Monday, December 17, 2007

Steve Clemons on HRC vs. Obama

I actually have some original posts I want to write, but I came across this post by Steven Clemons of The Washington Note that presents practical examples of things I will discuss later. I'm excerpting a few key paragraphs, but there is a lot more to the article, and I encourage you to read it all:
...there is a great deal I do admire in Hillary Clinton -- and one of the things that simply can't be disputed is her work ethic. I've met her a number of times, usually at receptions -- and each time I decided not to waste the moment with trivial banter but to throw an idea at her or mention a person or issue that would help me understand how real, how informed, or alternatively -- how contrived -- she was.

Every single time she jumped on the issue I brought up and expressed two or three dimensions to the issue that showed she was deeply steeped in this or that policy. In my New America Foundation role, I helped build and support programs as diverse as debates about genetic scientific advancements to family work issues, health care, and wireless spectrum -- not to mention my own core interests in foreign policy, national security/defense issues, and international economic policy. Hillary Clinton and I have had quick encounters that involved her sharing incredibly diverse and serious policy commentary.

The last time I had such a discussion with her was after she had won her last Senate race in New York, and she and Bill Clinton were a bit early to a UN Foundation reception honoring Muhammad Yunus. We had a really interesting discussion about what should be on a roster of 21st century threats and how our national security and foreign policy resources should be reorganized to deal with future challenges rather than keeping vested interests tied to old threats well funded. Her quick grasp of what I was trying to get at -- and a detailed response that was serious and level-headed -- really surprised me as I'm used to politicians who typically have to fake their way through detail.

I get the sense that Barack Obama is also extremely intelligent, though I've not had the same kind of encounters with him that I have had with Hillary Clinton and thus can't give personal commentary.

But I am convinced of something about Hillary Clinton's commitment to use every lever and every aspect of government machinery to push her legislative and policy work that I'm disappointed to say that I can't find as strongly in Barack Obama's profile. My concern has to do with the fact that as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations' Subcommittee on Europe, Obama has held zero hearings -- at least that is how the record appears to me.

Compare this to the House Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Europe, which is having constant hearings -- or to the Senate Subcommittee's work before Obama became Chair -- or to a comparative commitment of Hillary Clinton on a Subcommittee she chairs, and the zero hearing detail is disconcerting.

There are several things to tease out of this dense post. One is that to get things done, you have to show up and do the people's business. Another is that big ideas become policy reality because they are backed by serious detail work. And, finally, the government is a system to magnify the exercise of power, and is the true tool for getting policy cemented into place. All the high-flown speeches in the world don't amount to a pile of horseshit without being grounded in the mundane machinery of the state. It matters that a legislator or executive understands how to make a large agency, such as FEMA, an effective operation. It is literally the difference between life and death.

HRC knows how to make it work.


No comments: