Updated below. Wednesday, August 13, 2014.
Hillary Clinton knows that when she’s running for President she’s going to have to deal with accusations of “softness” on matters of national security from the Republicans and “doubts” from the National Political Press Corps that she’s tough enough to to defend the United States from the violent hordes, within and without, that want to destroy us because of our freedoms.
This is the given any Democrat has to deal with, even war hero ones running against draft dodgers. But a woman will have an even harder time of it. So it’s probably smart politics to try to get ahead of the game and start making the case for yourself as the kind of warmonger influential neocons, armchair generals in the media, and other “serious” DC insiders think the country needs or think we rubes out in the hinterlands want. Which is why I’m hoping this interview she gave to the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg is a cynically calculated bit of political theater and press manipulation.
“Yes, Jeffrey, in answer to your questions and your barely concealed hope, I do plan to kill a lot of people when I’m President. In point of fact, if I was President now I’d be killing them in Syria and Iraq by the hundreds and trying to figure out how I could kill more in Ukraine.”
In a way this interview could be a good sign.
Not of what Clinton might do as President.
Of what she’s learned since 2008 about the care and feeding of the Press.
I’ve complained about this.
Democrats have got to learn that treating the members of the Church of the Savvy with the contempt they deserve is not smart. Using the internet to go around them or through them to take your message straight to the voters only works to the degree independents and waverers aren’t getting other messages and the mainstream media still deliver those other messages to millions of people. And if those other messages don’t include your take on things or sympathetic accounts of your take, all those millions of people hear is Republican spin and the retelling of the current pet narratives and conventional wisdom constructed over liquid lunches by journalists and pundits who don’t like you.
It’s been clear for a long time that the President and the Press Corp do not get along, to put it mildly. I’ve wondered how that came about and who’s fault it is. This article at Rolling Stone by former Obama campaign and White House spokesman Reid Cherlin clears a few things up.
Reporters in the press corps and aides handling the President’s press operations really can’t stand each other.
They routinely get into screaming arguments.
And I blame this on the White House. It’s their job to keep the press on their side at least to the point of wanting to get the President’s positions straight. It shouldn’t matter that they don’t like you. They should do their jobs anyway. But they’re only human with in addition to the normal allowance of flaws and foibles a set peculiar to themselves, starting with extra-large egos.
And I blame the President even more. Not just because he’s the boss and shouldn’t let this go on. But because he’s made a practice of seeking out reporters he thinks have gotten a story wrong and telling them how they’ve goofed up in front of other reporters.
He’s a former teacher. He should know better. No one likes to be corrected, especially in public. They don’t appreciate it. They don’t learn from it. They sure as hell don’t thank you for it.
“Gosh, teach, I guess I’m an idiot. Thanks for pointing that out. I’m a better and smarter person for it.”
They resent it. They resent you.
But then he was a law professor. Maybe his teaching model was John Houseman’s character in The Paper Chase and he thinks “Here’s a dime. Call your mother and tell her you’re not fit to be a lawyer” is an effective motivational speech.
Of course they got it wrong! They don’t know what you know. They’re not experts, even if a few of them can justly pride themselves on having some expertise. They need to be prepared, given lots of background, have it explained to them three times beforehand, not left to figure it out on their own afterwards when instead of asking you because you’ll busy and they’ll be on deadline, they’ll hash it out in a hurry with each other, which is bound to lead to a less than perfect understanding of the key points and issues. And these are not on the whole brilliant people. Journalism is not a field that attracts geniuses or, for that matter, rewards genius. Being too smart can actually work against you. It often results in minute taxonomic descriptions of individual tree species complete with Latin names while whole forests are left unobserved.
(See what I mean?)
This doesn’t mean they aren’t smart.
You have to be smart to do the most important part of the job, collect and organize facts and put them in the form of an interesting and well-written story. But they’ve been promoted above their level of competence. Political journalists are just reporters. They’re “analysts.” They have to turn out “think pieces.”
Jake Tapper may be (or may have been) a smart reporter, Chuck Todd was smart (and may still be smart) with numbers, but neither is a deep or profound thinker.
And then we’re talking about a company of prima donnas.
They worked hard to get to the top of their profession and they’ve impressed themselves every step of the way. They think that years of accumulated experience, of having filled their mental attics to the rafters with facts and figures---never mind how much of it is just trivia---and history---never mind of much of that is actually gossip---and imbibed the wisdom of so many acknowledged statesmen and women---never mind how many of them were frauds and how much of that wisdom was merely folk, conventional, or received---has made them at least the equal of any mere President in knowledge and intellectual muscle. They’re vain, egotistical, and self-important, qualities that routinely reduce geniuses to idiots and, like I said, they’re not geniuses to begin with.
Add to this that a great many of them went to Ivy League or Ivy League caliber schools and that’s done to them what such elite educations have a way of doing, filling graduates with a sense of entitlement and privilege.
We plebes with degrees from state schools call it being spoiled.
And, along with everything else, they’re insecure because of their elite educations. After all, their former classmates went on to be lawyers, doctors, scientists, and bankers and stockbrokers and hedge fund managers raking in the dough in sackfuls. No wonder they’re prickly and easily wounded. Deep down, well, probably not all that deep down, they must feel like dopes and suckers and outright failures in comparison.
This is not how they see themselves, of course.
But that’s what should make it easy. The trick is to convince them you see them as they like to see themselves.
As smart. As important. As insiders. As players.
Start by keeping them well-fed, well-lubricated, and well-taken care of by pretty and polite young women and pretty and polite young men. For your own part, give them more than just the time of day. Talk to them like they’re smart. Talk to them like you’re interested in what they think. Sit down with them and let them tell you what you need to do. Smile and nod appreciatively. Frown thoughtfully from time to time. Make them think you’re really going to take what they say into consideration. Come back later and pretend you have. Say things like “I passed along what you said to the Secretary of State” and “I was talking to Senator so and so’s chief of staff and she said the Senator was thinking along those exact lines.”
You’re a politician, for Tammany’s sake! This kind of harmless hypocrisy should be second nature.
Whatever you do, don’t show your contempt, even if they deserve it. Especially if they deserve it. The ones who most deserve it are also the ones who are most likely to run whining about it to the Republicans who will be all to glad to smooth their ruffled feathers.
Just to be safe, make a point of telling them what they want to hear or of telling them what they need to hear in a way that flatters their egos.
“Did you hear what the President said? That’s pretty much exactly what I was saying to him the other day.”
So that’s what I’m hoping Clinton was doing in her interview with Goldberg, because, God help me, it’s not what I what I want to hear. In fact, a lot of it makes me much less happy than I was at the prospect of voting for her.
But that was bound to happen. And it won’t be long before she says something else that renews my enthusiasm. It’s always up and down with your candidates when you’re a liberal Democrat. And a politician’s gotta do what a politician’s gotta do, and often that means pander.
Politicians who don’t have to pander to some constituency are politicians who don’t need or want the votes of anybody but the faithful.
Clinton needs to pander to the press corps.
And that’s what I think she’s doing just by giving Goldberg all this access. I’m sure she believes a good deal of what she’s saying, although much of it’s claptrap, but it’s the phrasing and emphasis that matters. She’s putting it in a way Goldberg probably likes because it’s how he’d put it himself. She’s telling him what he wants to hear, that she believes force or the threat of it is the answer to all our foreign policy problems, that when she’s President she’ll be as bloodthirsty and as willing to send other people’s children to fight and die as the next guy, the next guy being either Lindsey Graham or John McCain, and---a very important point---she doesn’t like Barack Obama any more than Goldberg as his pals in the press do.
Maybe it’ll work. Or help a little anyway. But she’s forgetting something.
She’s a Clinton.
There are rules against that.
First rule: If a Clinton does it, says it, thinks it, or can be suspected of wanting to do it, say it, or think it, it’s wrong.
Read the whole interview at the Atlantic, Hillary Clinton: ‘Failure' to Help Syrian Rebels Led to the Rise of ISIS.
And be sure to read Cherlin’s piece at Rolling Stone, The Presidency and the Press.
Updated with information passed along by professional Goldberg-watchers, of which there is at least one, me:
This has been gnawing at me since I read the Goldberg’s interview with Clinton. Did you notice how proud he is of having sources among “professional Clinton-watchers” and how happy it makes him to pass along what they’ve told him about what they think she’s thinking as facts?
Professional Clinton-watchers? This is a job? Does it pay? Where are there offices? At think tanks? At universities? Are there endowed chairs in Clinton-watching?
You know what we rubes in the hinterlands call people like “professional Clinton-watchers”?
What I said above about Clinton needing to sound tough to please “serious people” like Goldberg? Found this post from 2008 while I was rummaging through the archives, It’s not serious foreign policy if it doesn’t kill people.
Make sure you follow the link to Melissa McEwan’s post in which she deals with an LA Times “think piece” dismissive of then Senator Clinton’s claims of having foreign policy experience because she frivolously focused women’s and children’s issues.
Something very like this dismissiveness is bound to come up again next time out when she runs on her record as Secretary of State which as Tom Watson has written about includes a lot of focus on those frivolous issues affecting women and children. The serious people will say this proves she’s not one of them. Tom calls this her greatest credential.