Wednesday, November 3, 2010

An Open Letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Hon. Hillary Rodham Clinton
15 Old House Lane
Chappaqua, NY 10514

Dear Secretary Clinton:

Please resign your position as Secretary of State.

I ask you to do this not because of any dissatisfaction with your work in that position. Indeed, among the members of the current Cabinet, you stand almost alone as one who has performed her duties in an efficient and effective manner, carrying out the progressive ideals the Democratic Party promised the American people in 2008. If Secretary of the Treasury Geithner and Attorney General Holder had performed their duties as competently as you have yours, tanning-bed freak John Boehner would not be the presumptive Speaker-elect of the House of Representatives today.

No, I am asking you to resign because a decent respect for the duties of a Cabinet member to the office of the President, demand that you no longer serve in the Cabinet of a President whom you intend to oppose for the 2012 Democratic Presidential nomination.

And I beg you to seek that nomination.

Fortune provided the Democratic Party in 2008 with the sort of opportunity that comes along once in a generation. Eight years of know-nothing ideological Republican mismanagement had tarnished that party’s image to the point that voters handed Democrats not only the Presidency, but the largest Congressional majorities we had enjoyed in 40 years. We had the opportunity to effect the sort of generational realignment that Roosevelt accomplished in 1932. Progressive reforms, accompanied by the modern version of Roosevelt’s explanatory Fireside Chats, would have effected a change for the better in America as profound, and as permanent, as the New Deal. Health care reform that provided a single payer or public option, meaningful financial regulatory reform, and a stimulus smart and bold enough to truly dent the Bush recession, would have left American a much better place. More to the point, properly and unapologetically sold to the American people, they would have left the 2008 Democratic mandate largely intact, and as long-enduring, as FDR’s majority, which lasted for decades. (By way of comparison, FDR gained 9 seats in the House, and 10 in the Senate, at his first midterms - despite undertaking a far, far more radical system of reforms than Obama timidly embraced. That is political acumen.)

Instead, we are faced this morning with the results of a pummeling. Why? DC pundits, wanting to sound sage and impartial (and wanting to be invited to the cocktail parties of a resurgent GOP) will tell us it is because Obama and the Congress tacked too far to the left in 2009 and 2010. That is, however, not the case.

The unvarnished and painful truth is that Barack Obama lacks the intellectual depth, the political savvy and skill, and the will to fight, to lead the fight against the Republican Party, and that is why I am asking you to challenge him for renomination.

I will use his incompetent management of health care reform to illustrate that point. As you doubtless hated to watch, his “campaign” for reform consisted of remaining aloof from the fight, and allowing Democrats in Congress - many of whom lost their seats yesterday - to carry the workload. Several competing plans bounced around the Hill for a year. When Obama finally weighed in, he unilaterally took single payer off the table, and meekly proposed a public option. This in itself showed that, while he may have “learned about diverse cultures” following his mother around Indonesia and the Pacific, he doesn’t understand the American legislative and political processes. As when buying a home, you don’t make your first offer what you really want to pay. You’ll only pay more, and get less, in the end.

Worse yet, rather than get behind one proposal early and use the “Bully Pulpit” to get its most appealing points across to the public, he vacillated between competing proposals, and allowed Republican obstructionists to define what “health care reform” meant in the public mind. As a result, when polled throughout 2010, most Americans said they were against “Obama’s proposal” or the “Democratic proposal,” and those beliefs were a principal cause of yesterday’s results. They were opposed to it because of what they had heard Republicans say about “death panels,” the loss of physician choice, and other horrors - none of which were, of course, in any Democratic proposal. But it’s only the Bully Pulpit, repeatedly used, that can rebut such lies. Your stance on health care during your 2008 campaign showed that you learned this lesson from your 1993-94 experience in the field.

That “Democrats went too far left” is further belied by polls conducted by Pew and other groups that described the Democratic proposal rather than labeling it. When respondents were asked about “a plan” that would, in essence, “require everyone to buy some kind of insurance, provide help to the poor to do so, require insurers to cover pre-existing conditions and prevent them from dropping those who get seriously ill,” - in other words, the final Democratic plan - the approval percentages were around 60%, with several percent disapproving because it didn’t go far enough. Yet Obama preferred getting some guys on the basketball court to show off his fadeaway shot to the cameras, to doing the heavy lifting of closing the information gap.

Obama and his inner political circle spent the first year and a half of his term believing the press reports of their own brilliance. This was an exercise in narcissistic folly. The tarnished Republican brand meant that any Democrat was going to win in 2008 (although Obama, trailing in September, came too close to losing). The structure of the primaries virtually guaranteed that whoever won the Iowa caucus would once again be the Democratic nominee. In the runup to that caucus, you were subjected to brutal and unrelenting media scrutiny, as you should have been. President Obama, pointedly, was not. You made some mistakes, from which your later campaigning showed you learned. Meanwhile, future President Obama’s aloof leadership style and shallow grasp of American democracy went unchallenged, and unrevealed. Unfortunately, the voters did a fine job of revealing them yesterday.

I will be the first to admit I am asking you to take a gamble. It is possible that the President has learned his lessons. Much too late, he adopted a more strident tone in his public rhetoric. But if he were as bright as his media reputation suggests, his obsession for bipartisan accommodation on major reforms would not have outlived Summer 2009. Yesterday would have been no more than a minor seasonal midterm adjustment. Perhaps you have a month or two to decide, but an effective challenge to a sitting President means that you need to be on the rubber chicken circuit soon. It is not as long a shot as you may think. Even before yesterday’s debacle, an Associated Press poll showed that 47% of Democratic voters think Obama should be challenged for the nomination.

Like so many Democrats, I so wanted this President to succeed. I have given him every chance I can. It is going to take someone of your stature and abilities to keep him from using the muscle of incumbency to secure renomination and further damage the Party and nation. I am willing to do my part, and I cannot be alone.

I will meet you in Des Moines.

Your friend and supporter,