Monday, February 18, 2008

Schlesinger Round-Up

Excerpts from some recent columns by Stephen Schlesinger:

Why Hillary Clinton still matters:
I have had the good fortune to observe Hillary Clinton's career while living in New York. Up-close, she is an unusually tough, savvy as well as charming political figure. While not as visible as Mayor Giuliani on 9/11, she showed great mastery in the difficult days after the attacks in helping to bring about the physical and emotional recovery of New York City and gaining Federal assistance for Ground Zero workers exposed to toxic air. As importantly, in her eight years in the Senate, she has compiled a strong liberal voting record in the tradition of the FDR-JFK wing of the Democratic Party. While she has known defeats (e.g., health care in 1994), she has turned her reversals into legislative prowess on the Hill.

Her work on the Armed Services Committee and her fact-finding visits overseas belie the notion that she has limited foreign policy experience. Her vote for the congressional resolution on Iraq in 2002 was a vote for continued weapons inspection and diplomacy and in opposition to preemptive war, as she clearly stated in her Senate floor speech. She has said on many occasions she would have voted differently had she known that President Bush would misuse his authority and dispatch US troops to Iraq without allowing UN inspectors to complete their job. Today she vows to end the war and is currently trying to prevent the establishment of permanent US bases in Iraq by requiring prior Congressional approval for any such outposts.

Of extraordinary importance, she has taken the lead on the most important economic crisis to face our country in decades. She was among the first of the first Democratic contenders to propose a bold economic recovery program designed to rescue the nation from recession. Over a month ago, Senator Clinton advocated a $70 billion emergency spending and a back-up of a $40 billion tax rebate should economic conditions worsen. Hers is a direct attempt to help the most threatened people in America - namely, lower-income families facing foreclosures of their mortgages, those in need of home heating aid, the unemployed who require extended jobless benefits and funding for alternative energy and environmental programs. Her opponent, Senator Obama belatedly came out with his own plan a few days ago which seemingly lifts most of his ideas straight out of Senator Clinton's proposal.

On a more specific level, Senator Clinton's recommendations on helping Americans caught in the sub-prime mortgage mess are far-reaching. She has called for a moratorium on foreclosures, a freezing of interest rates, the use of federal subsidies to help homeowners keep up with payments and restructure loans, and augmented regulation of the financial industry. Senator Obama has come up with an alternative plan, which, by contrast, does none of these things but tinkers around the edges. He backs a bill against mortgage fraud, supports an average $500 tax credit for homeowners and endorses additional funding for a limited class of homeowners. This is a tepid response to an enormous tragedy.

In many ways, Senator Clinton is to the left of Senator Obama. Hillary Clinton has outlined a program of universal health insurance -- meaning that every person in America would be covered. By contrast, Senator Obama's plan is more restrictive and would leave 15 million people uncovered. Lastly, Hillary Clinton is a fighter for change. Senator Obama, on the other hand, is a self-described conciliator. What Democrats want today, however, is a battler, not a motivational speaker. They have suffered enough from the vicious blows of President Bush and the Republicans. What the party needs is a nominee who will take the contest directly to the opposition. Come the Fall showdown, a candidacy of "friendly persuasion" is going to be swiftboated into oblivion.

McCain has some questions for Obama:
What is Senator Obama going to say when Senator McCain asks him why he is in favor of granting drivers' licenses to illegal immigrants as Obama has admitted at least twice in Democratic debates?

What will Senator Obama say when Senator McCain cites Obama's present position that undocumented workers will not be covered in his health care proposal, yet when he was running for the Senate he said that children of undocumented workers should get the same health care benefits that citizens get?

What is Senator Obama going to say when John McCain starts to ask people to compare Obama's qualifications to be president to McCain's experience? That his years on the Senate Armed Services Committee don't matter?

What is Senator Obama going to say when John McCain begins to ask him about negotiating in unstructured summits with the leaders of Iran, North Korea and Cuba without preconditions?

What will Senator Obama say when Senator McCain asks him why he said in 2004 that he did not know how he would have voted on the Iraq war authorization and that his view of the Iraq war was not different from President Bush's? What will Senator Obama say when Senator McCain compares Obama's votes to fully fund the Iraq War in the Senate to Obama's rhetorical opposition to that war?

What is Senator Obama going to say when Senator McCain questions Obama's claim to be "the most qualified person in America to conduct the foreign policy of the United States"? What is Senator Obama going to say when Senator McCain says that Obama is not one of the most qualified members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to lead this country in today's dangerous world but instead one of the most absent?

What is Senator Obama going to say when Senator McCain points out that Senator Obama has not conducted a single policy hearing as chairman of the subcommittee on European Affairs of the Foreign Relations Committee?

Hillary and RFK:
It is interesting to read the op-ed piece in Tuesday's Los Angeles Times (Jan 29, 2008) written by three of Robert Kennedy's children -- Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and Kerry Kennedy, endorsing the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. The match-up of RFK's offspring with Hillary Clinton is, on one level, a personal and passionate embrace of a woman whom all of them greatly admire for her political prowess and broad vision. But, on another level, it is a symbolic reminder to America of how similar Hillary's and RFK's political experiences have been -- and what lessons we can draw from them.

First, all political analogies are imperfect. Still the similarities are quite atonishing. Both individuals, we should remember, started their political careers with famous last names. Like RFK, Hillary ran for the U.S. Senate in NY State as an outsider and won. Like him, she won the adoring support of New Yorkers. But, like him, the moment she jumped into the presidential race, she was labeled ruthless and unprincipled. And like him she has faced an opponent who is considered a "breakthrough" candidate, a man of change. In the case of RFK, voters were eventually able to see through the din and dust to his true progressive beliefs. In the case of Hillary Clinton, her triumphs in New Hampshire, Nevada and Michigan suggest that as more and more people listen to her, the more they are willing to embrace her as the most reliable liberal trailblazer in the contest.

- Stephen Schlesinger is the former Director of the World Policy Institute at the New School University in New York City (1997-2006). He was Governor Mario Cuomo’s speechwriter and foreign policy advisor. He worked at the United Nations at Habitat, the agency dealing with global cities. He is the author of three books, including Act of Creation: The Founding of The United Nations; Bitter Fruit: The Story of the U.S. Coup in Guatemala; and The New Reformers. He is a specialist on the foreign policy of the Clinton and Bush Administrations. In the early 1970s, he edited and published The New Democrat Magazine; he is a frequent contributor to magazines and newspapers, including The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Nation Magazine, and The New York Observer.


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