Monday, July 11, 2016

Ezra Klein on Hillary Clinton

Lots of stuff at Vox today on Hillary, including an interview with her and an essay by Ezra Klein that I recommend. It begins from the question of why Hillary gets praise for her work while in office but panned for her campaigning. He calls this "the Gap." Most successful politicians – Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders – see their poll numbers rise when they campaign. But not Hillary:
Hillary Clinton is just the opposite. There is something about her persona that seems uniquely vulnerable to campaigning; something is getting lost in the Gap. So as I interviewed Clinton's staffers, colleagues, friends, and foes, I began every discussion with some form of the same question: What is true about the Hillary Clinton you’ve worked with that doesn’t come through on the campaign trail?

The answers startled me in their consistency. Every single person brought up, in some way or another, the exact same quality they feel leads Clinton to excel in governance and struggle in campaigns. On the one hand, that makes my job as a reporter easy. There actually is an answer to the question. On the other hand, it makes my job as a writer harder: It isn’t a very satisfying answer to the question, at least not when you first hear it.

Hillary Clinton, they said over and over again, listens.
Hillary listens to what her allies and staffers say to her, and she remembers it, and she also reads their memos and remembers what they said, and likes to surprise them by mentioning something they wrote in an old white paper that they thought nobody in power had ever read. It's the most flattering possible thing for a political staffer and explains why so many Hillary people have been very loyal to her.

As Klein says, there is something very gendered about this. Stereotypically, what most politicians do – make speeches,  hold debates – is male behavior, whereas women always say that the thing they value most is listening. Here is linguist Deborah Tannen:
Women, she’s found, emphasize the “rapport dimension” of communication — did a particular conversation bring us closer together or further apart? Men, by contrast, emphasize the “status dimension” — did a conversation raise my status compared to yours?
Klein takes a look at the Democratic primaries through this lens:
Talking is a way of changing your status: If you make a great point, or set the terms of the discussion, you win the conversation. Listening, on the other hand, is a way of establishing rapport, of bringing people closer together; showing you’ve heard what’s been said so far may not win you the conversation, but it does win you allies. And winning allies is how Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination.

Given where both candidates began, there is no doubt that Bernie Sanders proved the more effective talker. His speeches attracted larger audiences, his debate performances led to big gains in the polls, his sound bites went more viral on Facebook.

Yet Clinton proved the more effective listener — and, particularly, the more effective coalition builder. On the eve of the California primary, 208 members of Congress had endorsed Clinton, and only eight had endorsed Sanders. “This was a lot of relationships,” says Verveer. “She’s been in public life for 30 years. Over those 30 years, she has met a lot of those people, stayed in touch with them, treated them decently, campaigned for them. You can’t do this overnight.”

One way of reading the Democratic primary is that it pitted an unusually pure male leadership style against an unusually pure female leadership style. Sanders is a great talker and a poor relationship builder. Clinton is a great relationship builder and a poor talker. In this case — the first time at the presidential level — the female leadership style won.
Thoughts? Klein has a lot about how this has worked and not worked in Clinton's career.

The other thing that really comes out in Klein's piece is how much Hillary hates the media. Klein asks, why are our politics so toxic, and Hillary essentially says, "the lying, scandal-mongering media." Klein's response is, well, some of that is true, but Hillary's refusal to hold press conferences and so on still hurts her and she really needs to stop fearing the media and starting using it.

I thought this was the most interesting thing I've read about Hillary all year.


pithom said...


"My two cents' worth--and I think it is the two cents' worth of everybody who worked for the Clinton Administration health care reform effort of 1993-1994--is that Hillary Rodham Clinton needs to be kept very far away from the White House for the rest of her life. Heading up health-care reform was the only major administrative job she has ever tried to do. And she was a complete flop at it. She had neither the grasp of policy substance, the managerial skills, nor the political smarts to do the job she was then given. And she wasn't smart enough to realize that she was in over her head and had to get out of the Health Care Czar role quickly.

So when senior members of the economic team said that key senators like Daniel Patrick Moynihan would have this-and-that objection, she told them they were disloyal. When junior members of the economic team told her that the Congressional Budget Office would say such-and-such, she told them (wrongly) that her conversations with CBO head Robert Reischauer had already fixed that. When long-time senior hill staffers told her that she was making a dreadful mistake by fighting with rather than reaching out to John Breaux and Jim Cooper, she told them that they did not understand the wave of popular political support the bill would generate. And when substantive objections were raised to the plan by analysts calculating the moral hazard and adverse selection pressures it would put on the nation's health-care system...

Hillary Rodham Clinton has already flopped as a senior administrative official in the executive branch--the equivalent of an Undersecretary. Perhaps she will make a good senator. But there is no reason to think that she would be anything but an abysmal president."

-Naturally, the same man, if I may call him that, endorsed Hillary in 2015, as he's about as much of a Democratic hack as you can get.

John said...

That's interesting but it doesn't jibe at all with the more common criticism that Hillary tries to please everyone and incorporate something from everyone she talks to and often can't make a decision over whom she has to break with.

We could produce much worse criticisms of everyone who has ever had any sort of senior government post; trashing your colleagues/rivals to the press is of course Washington's favorite sport. My general take is that Hillary has a pretty good record among Washington Democrats, as these things go.

And anyway the only other choice is Donald Trump's track record of abusing his workers and investors, cheating students, praising dictators, threatening reporters, and serial bankruptcy.

pithom said...

"That's interesting but it doesn't jibe at all with the more common criticism that Hillary tries to please everyone and incorporate something from everyone she talks to and often can't make a decision over whom she has to break with."

-Both can be true. :-)

"My general take is that Hillary has a pretty good record among Washington Democrats, as these things go."

-In 2016, yes.

What's wrong with praising dictators, given that America's government has the habit of replacing them with much worse? Hillary hasn't had a press conference in ages; it is Trump who is the press hound, and rightly keeps a leash on the absolute scum in the press he has to deal with. "Serial bankruptcy" is a dubious charge, given Trump's numerous successful enterprises, and Trump has won most of his lawsuits. Yes, Trump's a con man. Yes, Clinton's worse, and promises worse things. Trump unites all Americans under the national banner. Hillary divides Americans on the basis of race by promoting Black and Mestizo supremacy.

If Hillary can't competently run an email server, she can't competently handle nuclear weapons. Period.