Today's Topic



A Fleeting
Political Movement,
Part III

Part I
Part II

Natalia J. Garland

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Friends? Obama and Clinton? Who could guess it judging by their criticisms and ridicule of each other during the 2008 presidential primaries? Asking Senator Hillary Clinton to serve as Secretary of State was the most astounding cabinet appointment made by President-elect Obama. Both Democrats and Republicans struggled to make sense out of Obama's selection of Clinton. She brings a lifetime of insider Washington familiarity: everything that the hope and change political movement railed against. Some Obama supporters appear to be using the defense mechanism of rationalization to shape this inconsistency into a plausible explanation or even a virtue, while some Republicans are relieved that Obama has not (yet) brought in radical Chicago insiders. (Ironically, Chicago is Clinton's birthplace.)

A few people, however, are courageously questioning Obama's decisions. A reporter for the New York Times, Peter Baker, recently asked Obama about the Clinton appointment. In response to Baker's question and to Obama's answer, a T.V. news anchor, Campbell Brown, expressed her concerns over their interaction. This process of question, answer, and commentary is important for two reasons. (1) It demonstrates Obama's discomfort with and unwillingness to account for the inconsistencies between his campaign message and his approach to government. (2) It dangerously borders on censorship of those who question Obama's authority.



PETER BAKER, NEW YORK TIMES REPORTER: You talked about the importance just now of having different voices and robust debate within your administration, but again going back to the campaign, you were asked and talked about the qualifications of the--now your nominee for secretary of state and you belittled her travels around the world, equated it to having teas with foreign leaders. And your new White House counsel said her resume was grossly exaggerated when it came to foreign policy. I'm wondering if you can talk about the evolution of your views of her credentials since the spring?

OBAMA: I think this is fun for the press to try to stir up whatever quotes were generated during the course of the campaign.

BAKER: They're your quotes, sir.

OBAMA: No, I understand. And you're having fun. And there's nothing wrong with that. I'm not faulting it.

But, look, I think if you look at the statements that Hillary Clinton and I have made outside of the heat of a campaign, we share a view that America has to be safe and secure, and in order to do that we have to combine military power with strengthened diplomacy.
[End of quote.]



COMMENTARY [EXCERPT] BY CNN ANCHOR, CAMPBELL BROWN: There we go again. The pesky media, all we want to do is have a little fun, stir things up for our own amusement.

Really, how silly of that reporter to dare ask you, Mr. President-elect, how it is that you completely mocked Hillary Clinton's foreign policy experience just a few months ago and yet now you think there is no one more qualified than she to lead your foreign policy team?

It's a clever device, treating a question so dismissively in an attempt to delegitimize it. As annoying as you may have found it, it is a fair question.

It was only in March of this year that Greg Craig put out a memo outlining point by point her foreign policy claims, calling them all exaggerated, just words, not supported by her record.

Now, look, maybe you regret what you said about Hillary Clinton. Maybe it was as you suggested Monday, all just said in the heat of the campaign.

If that is the case and you are both now rising above it, you deserve to be commended for that and could have been explicit in saying all of that Monday.

You could have explained the evolution of your thinking, instead of belittling a question you didn't like.

Mr. President-elect, reporters we hope are going to ask you a lot of annoying questions over the next four years. Get used to it.

That is the job of the media, to hold you accountable, but this isn't about the media, it's about the American people, many of whom voted for you because of what you said during the campaign, and they have a right to know which of those things you meant and which you didn't.

Apparently, as you made clear Monday, you didn't mean what you said about Hillary Clinton. So what else didn't you mean?

The media is going to be asking, and you were wrong Monday. Annoying questions are about more than just the press having fun. Annoying questions are about the press doing its job, and the people's right to know.
[End of quote.]


Obama--having been elected by the majority of Americans--is entitled to govern, but he must communicate clearly with the American people and accept responsibility for how he evaluates people's qualifications and character. He must become transparent regarding his reasons for having changed his mind. At one time, Obama had said that Clinton was an example of "the same typical politics that we've seen in Washington." Then, when Obama appointed Clinton to Secretary of State, he introduced her as "my dear friend."

What happened? How can you be dear friends with someone who represents everything you are against? A dear friend is usually someone with whom you have common likes and dislikes, or with whom you have bonded due to shared life experiences. Even if a friend becomes a competitor, that person is not someone to be bashed. But, Obama and Clinton seemed to be more than competitors: Obama developed an entire political movement in rejection of Clinton and the ways of Washington. So, either they were friends all along, or they became friends after Clinton conceded the presidential nomination to Obama. Either way, it's confusing.

Clinton, however, seems capable of expressing and asserting herself, and we can hope that all of Obama's appointees will behave intelligently and ethically. The following is an excerpt from Clinton's acceptance of the Secretary of State appointment.



Mr. President-Elect, thank you for this honor. If confirmed, I will give this assignment, your administration and our country my all.

I also want to thank my fellow New Yorkers, who have for eight years given me the joy of a job I love, with the opportunity to work on issues I care about deeply, in a state that I cherish. And you've also helped prepare me well for this new role. After all, New Yorkers aren't afraid to speak their minds, and do so in every language.
[End of quote.]


Clinton appears to have a long history of expressing herself. Speaking her mind seems to be a part of her personality. When Hillary Diane Rodham graduated from Wellesley in 1969, she gave a commencement speech. The speaker before her was a Republican senator who criticized the student protests across the country. Whether or not it was appropriate, Clinton then improvised her speech in response to and in disagreement with the senator's remarks. What this incident illustrates, however, is Clinton's ability to assert herself and to defend what she believes is right.



Every protest, every dissent, whether it's an individual academic paper, or a Founder's parking lot demonstration, is unabashedly an attempt to forge an identity in this particular age. That attempt at forging for many of us over the past four years has meant coming to terms with our humanness. Within the context of a society that we perceive--now, we can talk about reality, and I would like to talk about reality sometimes, authentic reality, inauthentic reality, and what we have to accept of what we see--but our perception of it is that it hovers often between the possibility of disaster and the potentiality for imaginatively responding to men's needs. There's a very strange conservative strain that goes through a lot of the New Left, collegiate protests that I find very intriguing because it harkens back to a lot of the old virtues, to the fulfillment of original ideas. And it's also a very unique American experience. It's such a great adventure. If the experiment in human living doesn't work in this country, in this age, it's not going to work anywhere.

But we also know that to be educated, the goal of it must be human liberation, a liberation enabling each of us to fulfill our capacity so as to be free to create within and around ourselves. To be educated to freedom must be evidenced in action, and here again is where we ask ourselves, as we have asked our parents and our teachers, questions about integrity, trust, and respect. Those three words mean different things to all of us. Some of the things they can mean, for instance: integrity--the courage to be whole, to try to mold an entire person in this particular context, living in relation to one another in the full poetry of existence. If the only tool we have, ultimately, to use is our lives, so we use it in the way we can by choosing a way to live that will demonstrate the way we feel and the way we know.
[End of quote.]


Today's topic was not intended to make a pro-Clinton statement or an anti-Obama statement. The purpose of this three-part essay was to show that the hope and change political movement as developed by Obama has also been extinguished by Obama. Today's emphasis was on Obama's indirect censorship of a reporter who, essentially, questioned Obama on the process or evolution of Obama's altered views: specifically as related to Obama's selection of Clinton. Obama dismissed the reporter's question and thereby escaped accountability. The American people must not tolerate censorship of questions, ideas, or disagreement.

People who have some level of access and influence, such as Baker, Brown, and Clinton, are to be appreciated for publicly exercising their freedom of speech. Whether or not Clinton is a typical insider, whether or not she is loved by everyone, she is likely to continue her great adventure and unlikely to fade into the background behind any authoritarian figure. (Written 12/04/08: bibliography available.)

[NOTE: For other essays on the topic of censorship, see Audacity of Censorship, Part I (written 05/21/08), Audacity of Censorship, Part II (written 11/03/08).]

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2008 Natalia J. Garland