Hillary’s Big Problem and How Bill Can Fix It

Hillary’s problem is that she’s not too quick on her feet, unlike her husband Bill, a Baryshnikov of equivocation, who in his heyday could pirouette effortlessly across the political spectrum in a single phrase. In that Fatal Debate, out there under the spotlights, with Tim Russert as moderator and Obama and John Edwards gunning for her, Mrs Clinton blew it, just exactly at the moment when every laptop pundit in the blathersphere was getting bored with the apparent certainty that H. Clinton would be the party’s nominee.

So they’ve been piling on ever since. Campaign Clinton protests they’re picking on a woman, and the crowd roars that Hillary’s playing the poor-little-me card. Campaign Clinton says she’s one tough woman and the crowd howls back that she can’t have it both ways.

Right now, her campaign is dazed and bleeding. This time Hillary’s “vast conspiracy” is not the grantees’ list of Richard Mellon Scaife, but Tim Russert, Chris Matthews and a hefty slice of the press which wants to see HRC trip up and hence gives Senator Obama a fairly free ride in this phase.

Will she implode, just like that front-runner of November, 2004, Howard Dean? I still doubt it, just like I doubt that the US will attack Iran. But, as the President of the Free World once said, “Fool me once, shame on – shame on you. Fool me – you can’t get fooled again.” Hillary Clinton has a ton of money and the solid support of the Democratic Party’s bosses, which is not surprising since the Clintons picked these bosses in the first place. A great many women in America want her to be president. Recovery is a process the Clintons have been refining every since Hillary got herself into trouble with the voters of Arkansas back in 1978 for insisting on the first lady of that state be called Hillary Rodham, a stand on feminist principle she abandoned in time for the 1980 governor’s race.

Schizophrenia is a mandatory condition for all Democratic presidential candidates, never more so than at this stage in America’s election cycle. They have to rush from Davenport, Iowa, to Manchester, New Hampshire projecting constructive uplift to the party liberals who can make and break them in these early days. But simultaneously they have to make sure not to offend the flag-wagging, book-burning, Fortress America legions who will elect America’s next president in November, 2008.

So when Hillary Clinton says she’s in favor of giving illegal immigrants driving licenses, albeit hostile to this becoming a practical option; or in favor of an end to the war in Iraq, while vehement in the war on terror; or supportive of regulatory curbs on law-breaking corporations, while cautious about messing with free enterprise; or committed to hate-crime legislation to protect gays, while committed to equal rights for all Americans, she’s just talking the talk and walking the walk. If a Democrat mentions love in the first part of any sentence, there had better be an endorsement of war before the full stop. Two endorsements, if the Democrat is a woman.

So of course Hillary bobs and weaves. She’s not alone. On a clear day from the summit of Mount Obama one can see as many as three contradictory political intentions in a single paragraph. Only the rank outsiders and third-ranked contenders like Edwards stick to principled positions, because they’ve got only truly committed enthusiasts to lose.

So Hillary will probably survive this typhoon. But the bigger problem is not going away. There’s a solid slice of the flag-wagging, book-burning, Fortress America legions which will never, under any conditions, vote for Hillary Clinton a year from now. Every equivocation on immigrants, on the war, will be replayed next fall as mercilessly as John Kerry’s fence straddles in 2004 on his record on the war in Iraq. Hillary’s only chance is to have the Republican vote split by the Evangelical Christians, unable to stomach a pro-abortion wife-hopper like Giuliani, running a candidate of their own. Some born again type from the South.

Now if Bill really wants to make it up to Hillary …

*Talk about thinking slowly: last week Kerry told a Massachusetts paper that “We have put together a documented portfolio that frankly puts their lies in such a total light of absurdity and indecency, that should they ever rear their ugly heads again, we have every single ‘t’ crossed and ‘i’ dotted, and I welcome that in a sense. It’s a shame we weren’t able to produce all that at the time.”

Rumsfeld Flees Paris

I expressed the hope here not so long ago that when they finally quit the White House, leading members of the Bush gang will find it impossible to travel outside the Homeland since every airport they land at, every conference they attend, will feature a posse of local gendarmes with warrants for their arrest so that they can answer charges of war crimes.

On Friday, October 26, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had to be whisked out of France by US embassy officials to avoid just this fate. The New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, the Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights and two Paris-based groups, the International Federation of Human Rights and the League of Human Rights. filed a legal complaint with the Paris prosecutor charging Rumsfeld of responsibility for torture at Guantanamo and in Iraq.

Indeed Rumsfeld’s role was personal and direct. Andrew Cockburn detailed on this website back in April, 2007, Rumsfeld’s micromanagement of torture, as in the case of Mohammed al-Qahtani, a Saudi inmate in Guantanamo alleged to have been recruited for the 9/11 hijackings only to fail to gain entry into the U.S. Air Force Lt. General Randall Schmidt, appointed in 2005 to investigate charges by FBI officials of torture at Guantanamo, recorded in a 55-page statement how Rumsfeld ordered the techniques “for Mister Kahtani (sic) number one.” On Rumsfeld’s instructions, Qahtani’s jailers forced him to stand for long periods, isolating him, stripping him, telling him to bark like a dog, and more. “There were no limits put on this and no boundaries”, Schmidt reported. After a few days, the sessions had to be temporarily suspended when Qahtani’s heartbeat slowed to 35 beats a minute. Rumsfeld was “personally involved”, the general stressed, “in the interrogation of one person.” Bypassing the normal chain of command, the secretary called the prison chief directly on a weekly basis for reports on progress with Qahtani.

As for Abu Ghraib, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, the overall commander of the U.S. military prison system in Iraq has described how she found a piece of paper stuck on a pole outside a little office used by the interrogators. “It was a memorandum signed by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, authorizing a short list, maybe 6 or 8 techniques: use of dogs; stress positions; loud music; deprivation of food; keeping the lights on, those kinds of things,” Karpinski said. Over to the side of the paper was a line of handwriting, which to her appeared to be in the same hand and with the same ink as the signature. The line read: “Make sure this happens!!”

Only four days before Rumsfeld’s arrival in Paris, Americans Against the War, a spirited organization (whose branches in Paris and Montpellier I addressed last year) learned of his impending visit to Paris to address a conference organized by Foreign Policy magazine. Let a couple of members of AAW take up the story, as they retailed it in the wake of the successful action:

“Tout d’abord, I nominate Peter Cross for Hero of the day (or maybe the week or month, or or…). Had he not told us about Rumsfeld’s imminent visit to Paris, the protest outside Interalliee, where the breakfast took place, would not have happened, but, more importantly, the Federation Internationale des ligues des droits de l’homme (FIDH), would not have frantically, in four days, put together a dossier of charges against DR which they delivered last night to the Procureur du Tribunal de Grande Instance. With the charges filed, and DR here when they were filed, France is obligated to pursue the investigation into DR’s authorization of torture, in violation of the 1984 Convention against Torture, which both france and the US ratified. Hopefully the suit will also bring to the fore Sarkozy’s relationship to the US and his tacit consent to its warmongering policies. A big thanks to Peggy for having contacted the LIDH and maintained contact with them.

“Les desobeisants, a group of mostly young, mostly anti-nuke activists who practice civil disobedience, organized a meeting [Thursday] night to plan for [Friday’s] action.Peggy and I met at 8 a.m. across the street from the 18th century hotel particulier where the Cercle de l’Union Interalliee, a private club founded at the end of the First World War, has its headquarters. Interalliée’s goals are ‘contribuer à maintenir la paix et l’harmonie entre les nations en développant les relations entre les personnalités les plus représentatives de l’activité française et étrangère.’ Was it Rumsfeld’s desire for peace and harmony that made Foreign Policy magazine choose to hold its breakfast there?

“About 8:30, whom do we see jauntily walking up rue du faubourg St. Honore, but none other than DR, surrounded by 4 or 5 men who were probably secret service-maybe even Blackwater stand-ins. And by coincidence, les desobeisants arrived at the same moment. Instantly they unfurled banners-Donald Rumsfeld War criminal (in English), and Donald Rumsfeld, prix Nobel de la Guerre as we pursued DR into the courtyard. Yelling “criminel de guerre,” and other things I don’t remember, we went as far into the courtyard as we could go-not terribly far. For the next two and a half hours we stood outside, with the very long banners at first strung across the façade, then held when we were asked to take them down.

“I really liked how les desobeisants operate. They approach people, get right in their faces, but do so in very charming, disarming (no pun) ways, and are always extremely polite. It helps that some of them are in clown costume. What really struck me was the behavior of the police. Here we had an arch criminal, one of the most reviled men on the planet, representative of a country the French president is sucking up to, confronted by a group of militants carrying long banners, some shooting large rubber bones out of cardboard bazooka (that would be the clowns). No one asked us to refrain from anything, except hanging the banners on the building (seems to have been someone from Interalliee who asked us not to do that). And we had no permit! Les desobeisants know exactly what the laws are regarding civil disobedience-in fact, they have weekend trainings and invited any of us who wants to attend to do so (they’re free). The trainings are not just about civil disobedience but planning interesting and attention-grabbing actions.

“We waited for DR to exit the building. As people were filing out, we asked them about the breakfast, I handed out our flyers. Either DR got out by lying on the floor of a car with blackened windows, and we missed him, or he escaped through some passageway that might link the US embassy with the Interalliee building, or he just waited until we dispersed.”

Imagine what would happen to someone deploying a cardboard bazooka firing rubber bones in the vicinity of police and security guardsin Washington DC. There have also been efforts in Germany and Sweden to detain Rumsfeld on charges of war crimes and torture.

Adieu to Norman Mailer

I always liked seeing Norman at dinner parties in New York in the late 70s because alongside Norman would be his wife Norris Church and while the iron laws of placement made it unlikely I’d be cheek by jowl with Norman, there was a sporting chance I’d have Norris on my left or right. And so it came to pass often enough. We’d have lots of fun and I’d get up from the table thinking what a lucky dog Norman was to have a wife like that.

If I had to take just one of his books on a train or plane it would be Advertisements for Myself. Reading the obits–mostly pedestrian hack work — I came across a patronizing line in one of them about how Mailer had “dabbled in journalism”. I guess that means he didn’t put in an apprenticeship on the night desk and also wrote big novels, some of which I enjoyed dipping into. Joan Didion makes an effective case for the greatness of The Executioner’s Song. In the long reporting pieces he did for Esquire and Playboy Mailer’s prose would suddenly come alive and you’d see what a terrific writer and observer he could be, even though you’d have to skip past all the ranting about modern architecture and kindred peeves. He could be really smart and truly silly in alternate paragraphs.

Having cut his political teeth on Henry Wallace and the Progressive Party’s run in 1948, Norman had a sour and perceptive eye for the follies of American liberalism, and a commensurate respect for the libertarian strain in American politics. Around the time I was getting lashed by pwogs for giving a speech (from a left p.o.v of course) at an antiwar.com conference in San Mateo that had featured Pat Buchanan the previous day, Mailer had a to and fro with Buchanan about the possibilities of a populist left-libertarian fusion. I was glad to see CounterPunch and Mailer saw eye to eye on this.

As a writer he was a hard worker. Given the extended clan he supported, he had to be. He co-founded the Village Voice in 1955, In other words, in journalistic and political terms he was on the cutting edge of political and cultural bohemia when it mattered. CounterPuncher David Price says he contributed to Ed Sanders’ Fuck You, a Magazine of the Arts that started in 1962. Somewhere in a box I have photocopies of F.U.’s nine issues, thinking once that we might ask Ed if we could reissue it. To be frank, it lives better in the memory, mostly for the coup de foudre of its title–at least back then–than as a repository of cultural gems. I remember best a poem by Al Fowler about President Kennedy going into baby Caroline’s bedroom in the White House and molesting her. Ed Sanders clearly thought he might have gone over the edge by publishing that one, because he appended a little squeal of trepidation about running it. I guess, in proleptic homage to Norman, Fowler could have called it Superman comes to the Nursery. As with cardboard bazookas, (see the item above about the French action against Rumsfeld) I don’t think anyone here would write such a thing about a president and his daughters these days.



Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.