Friday, May 23, 2008

58 minutes later: the good part of Hillary's SD interview

An irony of Hillary's assassination gaffe is that she was at her very best (notwithstanding that on the tape she looks ready to drop) throughout the rest of a substantive, wide-ranging discussion with the Argus Leader. From Native American policy to the varieties of potential ethanol sources to western water policy, she was Clintonian in her mastery of policy detail. You can understand why she thinks she's 'ready' to be President. If it weren't for her long sequence of duplicitous, predatory, Rovian tactics and comments, I would agree.

In fact the interview contained a Clintonian answer to Obama's metapolitics - his pitch that we've got to change the way our political system functions before we can enact good policy. Obama's argument is that the U.S. government can't put the common good first as long as lobbyists control legislation, and that we can't have serious policy debates until we break through the Rovian politics of personal destruction and distorting attacks. In this debate, Hillary said that we can't engage in serious long-range planning and policy-making until we change the mindset bequeathed us by Ronald Reagan -- that government can't solve anything, that the business of government is to shrink and undermine itself.

The two diagnoses are related. The anti-government stance goes with a messianic faith in the marketplace, a belief that business unleashed and unregulated will create the wealth that government only inhibits. Those holding that belief system naturally enough opened the lobbying floodgates. Not that there wasn't plenty of corruption and interest-driven legislation in the long era of Democratic control of Congress -- but it metastasized with the advent of the Gingrich-Delay crowd and their K Street Project, and it took over the executive branch in the Bush era. So Obama and Clinton are both right. The antigov mindset created a system in which legislation is for sale and political 'debate' becomes a cover for positions essentially dictated by lobbyists.

Robert Reich, in Supercapitalism, suggests that it's the hyper-competition of global capitalism that created the pressures that brought this system into being. Reaganite antigovernment ideology, from that point of view, is more result than cause. Reich has few answers as to how citizens and politicians can take the government back. Hillary's answer is reverse engineering: get a mandate for the right policies, and the attitude toward government will change. Obama's approach is a frontal assault: remain personally free from lobbyist money, get a mandate to write legislation to reign in lobbyist influence, change political discourse by personal example. Will either (or any of their successors) get anywhere? It may seem naive to say yes. But there have been periods, as both like to say, in which the U.S. government has risen to enormous challenges and successfully engaged in long-range planning. Democracy's saving grace, as long as there's a critical mass of power remaining with voters to throw one crowd out and bring new people in, is self-correction. We're in the midst of an attempted course correction. We'd better get there.

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