“at the end of the day, you have to have an opinion on the basic issues facing America.” –Bernie Sanders on Hillary Clinton’s listening tour
While Clinton’s opponents such as Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders meeting with the press and are willing to answer questions as to what they believe (including Bernie Sanders in his interview on NPR this week), Hillary Clinton is receiving increased skepticism and criticism from some liberals for evading questions and avoiding the press. She has made a show of speaking out on selected topics, but often leaves out key details and refuses to answer questions on other key subjects. At Vox, Jonathan Allen makes some of the same points I made in this recent post in an article entitled The selective liberalism of Hillary Clinton:
There’s a term for the way Hillary Clinton has handled policy in the early stages of her campaign: Clintonian. That is, on the issues that most divide the Democratic base from its centrist wing, she refuses to box herself into a position. She’d rather wait to see how things play out — a tendency that reinforces the often asserted (but sometimes unfair) criticism that she doesn’t have core convictions. She’s thrilled that fast-food workers are fighting for a $15 minimum wage, but she won’t say whether she’ll fight for it — or even whether she thinks that’s the right level.
She’s decidedly undecided on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, even though she called it “the gold standard in trade agreements” when she was secretary of state.
And her campaign has completely dodged the question of whether she thinks her husband’s welfare reform law was the right policy.It’s true that Clinton has rolled out a string of positions that please constituencies on the left, from support for LGBT rights and voting rights to repudiating the results of her husband’s 1994 anti-crime law and vowing to enhance President Obama’s executive action on immigration. These are important issues, perhaps more important than the exact level of a wage increase that surely won’t be $15 an hour as long as Republicans control either the House or 41 seats in the Senate. But Clinton has been very selective about how she’s courted her party’s progressive base, speaking as much to identity politics as to actual policy. On some of the more controversial policy questions, she’s taking a pass. As Ruth Marcus put it in the Washington Post Wednesday morning, “The left-leaning positions she isn’t taking are as significant as the ones she has endorsed.”
The full post discussed Clinton’s honesty problem and contrasted her with Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley. It concluded:
It’s tempting to think that Clinton has plenty of time because it’s early in the presidential election cycle or because her Democratic rivals probably don’t have what it takes to beat her in a primary. But by sidestepping important policy questions, she’s giving oxygen to doubts about her sincerity. That’s a character question that should be familiar to Clinton fans who watched Barack Obama turn honesty into a weapon against her in 2008, and it’s one that crosses party lines. Ultimately, Clinton is going to have to choose a side on these issues. The longer she takes, the more it looks like she’s afraid of commitment.
This week in particular, the president Clinton hopes to replace — if she can break the historical trend that has allowed a party to win a third consecutive term in the White House only once since 1948 — is on edge. President Obama is simultaneously awaiting the outcome of a House vote on trade promotion authority, negotiations on a nuclear deal and a Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act that could potentially dismantle the country’s healthcare system. On all of these issues Clinton has been silent.
On Wednesday Obama announced a shift in his strategy for fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), sending 450 additional U.S. troops to Iraq to bolster the training of defense forces there. Since announcing her plans to run for president, Clinton has said little of the burgeoning wars in Iraq and Syria, except that she was wrong to support the 2003 war in Iraq and that, in the face of ISIS gaining strength and territory, it will be up to the Iraqis to protect their own country.
On trade, Democrats supporting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal are being slammed by the AFL-CIO and other labor groups for backing Obama on the measure. Meanwhile Clinton, who helped negotiate the agreement and promoted it during her tenure as secretary of State as “the gold standard” of trade deals, has taken little heat from Big Labor. Though it is clear she has access to every detail and Obama could use her help to pass the TPP, she continues to insist she can’t pass judgment until she sees the final product.
Clinton has worked hard to avoid the press since announcing her candidacy. And because of this, her ramp-up has been mostly defined by critical news stories about: the Clinton Foundation and the connection between its donors, both Clintons’ speaking gigs and lack of disclosure of donations; her violation of an agreement limiting those donations while she worked as secretary of State; who lobbied the department during her tenure after giving to the foundation; how Bill Clinton hid some money to avoid disclosure; and how Hillary Clinton placed most of her government work at the State Department on a private email server she has now destroyed. Her favorability ratings are now below 50 percent, 57 percent of voters don’t believe she is trustworthy, and the huge leads she held over potential GOP presidential candidates have shrunk to just a few points.
Clinton doesn’t like answering questions, so she likes to say the campaign isn’t about her, it’s all about the voters. That might be fine this year because she believes no one can defeat her for the Democratic nomination, but next year in the general election it will actually be about her. Support for same-sex marriage, debt-free college, campaign finance reform and more access to early voting may be appealing to her base, but they aren’t the most urgent issues. She should find the guts to confront them soon if she really wants to be president.
As Bernie Sanders said about Clinton this week, “at the end of the day, you have to have an opinion on the basic issues facing America.” Besides these policy matters (and many others I’ve brought up from time to time which are not in the headlines), there remain many unanswered questions about the recent scandals, including those involving the Clinton Foundation. Chris Cillizia looked at Bill Clinton’s latest comments defending his actions and points out that Clinton still does not get it:
This is the latest in a string of statements by the former president that suggest he still doesn’t grasp why the Clinton Foundation questions continue to swirl and, because of that lack of understanding, remains unable to effectively parry them. Let’s go through the problems with Clinton’s answer.
First, there’s little doubt that some of the donations accepted by the Clinton Foundation have been viewed as objectionable by lots and lots of people. To cite one example: Allowing the Qatar Supreme 2022 Committee, organized to lure the World Cup to the nation, to serve as the main sponsor for a 2013 Clinton Global Initiative event. Qatar has been tied to not only allegations of wide-scale bribery of FIFA to acquire the games but is also the subject of widespread humanitarian concerns regarding the number of deaths related to the construction of the soccer stadiums to host the World Cup in 2022.
So, on its face, the claim that no one has come forward to object to certain donations/donors is just not right.
Then there is the fact that Clinton’s answer on the foundation seems to be based on the idea that he and his wife are operating in a legal sphere for the next two years. They’re not. They’re living in the world of politics — and the rules of that world are far different than those of a court of law.
Clinton’s argument boils down to the idea of a burden of proof. As in, if there’s something truly objectionable in what the foundation has done, then someone should prove it. Legally speaking, Clinton’s right. If you think he or the foundation broke some sort of law, then you should need to provide conclusive evidence of when, where, why, what and how.
But of course, what we are mostly talking about when it comes to the Clinton Foundation is the gray area between contributions made by donors and decisions made by the foundation that benefited those people. Proving that sort of quid pro quo in a legal setting is virtually impossible barring a smoking gun — like an e-mail that says: “Mr. X gave $300,000. Let’s fund his project now.”
In politics, however, gray areas can be exploited to great advantage by your political opponents. Raising questions about the timing between donations to the Clinton Foundation and decisions made that lined the pockets of those donors is totally within the bounds of acceptable — and effective — negative messaging. Republicans don’t need to prove that the Clinton Foundation did anything untoward. The burden of proof that there was no wrongdoing lies with the Clinton Foundation.
That reality clearly annoys Bill Clinton, and somewhat understandably. After all, the Clinton Foundation is a massive operation and, as Bill likes to point out, does lots and lots of work that has nothing to do with politics. “Do I have the most comprehensive disclosure of any presidential foundation? Yes,” Clinton said in that same Bloomberg interview. “Is our — our disclosures more extensive than most private foundations? Yes, they are, having nothing to do with politics.” (Sidebar: It’s not clear that Clinton’s claim about the foundation’s disclosure policies is totally accurate.)
Here’s the problem for Bill: No other foundation in the world is run by a former president and a former secretary of state who also happens to be the de facto Democratic presidential nominee in 2016. That fact means that the Clinton Foundation isn’t like any other foundation in the world — and therefore, how all of those other foundations treat disclosure is sort of immaterial.
It also remains significant that Hillary Clinton had agreed to disclose donors to the Foundation when she was Secretary of State, and then failed to do so.