Sunday, January 17, 2016

Ezra Klein on the Hidden Hillary Clinton

Ezra Klein describes the hidden Hillary Clinton that her campaign does not trust voters to see on

Clinton's reputation, among people who've worked with her, is impressive. Even Republican staffers will admit they've never briefed anyone better informed. Stories abound of unsuspecting deputy assistant secretaries charged with running a meeting on some obscure sub-issue only to be peppered by detailed, knowledgeable questions from Clinton herself. During her time in the Senate she won over legions of ex-haters with her work ethic, her seriousness, and her pragmatism. Even people who didn't agree with her appreciated her no-bullshit attitude toward getting things done.

Another way of saying that, though, is Clinton wins over even people who disagree with her by treating their ideas with respect — she takes the time to understand their arguments, she's honest about her counterarguments, and she is relentless in her efforts to find shared ground on which to make progress.

The problem is Clinton doesn't campaign the way she governs. She often seems scared to tell voters what she really thinks for fear they'll disagree. Her knowledge of the painful trade-offs of governing can curdle into a paralyzing recognition of all the ways she could be attacked for taking a clear position.

And that's a shame. Clinton's best political quality is that she truly understands both the issues and the political institutions that mediate them. Her true, unfiltered opinions on these topics are earned by long experience and almost inhuman amounts of hard work.

In the debates, she's frequently dominated the stage simply by knowing more than anyone else on it — which is one reason it was so counterproductive for the Clinton campaign to limit the number of Democratic debates to six and ensure they would only be showed at ridiculously inconvenient times. But that, too, stemmed from their mistrust of a press and an electorate that they worry won't respond to Clinton's best qualities.

The argument for Clinton is that she's the Democrat most likely to make progress on progressive priorities because she's the Democrat who best understands both the issues and how unbelievably difficult it actually is to get anything done in a divided political system. Sanders can talk all he wants about political revolutions, but no one seriously doubts that the next Democratic president will face a Republican House, a 5-4 Republican majority on the Supreme Court, and a country that mistrusts government action.

In that world — the world we actually live in — there's a strong case to be made for a pragmatic approach that respects the sensitivities of the electorate and the power of the status quo. Liberals might disagree with Clinton's true position on single-payer, but I think they would respect it. Instead, in her effort to avoid that disagreement, she's blundered into a position that no one agrees with and no one respects. Worse, it's a position that makes people think Clinton doesn't respect them.

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