Wednesday, December 05, 2007

An Open Letter to Sen. Hillary Clinton

Sen. Clinton,

First, please allow me to tell you how uplifting it is to see a woman mounting a serious campaign for the presidency less than a century after the ratification of the 19th Amendment. While the playing field is by no means level - especially in light of recent studies of attitudes concerning women in leadership - you are showing us all that women can accumulate the political, social, and economic power to seriously challenge the male-dominated nature of the political arena.

I think that you have been unfairly attacked in the past, made a target by an often misogynistic right wing for your refusal to act within the constraints generally placed on women in our country. Too often you have been derisively dismissed as "Billary," a product of your husband's undeniable political skills, as though you were not as much involved in shaping him as he has been in shaping you. The double-standards of our culture weigh heavily on you, as when you exhibit traits, such as cunning and ambition, that are often considered virtuous in men, you are condemned as a "bitch" by the gender police. That b-word, incidentally, should when applied to women jar our ears as much as a certain n-word does when applied to blacks. Both are verbal slaps that socially communicate not only hatred and derision, but, most importantly Get back in your place!

All of that said, I must confess that I have some serious concerns about you and your campaign for president.

First, while we both agree on the necessity of universal health care, I fear your plan to achieve it comes complete with corporate sponsorship. I know that you were burned the last time you expressed any sort of prophetic leadership on health care before, but that doesn't excuse your coming up with a plan that does more to line the pockets of an already-too-well-fed industry. I've never understood our irrational fear of socialized medicine.

While I think a great many goods emerge from a free (or, at least, relatively free) economic marketplace, that doesn't mean that all goods should be made subject to our insatiable desire for greater and greater profits. Further, I don't think that most Americans really believe this either. Despite the neo-conservative drive to privatize everything, we are still, by and large, willing to grant that our security should be provided by the public sector. We are still, by and large, willing to grant that our children should be educated in the public sector (though I'll grant that is contentious). And we are overwhelmingly inclined to let the public sector keep on handling our Social Security.

These are goods that most Americans agree have nothing to do with dispersing profits to shareholders. And, when it is placed this bluntly, I firmly believe that most Americans would also be willing to grant that their health would be best served by those whose only goal is to care for it, rather than by corporations that are first and foremost interested in profits. And, despite vast lobbying campaigns to the contrary, this is precisely what health insurance corporations are principally concerned with.

I don't need to cite statistics to you; you've been at this a lot longer than I have. [For such, readers of my blog should see this post.] You and I both know that universal single-payer health care would be considerably more efficient than the plan you're suggesting, in which private insurance is secured for each and every American (the health insurance industries most fantastic wet dream). You've seen the same numbers that I have, showing that while 4% of Medicare's costs are administrative, less than 2% of Canada's single-payer system are administrative, a whopping 30% of the average HMO's costs are administrative in nature. You just - like so many of your political peers - lack faith in the American people to come on board.

I am similarly concerned about your shifting position on Iraq. I won't mention your husband's ridiculous claim that he always opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq. While opposing requires of one a great deal more than just private disagreement, you can't be blamed for your husband any more than my wife can be blamed for me. I certainly wouldn't want her held accountable for every ridiculous thing I've said. No, even though I suspect he said that to lend you some credibility in the anti-war crowd, I'll let him stand alone on that one.

What concerns me isn't that your position on Iraq seems to have shifted. That, to me, is the sign of a health, evolving person, who adapts their stances when confronted with new data that makes the previous stance no longer tenable. Would that our current president demonstrate that trait from time to time. No, my concern is more in your unwillingness to admit that your authorization of this quagmire was a mistake.

I know that your first few years in the Senate were dark and difficult years. We were living under a cloud of fear. While the threat of terrorism did not begin with 9-11, the public's awareness of that threat by and large did. And that public awareness, coupled with the drums of war, cultivated a climate of fear, a climate in which it was difficult to give anything less than full-throated support of any military plan. We had been attacked, and public sentiment demanded that someone must pay. And, with the Bush administration's conflation of Iraq and the "War on Terror," it is easy to see how you could have justified voting with the overwhelming majority.

But, Senator, you were wrong. Your current stance says as much. But your mouth won't admit it, and that concerns me. I know that women are held to a different standard, especially on national defense. I know that your political enemies would have painted you with the broad brush of "weakness" if you hadn't voted for the war, and with that same brush if you now admitted the obvious, that your vote was an understandable mistake, and that you regret it. But your inability or unwillingness to admit this obvious mistake, even as you now attempt to court the anti-war vote, concerns me. Perhaps it reminds me too much of the current president, who as best as I can tell has never recognized a mistake.

Alas, in a culture in which the cosmetic trumps the substantive every time, the real reason why I'm writing you today has nothing to do with health care policy or war. It is regrettably cosmetic, more of a "process" concern than a "policy" one. As fired up as I am over health care and the war, I wouldn't have taken the time this morning to write you (even if you'll never see this) if I hadn't seen this, an apparently trivial thing which, in our culture of trivializing the monumental (and especially vice versa) somehow stands for me as a symbolic act, the significance of which I reserve the right to unpack later.

I saw that you attacked Sen. Barack Obama for claiming to have not planned to run for president. I'll admit that Obama's claim, while trivial, seems disingenuous. In our culture everyone is planning to run for president, aren't they? Some of the evidence you present is even a little bit compelling, though it is offered in support of the trivial (What, after all, is at stake in Sen. Obama's claim, or in your rebuttal to it?). But what has me concerned is the last piece of evidence you offer: that in Kindergarten he wrote an essay titled "I Want to Become President."

Please pardon me, as I'm new at this whole political thing, but what the hell does that have to do with anything?!? I think I wrote that same essay, though I can now honestly say that I have no intention of ever running for city council, much less president. The spotlight shines too brightly on you politicians. I'm sure under such a bright light I'd make more than a few public blunders. But, dragging up what someone's Kindergarten teacher remembers about their political ambition?!? This is what passes for a presidential campaign?!?

No wonder as a country we are getting turned off by politics. I hate to make you a post child for everything that's wrong with the political process right now, as there are many equally compelling candidates for that. But I'm concerned about you. Try to get some sleep. Quit sweating the small stuff, and all that. One day you may have a country to run. And, if you think this is stressful...


Anonymous said...

I'm no great fan of HRC, but I'm not sure that your judgment of her health care plan is entirely fair. You seem to imply that her health care proposal, with the role it gives to private insurers, is somehow uniquely flawed vis-à-vis some other candidate out there whose stand for "socialized medicine" would be more "prophetic." The reality, though, is that there is, for better or for worse, little political will in the US for state-administered universal health care on the model of, say, Great Britain. Plus, the private insurers hold a great deal of leverage over the political process. Given these realities, HRC's plan at least represents an incremental reform, doesn't it? It might not be very prophetic, but it's about as prophetic as any candidate can offer and still raise funds for a truly viable national presidential campaign.

Don't get me wrong. I think that much of the fear of "socialized medicine" in the US is irrational, a boogeyman cooked up by the insurance and financial industries and their ideological allies. (I'm not sure that "neo-conservative" is the best label for them, though, since neoconservatism seems to be more a thesis about foreign relations than about domestic policy.) The boogeyman has been cooked up, though, and there's little prospect of uncooking him by 2009.

You do point towards (part of) my problem with HRC: She suffers from too much political post-traumatic stress disorder. She's too busy trying to prove that she's not the same person she was in 1993 to have stood for much of anything since (except, that is, whatever would garner compliments from the likes of Trent Lott and Newt Gingrich). I suspect that I will settle on Obama if for no other reason than that. A lukewarm endorsement, I guess, but I'm convinced that the next presidential term won't be as much of a change from the Bush years as everyone thinks (and hopes) it will be.

Sandalstraps said...

I don't mean to imply that her health care plan is uniquely flawed. It is in fact the lack of political will for universal single-payer health care that I'm lamenting, though I do call her to task for her own participation in that.

I think as a country we would be better served by politicians willing to lead, willing to persuade us to adopt an unpopular position. Sen. Clinton is unwilling to do this for the same reason as most politicians: it is, to say the least risky. Possibly career suicide.

But I think that Al Gore had taught us that those willing to lose their political life just might save it, if they have the courage to use their political death as a kind of personal resurrection. His (dare I say) prophetic leadership on global climate change and his impassioned (where did that come from?) critique of the Bush administration, for instance, has him in a position that he was never in even at the height of his political life.

Anyway, though my post is critical of Hillary Clinton, it is more a lament on the political process itself than an attack specific to her. I decided to write it after I saw her dragging up Barack Obama's Kindergarten paper. That made me scream Enough is enough! This post could just as easily been a letter to any other major presidential candidate.

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

This is an excellent open letter. I would have given more space to her love of "free trade" fundamentalism in a global economy and her hawkish foreign policy.

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Here's the real truth about Hillary and Iraq: It's far worse than just refusing to apologize for voting to authorize it. She's not much different from Bush in foreign policy: