Even President Eisenhower’s objections to the military-industrial complex echo those of President Washington. Both men were speaking of the actions of “cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men,” who might the convert the power of a large institution to their personal advantage. Parties can be useful as places to discuss and design new system features for our government. Likewise defense companies are necessary, but they should be well-managed. Both institutions can be “adversed” to the common good, as Mr. Madison said in Number 10.

    I don’t know what “ideologically overdetermined,” means. Is this the Goldilocks principle? Could Hillary be underdetermined, or rightlydetermined?

    I am sympathetic to your allergies, but let me give you hope. About thirty years ago I developed an allergy to the juniper trees that grow in my state. I complained to my mother and she told me that if I lived long enough I would outgrow them. She was right. I suffered my last attack about eight years ago. So keep fighting, you may outgrow your own allergies.

    Finally, the making of widgets is a very good way to run a country. The making of widgets built America’s economic engine. The making of certain kinds of widgets, military, has preserved our freedom to make more widgets. And there is a persistent school of thought that we need to be making more widgets rather than sending the function off shore.

  15. Neel Krishnaswami says:

    withywindle: You disagree with everything in my first paragraph? All of the abuses I enumerated are perfectly well-documented, and mostly admitted to by our government. You can disagree with me, and argue that they represent necessary violence, but then you’d have to argue openly and forthrightly that you do not have a problem with the US government imprisoning and torturing American citizens without trial. That, I suggest, is a rather more peculiar point of view than mine.

    Furthermore, I do not think it is particularly peculiar to recognize that the POUM were a gang of murderous thugs who cloaked their will to murder with utopian revolutionary rhetoric. Certainly, they were not as bad as the Stalinists or the fascists, but they were not good people, and that’s something that Orwell just plain didn’t allow himself to see, for all that he saw the character of the government and Franco’s thugs perfectly clearly. And he didn’t see it because he still loved the idea of sudden, revolutionary change, where all that is old and bad falls away in a sudden explosion of glorious newness.

    The sleep of England is the sleep where reformers make speeches and sign petitions, and in response commitees of academics are appointed by Parliament to write long, boring reports that make moderate and incrementally useful recommendations, and the ship of state is steered by slow degrees rather than by a great helmsmen violently turning the wheel. That’s what Orwell had trouble accomodating himself to — go reread the end of Homage to Catalonia, particularly the bits where he talks about how Spain didn’t recede in his memory but grew larger and more vivid.

  16. withywindle says:

    For Hestal, a preview of what may be an article or a chapter someday:

    The second line of Lockean influence led through Madison’s commentary on the Constitution in The Federalist. Madison, of course, was centrally concerned with the prudential goal of stability: “Stability in government is essential to national character and to the advantages annexed to it, as well as to that repose and confidence in the minds of the people, which are among the chief blessings of civil society.” He was equally concerned with the danger that prudence, and hence faction, posed to stability:

    The friend of popular governments never finds himself so much alarmed for their character and fate, as when he contemplates their propensity to this dangerous vice …. The instability, injustice, and confusion introduced into the public councils [by faction], have, in truth, been the mortal diseases under which popular governments have everywhere perished.

    Madison was equally aware of the Hobbesian and the Rousseauian solutions to faction: “There are again two methods of removing the causes of faction: the one, by destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence; the other, by giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests.” He rejected both: liberty was a sine qua non, and Rousseau’s proposed utopia both impractical and, on Lockean grounds, undesirable.

    As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed. As long as the connection subsists between his reason and his self-love, his opinions and his passions will have a reciprocal influence on each other: and the former will be objects to which the latter will attach themselves. The diversity in the faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate, is not less an insuperable obstacle to a uniformity of interests. The protection of these faculties is the first object of government. From the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property, the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results; and from the influence of these on the sentiments and view of the respective proprietors, ensues a division of the society into different interests and parties. [New paragraph.] The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man.

    Finally, and with stunningly swift dismissal, he rejected the Hobbesian and Lockean gesture toward sovereign reason.

    It is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests, and render them all subservient to the public good. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm. Nor, in many cases, can such an adjustment be made at all without taking into view indirect and remote considerations, which will rarely prevail over the immediate interest which one party may find in disregarding the right of another or the good of the whole.

    In effect, Madison recurred to a Machiavellian theme. The prescription of reason suited only ‘imaginary republics and principalities which have never been seen or known to exist in reality.’ There was no escape from prudence and interest: “The parties are, and must be, themselves the judges.”

    Having dismissed all alternatives, Madison decided that the problems caused by prudence and interest could only be solved in turn by the proper deployment of prudence and private interest: “The causes of faction cannot be removed, and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its effects.” Madison therefore took from Locke, and Montesquieu, the idea of a balance of interests within government—but, unlike Locke, he no longer attempted to moderate or balance the operation of prudential judgment itself. Instead, he radically intensified the operation of prudential judgment and interest within the operation of government itself. The different branches of government parcellized not only sovereignty but also prudential judgment, and gave each branch and office a fraction of both. Moreover, while the people were taken as formlessly equal in their capacity for prudence, (a shade of Rousseau,) the different offices were designed to be unequal in strength and function—individual and particularized. This variation of offices institutionalized prudential particularity into the very structure of government.

    This policy of supplying, by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives, might be traced through the whole system of human affairs, private as well as public. We see it particularly displayed in all the subordinate distributions of power, where the constant aim is to divide and arrange the several offices in such a manner as that each may be a check on the other—that the private interest of every individual may be a sentinel over the public rights. These inventions of prudence cannot be less requisite in the distribution of the supreme powers of the State.
    There was no unitary sovereign, no monist consensus, no sovereign reason; but plurality, parcellized sovereignty, and dispersed prudential judgments. The next generation would add the explicit avowal of political party as the productively factional spirit to operate this machine and produce the public interest. The people would exercise a democratic and universal prudential judgment—the public exercise of critical prudence—and their judgment, passions, and interests would generate the exercise of sovereign power by this prudential discourse alone.

  17. withywindle says:

    For Neel: I don’t believe we have given up essential liberties, and I believe the powers delegated to the government by the Patriot Act et al have made us safer. As far as I can tell, the Bush administration has detained a handful of citizens (Jose Padilla) engaged in terrorist actions against us, and tortured none of them. It maintains the traditional executive claim to open mail without warrant in case of emergency. I am not quite sure what your “secret law” schtick is about.

    So far as it goes, I am quite willing to have our government torture foreigners to prevent nuclear bombs from going off in our cities. Since I am willing to endorse such actions, I know how considerably distant Bush administration policy is from them–how gentle and restrained it is. You may, of course, have some ludicrously loose definition of torture in mind. Maybe it now includes spanking.

    The sleep of England was an unwillingness to recognize the Nazi threat, not an unwillingness to support POUM.

  18. hestal says:

    Withywindle, it would make things easier for your readers if you would use quotation marks around the several paragraphs you incouded from Number 10. I couldn’t find anything in your own words about managerialism. But I did notice that you failed to include Madison’s words, “the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.” So he was in favor of rules and protecting minority rights. Rules of operation and process are basic elements of managerialism.

    I fail to find any cause and effect relationship between prudence and faction as you claim. I did find prudence 31 times in the entire set of Federalist essays and none of them hinted of any connection between prudence and faction.

    Good luck to you in your writing.

  19. withywindle says:

    Follow-up for Neel: I just want to check–were you a British or a French policy-marker in 1936, would you have intervened in any way in support of the Spanish Republic?

  20. Neel Krishnaswami says:

    Secret law: Gilmore versus Gonzales.

    The government got its “evidence” against Jose Padilla by torturing people until they made up allegations, and then imprisoned him for three and a half years without bringing charges against him. This detention was solitary confinement, with extend periods of sensory deprivation, plus of course the usual sleep deprivation and stress positions. The government only brought charges when it began to look like the Supreme Court would rule about the legality of his detention, so that they could make the case moot. The charges they have at long last filed against him conspicuously do not involve any of the dirty bomb charges they made when they announced his detention in 2002, precisely because they don’t have any evidence that can stand up in court.

    If you really believe he was engaging in terrorist actions against us, I have a bridge to sell you — I even promise it will collapse when terrorists drive over it.

  21. withywindle says:


    I apologize for switching from the Hillary discussions. I was annoyed at Neel K’s comment–but it’s the sort of annoyance that just leads to pointless, repetitive arguments–is so! isn’t so!–so I shouldn’t have indulged in my annoyance. I like being a conservative voice on your blog comments, but I’d just as soon be so on issues where there’s some vague chance of a meeting of minds. (I.e., anything having to do with the Iraq War seems to be right out.) Any chance for a new posting from you, on some other subject?

    I very much enjoyed your link to Wil Wheaton, FYI; so did my wife.

  22. Timothy Burke says:

    New postings coming soon. Was just overwhelmed with the first week of classes plus birthday party for six-year old.

  23. jennfreeman says:

    THe only reason i found this site was so i could find somewhere to post my vewis about this presidential canidate. I think that Hillary Clinton is a joke. On her “offical website” she doesn’t even post her veiws on the issues, all it is is just tryingto get people to support her. News flash you arn’t gong to get supporters that way, I have to do a schoool project on you and i can’t even find informatoin on your veiws hate to say it hunbut you are never going to winif a 16 year old can’t even google you your not that popular. yeah get you head into the game or your not even goign to have a fighting chance. I found information on all the other canidates besides you.

  24. adam says:

    I’m not a big fan of Hillary either, and I’m a democrat. I don’t like her “win at any costs” strategy which includes attempting to go against the will of the people.

    She behind in states won, deligate count, popular vote, and more recently, behind in electabilty.

    If she wins, it’ll be a sad, sad day for the democratic party.


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