Tag: Clinton

Why Do People Buy #Pizzagate?

Pizzagate, the conspiracy theory started by alt-right Twitter which alleged that John Podesta‘s emails exposed some members of the Democratic party as being part of a DC pizzeria-based child-sex ring, has made its way into Russian social networks. Now some people are convinced of the existence of pedophile lobby that ‘rules’ the US, and believe that both ‘lamestream’ media and elites are trying to hush it up. As one Russian LiveJournal user puts it: its’ ‘American internet community versus pedophiles in politics’. Why do people believe that debunked conspiracy theory? Two reasons: the blood libel trope and a pattern of misinformation.

As children are viewed as a universal symbol of the future, the attack on them can be viewed as an existential threat to a nation. This is the way homophobic fears are stocked as well: in the US and most recently in Russia homosexuality was constantly discursively linked to pedophilia. This is the mechanism borne out of ‘blood libel’ cases, which were pretexts for organizing Jewish pogroms: the ‘killing of babies’ and the ‘use of their blood’ during Passover is a perfect way to incite hatred. Hillary ‘nasty woman’ Clinton is also present in the blood libel narrative.

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The First Democratic Debate: Clinton and Foreign Policy

My overall view of the first democratic debate of the 2016 nomination contest probably tracks with the consensus. I should disclose that I’ve contributed to the Sanders campaign and support it, even though my views on some issues are more conservative.

In brief, Clinton showed herself a capable and exceedingly well-prepared politician. I jokingly commented on social media that this encapsulates her biggest advantage and her biggest liability. But, to be honest, it really is much more of an asset than anything else. She’s extremely smart, experienced,  and skilled at politics. She is also surrounded by people with strong messaging skills—at least when it comes to focused activities, such as debates.

Sanders came across as he does in all other campaign settings: passionate, focused on the issues, and unwilling to go after his rivals in a deeply personal way. It reinforced suspicions among some that the rationale for his candidacy resides in a desire to push the eventual nominee—that is, Clinton—to the left on economic issues. That may have been his original intent, but he remains the only serious alternative to Clinton; my guess is that he takes the support that he’s generated very seriously.

Sanders’ performance, and the reaction it generated, likely come from his “unorthodox” debate preparation:

Sanders’ team sees the first Democratic debate as a chance to introduce a fairly niche candidate to a national audience. So his team intends to let him do what he’s been doing. Far from preparing lines to deploy against Clinton — let alone O’Malley, Lincoln Chafee or Jim Webb — Sanders plans to dish policy details, learned through a handful of briefings with experts brought in by his campaign.

At some point, the Sanders campaign is going to need to make a choice about whether to pivot to a more orthodox approach. Given that one of Sanders’ major asset is his genuine, rather than affected, authenticity, this presents something of a challenge.

I respect Webb a great deal, but I don’t think that tacking to the right on issues like Iran is either good politics or good policy. He’s out of step with the Democratic electorate, and he has no chance at winning the nomination. Chafee’s performance was poor, and does nothing to dispel the key question of his campaign: “why are you even running?”

O’Malley, on the other hand, was comparatively impressive. His attempts to outflank Clinton on the left—particularly on foreign policy—weren’t perfectly implemented, but they point in the direction of how to press these points. For example:

I believe that, as president, I would not be so quick to pull for a military tool. I believe that a no-fly zone in Syria, at this time, actually, Secretary, would be a mistake.

You have to enforce no-fly zones, and I believe, especially with the Russian air force in the air, it could lead to an escalation because of an accident that we would deeply regret.

I support President Obama. I think we have to play a long game, and I think, ultimately — you want to talk about blunders? I think [Putin’s] invasion of Syria will be seen as a blunder.

And this, unsurprisingly, is what I want to talk about. Two of Clinton’s answers on foreign policy troubled me. But for different reasons. Continue reading


Ducking the Issues: $97,000 isn’t as much as it used to be

Time for another installment of Ducking the Issues, where we here at the duck take a closer look at issues in the 2008 campaign.

David points out an interesting article, reporting a study by the Heritage Foundation that asserts that the Democrats are now the “party of the rich.” When combined with a discussion between Obama and Clinton in a debate in Las Vegas the other week, you end up with an interesting and revealing set of income and class dynamics at play in the presidential election.

As the Post reported:

The two front-running Democratic presidential contenders, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), sparred over tax policy and quickly got entangled in the question of whether someone making more than $97,000 a year is middle class or upper class. That’s upper class, Obama said. Not necessarily, suggested Clinton.

This raises a very interesting question that we often talk around but rarely discuss in the open:

Who, exactly, can afford to pay more? Who is rich?

Not me. Probably not you. Indeed, most Americans tend to identify themselves as ‘middle class’ whether they have a $50,000 or $150,000 or even $300,000+ annual salary.

The idea of who is Middle Class and who represents the Middle Class has important political implications. The Heritage study, as revealed in an FT op-ed claims that:

For the demographic reality is that, in America, the Democratic party is the new “party of the rich”. More and more Democrats represent areas with a high concentration of wealthy households. Using Internal Revenue Service data, the Heritage Foundation identified two categories of taxpayers – single filers with incomes of more than $100,000 and married filers with incomes of more than $200,000 – and combined them to discern where the wealthiest Americans live and who represents them.

Democrats now control the majority of the nation’s wealthiest congressional jurisdictions. More than half of the wealthiest households are concentrated in the 18 states where Democrats control both Senate seats.

This new political demography holds true in the House of Representatives, where the leadership of each party hails from different worlds. Nancy Pelosi, Democratic leader of the House of Representatives, represents one of America’s wealthiest regions. Her San Francisco district has more than 43,700 high-end households. Fewer than 7,000 households in the western Ohio district of House Republican leader John Boehner enjoy this level of affluence.

Now, Heritage is using this study to argue (in this op-ed) for further tax cuts, asserting that Democrats will wake-up and realize the intrinsic interests of who they really represent, thereby creating a Congressional ant-tax majority. The empirics I buy, but as we’ve recently discussed here at the Duck, its not so much the empirics as the social narrative and meaning attached to those empirics that is more politically significant and salient.

In the campaign, the politics of who is Middle Class does have important policy implications. In this case, how would the two candidates ‘solve’ the social security crisis? Who pays? Each agree with the broad Democratic narrative that those with more should pay more, while those with less shouldn’t be asked to support others until they can first support themselves. The difficulty comes in drawing the hard line between poor, middle class, and rich.

The exchange between Obama and Clinton began when the senator from Illinois said he was open to adjusting the cap on wages subject to the payroll tax. That’s the tax that the government prefers to call a “contribution” to Social Security. Under current law, a worker pays a flat percentage (and employers match it) of wages up to $97,500. Wages beyond that aren’t taxed.

Clinton responded by saying that lifting the payroll tax would mean a trillion-dollar tax increase, adding that she did not want to “fix the problems of Social Security on the backs of middle-class families and seniors.”

Obama replied: “Understand that only 6 percent of Americans make more than $97,000 a year. So 6 percent is not the middle class. It is the upper class.”

Clinton: “It is absolutely the case that there are people who would find that burdensome. I represent firefighters. I represent school supervisors.”

Online calculators allow anyone to make an instant city-to-city cost-of-living comparison. One such Web site calculates that someone making $97,500 in Washington could live just as comfortably on $67,846 in Ames, Iowa.

Both Obama and Clinton make important points. To most people—the 94% of Americans who make less–$97K / year is a lot of money. These are the people that the Democrats are supposed to represent, and Obama, trying to become the standard-bearer of the party, is trying to speak to these folks. Clinton, on the other hand, is speaking to the people she, and the party (according to the Heritage study) actually do represent. New York—especially The City—is home to many of those wealthy Americans and 97K isn’t all that much money in a very expensive urban metroplex like New York (or SF or LA or Boston or here in DC). For instance, did you know that:

The three richest large counties in the country are in the Washington suburbs: Fairfax, Loudoun and Howard. A recent survey showed that 43 percent of people in the core counties of metropolitan Washington live in households with incomes of at least $100,000 a year.

The people Clinton needs to win the race—those Northern VA suburban voters in Fairfax and Loudoun counties who now vote Democrat and have turned Virginia from a Red to a Purplish-Blue up for grabs—these folks are the ones who make the 97K and feel as if they are stretched thin.

But :

Median household income in America in 2006 was $48,201, which, adjusted for inflation, is lower than it was in 1999.

These are the people Obama needs to win over to his side to win the primary, the main-line democratic primary voters in places like Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina.

I think there’s maybe a follow up post to this on why the Republicans have become more anti-immigrant, diverting the economic insecurity of their lower-income constituents away from economics and onto social-cultural issues (with a security overlay), allowing them to be anti-tax, for example, by arguing that all those making over $97,000 shouldn’t pay any more into the social security fund. But this post is getting a bit long, so we’ll save that for later (though feel free to comment about it).


Ducking the Issues: Campaign 2008

Its always exciting when foreign policy comes front and center in an election. Usually its “The Economy” or some other domestic issue that separates the candidates, so its particularly interesting that the Democrats have turned to foreign policy as the first major issue on which the major candidates have (or have at least manufactured) a stark difference. Today’s installment of Ducking the Issues examines the Clinton – Obama dust-up over meeting with foreign leaders.

Lets go to the Transcript:

QUESTION: In 1982, Anwar Sadat traveled to Israel, a trip that resulted in a peace agreement that has lasted ever since. In the spirit of that type of bold leadership, would you be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?

COOPER: I should also point out that Stephen is in the crowd tonight. Senator Obama?

OBAMA: I would. And the reason is this, that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them — which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration — is ridiculous. (APPLAUSE) Now, Ronald Reagan and Democratic presidents like JFK constantly spoke to Soviet Union at a time when Ronald Reagan called them an evil empire. And the reason is because they understood that we may not trust them and they may pose an extraordinary danger to this country, but we had the obligation to find areas where we can potentially move forward. And I think that it is a disgrace that we have not spoken to them. We’ve been talking about Iraq — one of the first things that I would do in terms of moving a diplomatic effort in the region forward is to send a signal that we need to talk to Iran and Syria because they’re going to have responsibilities if Iraq collapses. They have been acting irresponsibly up until this point. But if we tell them that we are not going to be a permanent occupying force, we are in a position to say that they are going to have to carry some weight, in terms of stabilizing the region.

Obama did get this answer right, despite the significant criticism he has endured for it, and its important to note why. First, look at the question–it asks if the candidate would be willing “to meet, without precondition” a number of leaders, and frames it in the spirit of bold diplomacy and leadership from past global peacemakers. Obama seeks to pick up that mantle of global leadership, and does so with his answer. He draws a sharp and important contrast with the current administration, which has chosen confrontation over negotiation in dealing with hostile regimes, and says that he’s willing to chart a diplomatic course.

The key line, of course, is “without precondition.” Now, every world leader, including Bush, is willing to meet with any other world leader, including the aforemention rogues gallery, if the right conditions are met. Were Castro willing to announce his abdication, or were Kim Jong Il willing to de-militarize, they could both win a White House invitation tomorrow. In fact, a hallmark of the Bush administration has been to lay out such stringent conditions on any diplomacy that it renders it all but impossible, thereby creating a rhetorical justification for unilateral action. Obama wants to draw a sharp contrast, and does so.

COOPER: Senator Clinton?

CLINTON: Well, I will not promise to meet with the leaders of these countries during my first year. I will promise a very vigorous diplomatic effort because I think it is not that you promise a meeting at that high a level before you know what the intentions are. I don’t want to be used for propaganda purposes. I don’t want to make a situation even worse. But I certainly agree that we need to get back to diplomacy, which has been turned into a bad word by this administration. And I will purse very vigorous diplomacy. And I will use a lot of high-level presidential envoys to test the waters, to feel the way. But certainly, we’re not going to just have our president meet with Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez and, you know, the president of North Korea, Iran and Syria until we know better what the way forward would be. (APPLAUSE)

COOPER: Senator Edwards, would you meet with Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, Kim Jong Il?

EDWARDS: Yes, and I think actually Senator Clinton’s right though. Before that meeting takes place, we need to do the work, the diplomacy, to make sure that that meeting’s not going to be used for propaganda purposes, will not be used to just beat down the United States of America in the world community. But I think this is just a piece of a bigger question, which is, what do we actually do? What should the president of the United States do to restore America’s moral leadership in the world. It’s not enough just to lead with bad leaders. In addition to that, the world needs to hear from the president of the United States about who we are, what it is we represent.

Clinton (with Edwards tagging along for the ride) does two important things with her answer. First, she draws a contrast between her and Obama. This is the well-reported story, she trumpets her White House (albeit East Wing) experience vs. his youthful inexperience, which when cast as naive, becomes dangerous rather than refreshing and undermines Obama’s campaign mantra of sound judgment. Second, though, notice how she shifts the question to make such an answer possible. Clinton says that she will not promise to meet anyone without some sort of positive deal (negotiated at lower levels) is in place. On the one hand, such is the case–this is how Presidents have historically used the power of the office and the power of a Presidential visit, as a reward for making a deal with the US. On the other hand….

Obama never “promised” to meet with anyone. He said he’d be willing to meet with them, and that he’d be willing to set up such a meeting without a laundry list of preconditions. This does not necessarily imply that he would actually meet with them, let alone become some propaganda on Hugo Chavez’s behalf (do you really think Chavez or Ahmadinejad wants to meet with the American President? It could hurt them as much as us.) Obviously, the President of the United States doesn’t just drop by Fidel’s place for coffee. Obviously, there’s the prep work that Clinton spoke of. But, notice how Edwards and Clinton then take the opportunity to back Obama’s main point–that the current Administration has ignored diplomacy, and in doing so has weakened American’s global leadership.

Moreover, and here’s where I think Obama is in fact justified in his position, Clinton says that she wants to know the “way forward” before she meets with these types of world leaders. Typically, that’s how most high-level meetings happen. But, it also displays a certain degree of foreign policy establishment conservatism (with a small c, as in slow to change). As the questioner points out, bold diplomacy such as Sadat going to Jerusalem or Reagan meeting Gorbachev requires meetings between heads of state without preconditions. It is sometimes the fact that diplomats, operating in a standard policy framework, can’t see a way forward, and need a jump start from an involved President personally willing to invest credibility to move an international reconciliation forward. Could there have been a Camp David Accords without Sadat taking charge and making such a bold statement? If he had left it to his foreign ministry to work out all the details before he took his trip, would the trip ever have been made?

The point is this. Clinton’s answer is a good one, and plays to her real strength as a candidate: 8 years of presidential-level experience in the White House, and a sense that she is a real leader fully capable of making the right decisions for the nation on tough choices. It also knocks her opponent down a peg, attacking what he is trying to play up as his key strength–judgment over experience–by casting him as naive.

However, Obama’s answer does not deserve all the bad press its getting. Its a good response, a fresh response, and reflects an inherent dissatisfaction with the Bush Administration’s approach to foreign policy–especially Iraq. It is in fact rather responsible to offer to talk to Iran, despite our obvious historical and policy differences, in order to make sense of the future of Iraq. Indeed, the very problem with Iraq is that no one has a clue “what the way forward would be” and Obama’s alternative is to suggest that perhaps talking with the Iranians might help improve the situation. Its a reasonable alternative and legitimate policy criticism of the Bush Administration.


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