Here is post five in my candidate analysis series, which is now going to be Democrat-oriented until the New Mexico Democratic Caucus is over (post's 1-4 available in a .doc file; interested? comment with your email). I'm covering Hillary Clinton, who I have a prior bias against, and who is (without any research) my least favorite candidate under the banner of Democrat. My commentary will come from the issues page of her site.
Before anything, I'd like to discuss naming. Political names are tricky, and the temptation is to go the easiest route, and find the media-friendly term. This is troubling when a name can be hijacked, as (in my memory) most recently occurred in the 2006 race between Patrica Madrid and Heather Wilson. Wilson's campaign decided that Madrid should first be Patricia and then Patsy, and it was an awful bit of branding, but it was unavoidable. Hillary Clinton has found herself in a similar spot, with her first name becoming something of a profanity among the far right, and her last name already attached to both a presidential legacy and a slew of litanies and connotations. It is my understanding that the Clinton campaign has chosen to reclaim "Hillary", and the prominent signage seems to indicate that this is an effective branding technique. In this post I will refer to Hillary Clinton as Hillary, not out of malice or a societal naming construct, but because that is the identifier her campaign has chosen to use.
This is not to say I am not biased against Hillary Clinton; I have a prior bias, and would like to state it before delving. Hillary Clinton has been in office since 2001, and has the media coverage and clout that would have allowed her to be a vocal critic of any number of policies authored in the last year. She has the name recognition, party support, and loyal following to allow her to be openly critical with little fear of losing her seat. Far as I can tell, she has squandered all of this, and instead has played center-center, deviating left only rarely, and has squandered her position and influence so that she can be palatable to voters of all stripes in a presidential election. There is so much good she hasn't done that it is hard for me to not hold this against her merit as a presidential candidate.
Still, we need to know whether she is worthy of support now, and so I will endeavor to examine her stands on issues as the are now. So, with the benefit of the doubt
Hillary Clinton through the lens of Kelsey Atherton
Strengthening the Middle Class - The Clinton's have always struck me as business-minded, and Hillary's plans here fit that mold. She wants tax cuts for the middle class, stronger unions and domestic trade protection, and fiscally responsible government. This is characteristic of the center-center left, and it doesn't, in and of itself, contain a recipe for prosperity. That is provided by "Harnessing the power of innovation" through both new energy technology and expanded broadband networks, perhaps a second dot-com boom. It's sound, if such a new golden age of technology can be forged, but but it seems to me to be catering to a specific set of voters - not an insignificant set, certainly, and the middle class will die before its votes stop mattering the most, but her policies here ignore the rest of the US. Strengthening the middle class must come at the expense of everyone else, it seems, and that is rough, unless its coupled with enlarging the middle class.
There's more here, and the site has a clean presentation, with bullet-point links and simple stated goals. Her rhetoric bothers me, talking about what the Bush Administration has done for the past 6 1/2 years, with little mention of what her voting record says about how she resisted those policies, how she stood up for her constituencies and how she defended the American people from such ravaging. Also, her promise to "Restore the basic bargain. Hillary will restore the basic bargain that if Americans work hard and take responsibility, government will do its part to make sure they have the tools to get ahead." seems empty. It sure does sound good, but it is devoid of meaning, and has no inherent worth in and of itself. A "how" here would have given the statement value.
Providing Affordable and Accessible Healthcare - The page is simple and patronizing, glossing over everything unless you're persistent decide to look at the plan summary. It seem to me to be a poor move to separate goals and plan, but the page looks as though its stated goal is to reassure voters that Hillary know what she's doing, that it will all be okay, and that you can just trust her. That's scary. Equally scary is painfully simple phrases, such as "And like other things that you buy,...", "because their computer model says you're not worth it" and "Hillary would give tax credits". The last statement is particularly troubling, given its replacement of "The federal government under Hillary Clinton" or ""The Second Clinton Administration" with "Hillary". Presidents don't have that power, they aren't dictators, and while they can help insure that desired bills get passed, they can't hand out tax credits. The page is disappointing, especially given that national health care is one of Hillary's stated goals, one that may even have idealism behind it. She mentions the success of healthcare plans she introduced in Arkansas, and then leads to the link about her actual plan.
Her plan itself reads better than the stated goals of the plan. Patronizing lingers, when using the term "Menu" to describe the healthcare plan, but on the whole this seems interesting. It opens medicare to more of the uninsured, offers tax credits to small business, presents an array of options (with a bureaucracy already in place) for healthcare choice, and on the muddled whole it sounds decent enough. A little merging of government and business, or perhaps a contractor model, but it seems okay. The big problem, as with any healthcare plan, is funding, and she intends to undo some of the Bush tax cuts, but the money gained there is to be spent on tax credits for middle and lower class folk. The main affordability of the plan hinges on how much wasteful spending can be cut, and how much money modernizing healthcare will save.
It's a sort of universal healthcare, if you want the idea implemented but don't want to do away with insurance companies, private health care practices, and the whole complex arrangement that the free market has already worked out, with the consent of government. The innovation seems to be in the presentation of healthcare options, through a unified governmental list, and being handed a comprehensive menu, with a price scale, just doesn't feel like universal healthcare should.
Note: Lissa pointed this out, and it's a huge point that I overlooked: Hillary Clinton's health care plan puts every option through employers, helping employers provide healthcare for their employees, making having a job a prerequisite for health insurance, and ignoring the huge gap (and, say, moral incentive) of providing healthcare for those without jobs.
Ending the War in Iraq - She opens this section with an attack on Bush's failure to bring the troops home, and her calls for him to do just that. She concludes her intro with the claim that if Bush doesn't pull the troops out, she will. And she says "Hillary has been fighting every day in the Senate to force the president to change course", which leads me to question what starting point for that fight has been omitted. She moves from this, leaving little room to wonder what she hasn't done, and instead presents us with what she will do. her plan is a three-step process, calling for first the forming of a sound military plan to begin the withdrawal of US troops with 60 days of her inauguration. This is justified as US involvement in a civil war isn't helping anything. Her next step is to channel money into the bodies that are de facto governing Iraq, whether they be governmental or not, and support a UN appointee to broker the peace. This is channeling money to all sides in the civil war she is removing US troops from, and leaving the United Nations to take the fall. The third part of her strategy consists of convening a meeting of all neighboring nations, as well as other key countries (I'll read this as Russia, China, and the EU, probably) to help the civil war factions negotiate a truce, and to then channel money into reconstructing Iraq.
None of this policy feels sound, and it is all jeopardized by her last statement: "Hillary will not lose sight of our very real strategic interests in the region. She would devote the resources we need to fight terrorism and will order specialized units to engage in narrow and targeted operations against al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations in the region." Read "very real strategic resources in the region" as "staging ground for a confrontation with Iran", and that's scary. Treat the "resources we need to fight terrorism" as "forces engaged in a police action", and nothing is solved by withdrawal. Give special forces free reign, and you're setting the stage for a second Gulf of Tonkin. This is just bad.
I support getting the troops home, I support the withdrawal from Iraq and the required diplomacy among countries in the region. I'm all for rebuilding Iraq. I am very worried about pulling out troops and sending money in. It isn't humanitarian to say "let the civil war play itself out", but it sure makes more sense than "lets back all sides, hope they talk peace, and keep some military resources around, just in case". The UN official seems like an appointee for blame, and for all her plans similarity to Richardson's, she leaves out the big selling point. Richardson wants "the creation of a multilateral, UN-led Muslim peacekeeping force"; Hillary keeps some US military force in the region and creates a negotiating council. It isn't sound, and it plays all the wrong aspects of the debate - troops home without anything to fill the void, strategic military resources in the region without a clear goal, money without a planning focus, and an international forum without any power to execute its decisions. It's a compromise position, but a terribly failed one.
Promoting energy Independence and Fighting Global Warming - The center-left's big huge specialty is working with business towards social good, and while it isn't as immediately effective as the far left's seizure of businesses, and while it isn't as pro-free-market as perspectives on the right tend to be, it's a powerful tool, and it is perhaps the bluntest guiding of the free market for the common good that is allowable. I bring this up because four-fifths of Hillary Clinton's plan concerns deals between government and business, or a convergence of penalties and incentives, that will affect the costs of business so that green building, living, and working are all more feasible. It's a masterpiece of planning the possible, and so I have no doubt that most if not all of what she intends to implement here is doable. It places the goals for change far off, in 2030 and 2050 predominantly, and it has very interesting phrases, including the term "green collar workers" and a line about companies self-assessing "financial risks due to climate change". The plan is an okay one, but I wonder how much of it would have an impact, and I wonder if asking the American consumer to change (which she isn't doing) would be worth a mention in a plan that clearly intends to make the American manufacturer rework its business model.
Fulfilling Our Promise to Veterans - Our Promise to veterans is, apparently, a bevy of discounts (from housing to education), preferential job placement (both governmental and federal contractor), job training for a post-military career (including non-profits and construction) and aid with transitioning to civilian life (an expanded GI Bill), and some programs that address problems concerning problems that have hit veterans in the past (one-time missed rent forgiveness, subsidies, and eviction protection, all designed to combat veteran homelessness). There is also a good deal about veteran healthcare, which ties into her universal healthcare for the employed, and she mentions the figure of 1.8 million uninsured veterans, which is rather staggering. This is all very good, but most of it, especially the expanded number of people working for the VA to fast-track new veterans claims, seems to do little to address the concerns of veterans from many prior wars. It's a very bold step forward, quite comprehensive (if a bit costly), but it does little if anything to help veterans already down and out.
Supporting Parents and Caring for Children - Education is a big concern of mine, and youth rights are also hugely important to me. Hillary loses all credibility for caring for the well-being of youth with "Protecting children against violence and sexual content in the media and studying the impact of electronic media on children's cognitive, social, and physical development." It sounds good, and lots of people don't like the violence and sexuality in most forms of media, but it is the nanny state and it's a huge violation of both individual choice and parental responsibility. It's doable because children and teenagers have a subset of the rights of full citizens, and so they are easy to legislate against. But this is censorship, and censorship has little place in a free and open society. Certainly, kids shouldn't be coerced into watching or playing games or shows that make them uncomfortable, but they also shouldn't be denied the opportunity to find games enjoyable, or seek out developmentally appropriate media. This may mean mistakes, and some damage, but so long as games or mother media are fairly labeled, and an informed decision can be reached, then the government can step out of individual consumption habits, and let children be children, and deal with the exploration that is part of childhood. The government shouldn't decide what is appropriate for children - parents have that responsibility, and government intrusion is welcome only so long as it helps people make informed decisions; removing the decision making ability from consumers is wrong and harmful.
Moving on, she provides a bullet-point list of goals, and then links to more detailed and fleshed out plans. She believes in improving and not scrapping No Child Left Behind, and she makes a valid point worth repeating - "This law represented a promise -- more resources for schools in exchange for more accountability -- and that promise has not been kept." The law also called for unreasonable actions, and had such a flawed system of standards that it can be seen as a slow-moving effort to cripple public school, and direct students elsewhere, and I'm not one to believe the law on the whole is that malicious, but it has certainly not been to the benefit of anyone to have that law in place. The goals are nice, though, and worth keeping in mind. Her bullet points include lots of incentives for employed parents to be able to take time off for children, which fits nicely into her overall scheme of governmental help to the employed, and few if any handouts for those who aren't. Not the most endearing thing for housewives, but it's both pro-business and pro-family, which makes it novel, if not necessarily good. Providing training for new parents is interesting, and sounds like a really good idea - again, it can be an encroachment on individual rights if handled poorly, but if left as an optional affair, it is promising.
Her more elaborate plans are more interesting and more comprehensive, and some tackle issues not addressed in the simple bullet point list. Looking at the connection between disengagement in middle school dropout rates, and criminal recidivism (as well as absentee fathering) is a remarkable acknowledgment of social sciences, and is a good move towards looking at factors beyond the individual as influences on individual behavior. This plan is incredible, and it's so far the best piece of legislation I've seen her offer forth. The problem is that it is legislation, and is entirely the kind of program she could have initiated in her many years in the Senate. In fact, she could still do so; if this legislation isn't introduced by anyone in the first '09 congressional session, I'll be terribly disappointed.
Restoring America's Standing in the World - I'll open with a quote, because the quote is so good it just makes me feel a bit warm inside reading it. "And to keep our country safe, we need to start engaging our enemies again. During the Cold War, with missiles pointed at us, we never stopped talking to the Soviet Union. That didn't mean we agreed with them or approved of them. But it did mean we came to understand them -- and that was crucial to confronting the threats they posed."
She's the first candidate I've seen mention Israel, and she does so by condemning those organization opposed to Israel for their anti-antisemitism. Not a fault, really, but it certainly doesn't treat Hamas or Palestine as worth talking to. She also mentions Northern Ireland and Darfur, which are good things to be concerned about, but she has little substance, other than expressing support for Ireland through business connections and support for ending the violence in Darfur through petition's to the Bush administration. There is little here that describes what she will do, and not much talking about what she has already done. Since foreign policy is my biggest issue, I delved further. Her AIDS plan fits the rest of her platform, in that it has a heavy emphasis on the domestic with the rest of the world as a secondary concern. Domestically, "Hillary will end the Bush administration's abstinence-only prevention policy, and instead, fund evidence-based HIV/AIDS prevention programs including, but not limited to, abstinence education as part of a comprehensive prevention message." This is good policy, but it would be nice to see the phrase "condom distribution", as that is what is required to show a serious commitment to effective help, and not just moralizing and prescribing pills to the infected. It's an electable stance, but it seems awfully empty.
Her "Security and Opportunity" link leads to the full text of her article in Foreign Affairs. It's an impressive piece, but something I am presently unable to summarize. It is reassuring to know that she has more to say about foreign policy than she fits into five paragraphs, but it is equally disappointing to know that she doesn't feel some middle ground of information is worth offering; we are to either skim or delve, and the concise is almost meaningless while the thorough is targeted towards such a select group that it becomes inaccessible.
Hillary Clinton's foreign policy would be painfully weak if it were not so deliberately secondary to her domestic concerns; given that she believes the internal and the economic is more important than interacting with the rest of the world, it's not hard to see her just delegating away this responsibility to a more foreign-policy minded individual, such as, say, Bill Richardson. Foreign Policy isn't what Hillary is about, and it's almost hard for me to say that it isn't what she has to be about, but she doesn't.
A Champion for Women - Hillary's record is strong here, and with vital support for both Plan B and Roe v Wade, she only manages to top herself with "[requiring] health insurance companies to cover contraception, and provides a dedicated funding stream for age-appropriate, medically accurate, comprehensive sex education". It's all very, very good, and her opening paragraphs about fighting the wage disparity don't hurt. there are no flaws here that I can see, but that doesn't mean they don't exist - feel free to point them out, if you feel I've gravely overlooking anything.
Comprehensive Government Reform - This section opens with more voice, much more of a personal feel to it than any page has previously had. It's almost as though it is borrowing it's opening text from a speech, and a good one, too. She gives a quick summary of her fundamental view of government, which is that it exists as a partner in bettering the nation, and not as a deterrent or as the sole actor. She does lots more with bullet-point summaries of her positions, which are hard to dissect. This is okay, since one of the points is the US Public Service Academy, and institution she ants to create that would house my dream job. She also wants "to restore scientific integrity to government decision-making", which is something I find impossible to disagree with. She hits upon lots of other issues, and uses this as page as a platform to attack the Bush Administration's policies, which is not a disagreeable thing to do, but no one seems to be running as Bush's successor, so it is more choir-preaching than drawing sharp contrasts. The only really scary part of all this is cutting 500,000 government contractor jobs; it would perhaps be less scary if I lived in a city that had more than 450,000 people. At any rate its a huge amount of people to unemploy, and hopefully her economic reforms will provide these people with a safe landing.
Strengthening Our Democracy - Paper trails are good, election day as a national holiday is good. Prosecuting who distribute deliberately inaccurate information about voter eligibility is good. Same-day registration is iffy, and "eliminating long lines" sounds good, but seems like something a president can't affect. Moving past her election reform bullet points, Hillary talks about civil rights, mentions her congressional action (!!!) and the role she helped play in trying to prevent unfavorable judges being appointed. She also mentions a statue that was placed in the capitol as part of a bill she passed, which is good but also seems like petty tokenization and doesn't do it for me for what I want from a national leader.
Reforming Our Immigration System - This section is scarily empty, a wasteland of afterthought. Hillary mentions bills she's helped pass, and has a very convoluted bit about how families are important, how American jobs are important, and about how border security is important, with no attempt really to reconcile any of these claims, and no sidebar links to detailed plans. Since there is little thought put into this section there is little to analyze; her four points cover aid for legal immigrants, bills to help legal immigrants learn English, ways to help unify immigrant families, and most troubling, "a path to citizenship through military service or higher education for children who were brought to the U.S. by their parents" that seems to me like a denial of citizenship (where no obstacle had previously existed) in exchange for an indentured servitude, of sorts. This plan in non-threatening but also doesn't actually address any problems, and while her site says "When Hillary is president, comprehensive immigration reform will be a top priority", I can't imagine it being anything but a lie.
An Innovative Agenda - A better dissection of her plan, by an actual qualified professor, can be found here. Not being highly qualified, I'll only make say this - She talks about the internet on her website like she's explaining it to an octogenarian on the campaign trail. Needless to say, this doesn't help.
Hillary Clinton is, more than any other person running, the status quo candidate. She does not endorse everything that has come before, and is savvy enough to state her objections to the current administrations flaws, but she sees what has been done as flawed and not failed. The substance of a Clinton Administration would be outwardly similar to that of the Bush Administration - it's pro-business policy, with no serious changes in education and no real plan addressing immigration. Lots of what Hillary worked for that didn't get passed in her past seven years in office would be addressed by her presidency, but very little of it strikes me as remarkable, as a direct departure from the past seven years.
The above is an oversimplification, and it doesn't take into account such integral issues as, say, foreign policy. A Clinton administration would be much calmer, much less militant, and much less directed in the arena of international affairs, and that step is a radical departure from the Bush Doctrine. Diplomacy would be focused on trade and economic stability, and all foreign policy will ultimately reflect a desire for US economic prosperity. Her campaign isn't "the economy, stupid" in name, but that is what it argues in fact. her proposed plans offer a great deal towards everyone who works together for this nations prosperity. Universal Healthcare for the employed, veterans to productive members of society, immigrants to veterans and then to productive members of society, it all fits into a well-oiled economy orchestrated by the government. Some rights and some ideals will fall out in such a merger of capital and civic spirit, and with the government doing it's best to make sure that everyone is gainfully employed, it makes sense that the government will have a stake in parenting, and it's fortunate that she combines parental interference with being pro-choice; it is good to know that some rights are still off limits.
I don't want a candidate who sees the presidency as inwardly looking, and I don't want a president who feels that foreign policy isn't worth explaining to interested voters. I don't want an experienced candidate who is unwilling to admit mistakes, and I don't want someone who is so ingrained in the political process that it becomes hard to distinguish her resistance to the president from silent complicity. Hillary Clinton is not as bad as all that, but she comes close, and it is her saving grace that I am a minority among voters, and that my views are far enough removed to place me outside the crowd of people worth pandering to. Hillary Clinton isn't my candidate, and she knows it - she is the candidate for the Center-Center-Left, and that's a strong indication for success. I just wish that her policy struck me as more profound than the simple political spectrum classification.