Saturday, August 4, 2007

The Triumph of Politics Over Policy, Is Team Clinton Like Bush/Cheney?

Watching Team Clinton at work is a lot like watching a master craftsman create a piece of fine furniture. You have to admire the planning, the skill and the workmanship, but at the end of the day you realize the craftsman has been working to satisfy a customer's desires, nothing more.

A few years ago Team Clinton positioned Senator Hillary right with the majority of Americans who approved the invasion of Iraq. That's what the electorate wanted and that's what the fine folks at Team Clinton provided. Over the years the public has soured on the Iraq war. As the public has soured Team Clinton realized that the old position had to change.

Unlike John Edwards, Team Clinton didn't want to make a clean break. Instead, they elected to move Hillary by carefully measured steps from full throated support to whatever they think their constituents want. Since Hillary's constituents include AIPAC and many in the pro-israel foreign policy establishment, positioning her so as not to alienate anyone has been particularly tricky. Today's New York Times has a terrific inside politics story outlining just how Team Clinton has deftly positioned Hillary to allow her to continue soaking up AIPAC and big business money, and to keep the old time foreign policy establishment happy, all the while sounding sufficiently anti-Iraq war to satisfy a lot of regular Americans.

Recently, Barack Obama used the term Bush/Cheney Lite when referring to Team Clinton's foreign policy. I think that is unfair. When you read their positions Team Clinton has moved Hillary's public foreign policy positions right next to those of Barack Obama. There is, however, a comparison to be made between Team Clinton and Bush/Cheney.

During the Bush/Cheney administration politics has always trumped policy. Everything has been about political advantage--rewarding supporters and punishing opponents. Domestically Karl Rove's first question has always been, how does this issue affect our base. The same with foreign policy. The Bush/Cheney foreign policy has always been about advancing the interests of the large trading companies, oil companies, the neo-cons, AIPAC and the House of Saudi. What is best for America doesn't seem to have ever captured any one's attention. The result of Bush/Cheney's narrow political focus is that nothing much good has been accomplished and most people would just as soon see the Bush team retired right now.

What has been missing is any sense that Bush/Cheney has given any priority to advancing a vision of what is good for the country as a whole as opposed to satisfying the narrow political and economic constituencies they have cultivated.

My fear is that Team Clinton has the same politics over policy attitude. Can anyone point to a single position on a single topic that hasn't been neatly planned to advance Hillary's political career. I would like to know if Hillary has a vision for the country. Where should we be going as a nation? Before giving her my support I need to know that she has a vision and whether, if elected, that vision will shape her Presidency to a greater extent than Team Clinton's political craftsmanship.

It has been said that difference between a craftsman and an artist is vision--a sense of independence and overall direction. A great artist has to be a craftsman, but many times a craftsman isn't an artist.