Bill Clinton on Experience and Change


Bill Clinton of 1991 seemed a lot more on the ball than the Bill Clinton of 2008.

Cluster Bombs and Doing The Right Thing

The conventional wisdom in this campaign has been that Obama and Clinton agree on most issues. While there are certainly areas of agreement, I’ve noted many significant differences in the past which have affected my decision as to who to support. One of these areas of difference is the topic of an international conference with representatives from 122 countries Wellington, New Zealand. The conference aims to draft text for a treaty to ban cluster bombs.

During the conference it was noted that four out of every ten people killed or injured by cluster bombs are children. It takes a village, or in this case an international consensus, to ban cluster bombs. From a report on the conference via AfterDowningStreet:

Opening the conference, Disarmament Minister Phil Goff said a strong declaration on cluster bombs at the conference would mark a pivotal step in getting the weapons banned.

More than half of the 76 states in the world that stockpile cluster munitions are taking part in the negotiations, along with a majority of the weapon producers.

However, major producers such as the US, Russia, China and Pakistan have not joined the process and have no observers at the conference.

Cluster bombs are built to explode above the ground, releasing thousands of bomblets primed to detonate on impact. But combat statistics show between 10 percent and 40 percent fail to go off and lie primed in the target area to kill and injure civilians.

UNICEF deputy executive director Hilde Frafjord Johnson, speaking on behalf of 14 United Nations entities that form the United Nations Mine Action Team, said the UN wanted cluster bombs banned.

She said the weapons had a horrendous humanitarian, development and human rights impact.

As I suggested at the start, this report relates to one of the differences between Obama and Clinton. Earlier in the month David Rees wrote the following at The Huffington Post:

Cluster bombs and landmines are particularly terrifying weapons that wreak havoc on communities trying to recover from war. They are fatal impediments to reconstruction and rehabilitation of agricultural land; they destroy valuable livestock; they disable otherwise productive members of society; they maim or kill children trying to salvage them for scrap metal.

Over 150 nations have signed the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. It pains me that our great nation has not. But in the autumn of 2006, there was a chance to take a step in the right direction: Senate Amendment No. 4882, an amendment to a Pentagon appropriations bill that would have banned the use of cluster bombs in civilian areas.

Senator Obama of Illinois voted IN FAVOR of the ban.

Senator Clinton of New York voted AGAINST the ban.

Analysts say Clinton did not want to risk appearing “soft on terror,” as it would have harmed her electibility.

I’m not a single-issue voter. But as Obama and Clinton share many policy positions, this vote was revelatory for me. After all, Amendment No. 4882 was an easy one to vote against: Who’d want to risk accusation of “tying the hands of the Pentagon” during a never-ending, global War on Terror? As is so often the case, there was no political cost to doing the wrong thing. And there was no political reward for doing the right thing.

But Senator Obama did the right thing.

This is just one more issue, but it is also part of a pattern I’ve noted in comparing the views of Obama and Clinton. Just as on this issue, Clinton frequently favors the status quo, while Obama has done the right thing in supporting change.

Cross posted at The Carpetbagger Report

A Speech Writer’s Take On The Plagiarism Flap

The plagiarism attacks on Obama, which I discussed yesterday, are not going away. James Fallows weighed in on this story earlier today at The Atlantic. I’ve always respected Fallows’ writing, but in this case his opinion is especially pertinent as he was a speech writer for Jimmy Carter during his 1976 campaign and for two years in the White House. Fallows begins:

The “plagiarism” flap over Barack Obama is bogus and overstated. It makes me think worse about whoever is pushing this complaint, rather than about Obama himself.

Conceivably Obama would have been wiser to introduce his recent discourse on the role of “hope” by saying, “As my friend the governor of Massachusetts has often pointed out….” But please: A candidate on the stump utters tens of thousands of words every single day. Few of those can be “original” in any deep sense. For many of the words, even the most brilliant candidate relies on help from people whose job is to think of newer and better ways to make the campaign’s point.* We should be suspicious of candidates who don’t seek this kind of help; it suggests that they are naive about the tradeoffs, triage, and delegation necessary to run a campaign well, let alone an Administration.

The classic campaign stump speech, in its low-rent version, is a memorized mish-mash of things the candidate has already said. In its high-rent version, it’s an improvised and steadily evolving mish-mash of things the candidate has already said — but slightly retuned with each delivery, to reflect the news and the location and the latest charge and countercharge. It’s also slightly altered or enriched with each delivery, to include the latest anecdote or aphorism or snappy phrase or moving line that the candidate, or someone around him, has come across that might help push the campaign’s main theme. Unless a candidate is a total robot, giving the very same speech time after time, he or she is inevitably grabbing whatever idea, illustration, or phrase is at hand. Again, not to do this is to suggest that a presidential candidate is not quite ready for the job.

Moreover, on the specific Patrick/Obama point at issue: it’s not as if no one had thought of this argument (about hope and inspiration), or these examples — FDR, JFK, MLK Jr — before Deval Patrick uttered them. Speechwriters could hardly exist without this theme or these illustrations!

Fallows makes several other good points but I’ll let readers go directly to The Atlantic to read further so that this post doesn’t wind up entirely taking his work.

Cross posted at The Carpetbagger Report

Is Clinton Going After Pledged Delegates?

The Politico has a potentially controversial story by Roger Simon which leaves me wondering where the story is. The title certainly caught my attention: Clinton Targets Pledged Delegates. The logic here is that Clinton’s strategy of going after super delegates is running into trouble with all the talk of how it would split the party if the super delegates go against the will of the delegates won by the candidates in caucuses and primaries. The next step would be to get pledged delegates to change their support so that the super delegates would not be voting contrary to the pledged delegates.

This is theoretically possible as there is nothing which legally prevents a delegate from changing their vote. Even if legal, this would be as potentially divisive as Clinton’s strategy of going after the super delegates.

If this is true, it would be yet another serious problem which would harm the credibility of the Clinton campaign. However, after reading beyond the head line, I’m not certain there really is a story here at all.

The article has a couple of quotes from the Clinton campaign, but I would really like to see the full context of any interviews to determine if this is really their plan or if spokes people simply responded to some leading questions. Early in the article, the author states:

This strategy was confirmed to me by a high-ranking Clinton official on Monday. And I am not talking about superdelegates, those 795 party big shots who are not pledged to anybody. I am talking about getting pledged delegates to switch sides.

I would like to see more detail on the line that “the strategy was confirmed to me.” The quotes in the remainder of the story are not strong enough to be considered confirmation. Later there is the comment:

“I swear it is not happening now, but as we get closer to the convention, if it is a stalemate, everybody will be going after everybody’s delegates,” a senior Clinton official told me Monday afternoon. “All the rules will be going out the window.”

This certainly doesn’t show that this is happening now, and it is unclear as to whether this is a reflection of future plans. Later in the story:

Clinton spokesman Phil Singer told me Monday he assumes the Obama campaign is going after delegates pledged to Clinton, though a senior Obama aide told me he knew of no such strategy.

Towards the end there is yet another unclear statement:

If, however, after the April 22 Pennsylvania primary the pledged delegate count looks very close, the Clinton official said, “[both] sides will start working all delegates.”

These could be taken as predictions as opposed to confirmation of any such plan and are insufficient to support Simon’s earlier statement that this strategy was confirmed. Without further evidence we might have to wait and see whether there is any validity to this charge.

Political Punch received the following response from the Obama campaign to these charges:

“As it becomes increasingly clear that Senator Clinton may not be able to secure the nomination by winning the support of actual voters, the Clinton campaign has once again floated a strategy that would essentially say that the preference of Democratic voters is a mere obstacle to their win-at-all-costs strategy,” said Obama campaign manager David Plouffe. “First, they said they’ll try to seat the non-existent delegates in Florida and Michigan, something that neutral party leaders have roundly criticized. Then, they suggested that superdelegates should consider subverting the will of the voters and the pledged delegates, which has also been strongly objected to.

“Their new strategy will be to convince delegates that were pledged by actual Democratic voters to switch sides. In their own words, ‘all the rules will be going out the window.’ Voters are already rejecting the Clinton campaign’s say-or-do-anything-to-win tactics, and this is the latest example that it’s time to turn the page on this type of politics that could severely harm our party’s chances to win the general election.”

It would certainly be bad for the Clinton campaign if these charges are true, but that remains to be seen.

Cross posted at The Carpetbagger Report