Today, Martin O’Malley, the former Maryland governor who has been talking about challenging Clinton from the left, was repeatedly asked by reporters to comment on Clinton’s emails, and he repeatedly refused. Not because he doesn’t think there are legitimate questions here, but because his advisers say raising them might reflect badly on him:
“His advisers say there’s no benefit to him criticizing Clinton at this point. She’s already on the defensive, they reason, and die-hard Democrats are likely to be turned off if O’Malley sounds too much like Clindeiton’s Republican critics.”
Well, I hope that isn’t the real rationale. I suspect most Democratic voters and activists want to hear a spirited debate about Clinton’s emails; in fact, such a debate among Democrats could be more illuminating than whatever results from Republican criticism of her over it, which is likely to be polluted by overreach.
— Maybe it’s time for a real Democratic presidential primary, Greg Sargent, Washington Post, today
Of course! I’ve been dying to hear a spirited debate about Clinton’s emails! Because there’s obviously a lot of room for disagreement on whether or not it was a good idea for Clinton to set up a separate, private email server and commingle all her personal emails about her daughter’s wedding and her mother’s funeral with her State Department-related emails. And because this is, unquestionably, the issue I care most about.
So please, Mr. O’Malley, keep me and all of us Dems in suspense no longer: Would you, as president, require your Secretary of State to use the State Department email system for State Department-related emails? And if not, would you require that your Secretary of State comply with the Federal Records Act and related laws?
Such a debate among Democrats absolutely could be more illuminating than whatever results from Republican criticism of Clinton over it. Which obviously is saying quite a lot.
Last weekend, O’Malley appeared at some Dem functions in New Hampshire and discussed the types of issues that Elizabeth Warren talks about, and even the types of issues that Paul Krugman talks about—and deigned to allude to the latest actions by Scott Walker and economic-policy statements from Jeb Bush. Reading some of the specifics of his comments, I was delighted. And I assumed that most Dems would be, too. Maybe we’ll start gaining some traction on these things, instead of constantly having to settle for more Clinton silliness and more Clinton banalities, clichés and hints about the approximate month of her formal announcement, I thought. Hurray! Hurray!
Then I read that some New Hampshire state senator and a few other attendees at one or another of the functions was disappointed that O’Malley effectively demurred when asked to comment on the Clinton email mess. If he’s going to run, he has to comment on what the big issue of the moment is, the state senator said.
Which sure seems right if the big issue of the moment is, say, a substantive–policy issue. But best as I can tell, email policy for federal officials isn’t, really.
Then there was Dana Milbank’s comment a few days ago comparing O’Malley with the tooth fairy. Or, more precisely, comparing people who think O’Malley could beat Clinton for the nomination with people who believe in the tooth fairy. And this evening he has a more detailed follow-up, the thrust of which is that O’Malley was just a governor and, before that, mayor of Baltimore. As opposed to, say, Scott Walker, who is a governor and was, before that, a County Executive. And as opposed to, say, Jeb Bush, who was a governor and, before that, a president’s son.
I certainly get that only the Republican Party is entitled to nominate such folks for president. Which, of course, they did, in 2012. Minus the big-city-mayor/big-county-executive part. I’m not sure what percentage of the public outside of Wisconsin knew anything about Walker until two months ago, but many more people sure do now. For better or for worse, but that’s beside the point. Walker didn’t have to compete for the media’s notice with someone whom the press has been obsessed with for a quarter-century—the members of the press, that is, who were covering politics in the ‘90s. Or who followed stuff like that when they were in elementary school.
But O’Malley does have to compete for the media’s attention with Hillary Clinton. A political media, that is, whose members apparently almost universally believe that the minimum voting age is 42. And so competing, it appears, is impossible.
I keep reading political commentary that “we” all have already made up our minds about Hillary Clinton. Each of us either loves her or hates her, having decided which one all the way back in the ‘90s. When some of “us” were in the primary grades in school and others of “us” were adolescents or teenagers. And when a small percentage of “us” were still in diapers.
But some of us do remember the ‘90s, if not all the specifics. I speak as someone who does remember ‘90s politics, but who had forgotten such specifics as that Clinton said during her “pink sweater” press conference in 1994 that she had thought that her husband’s and her own unusual financial pursuits that depended upon friendships and connections during her husband’s terms as governor should have been viewed as within a privacy zone. She couldn’t distinguish then between land development deals and cattle-futures trading, on the one hand, and buying, say, Vanguard Index Fund shares, on the other. And so her law firm’s billing records for the Whitewater land deal (or whatever) remained hidden for two years in a White House closet until things got wackily out-of-hand, politically.
What I, unlike Sargent, suspect is that most Democratic voters and activists want to hear a spirited debate about the subjects that we actually care about. Including a spirited response to Scott Walker’s and Jeb Bush’s economic’fiscal/regulatory policy positions and their counterfactual justifications for them, and Paul Ryan’s ahistorical claims about supply side economics, financial industry regulations, and federal budget deficits in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Some discussion of what’s happening with, say, Kansas’s budget and economic growth, and maybe even Wisconsin’s, and Europe’s—and why—would be very, very welcome.
There are only two reasons why most of us want a meaningful primary debate, forced by a meaningful candidacy—and neither of those reasons is to make Hillary Clinton a stronger candidate. One reason is to have the option to vote for a genuine economic-policy progressive. The other is to enable our party to actually put forward the arguments for progressive economic policy, and that means ending the constant focus on this silly woman, her huge “circle,” her incessant calculations and decisions-by-committee about absolutely everything, and waiting for the next shoe (and the next, and the next) to drop.
The very, very, very, very last thing most Democrats want is a spirited debate about Clinton’s emails. We don’t want to debate Clinton’s emails. We want to debate actual substantive-policy issues, especially but not solely economic/fiscal/regulatory policy issues. Government email policy isn’t on our list. If Warren were planning to run, would anyone claim that she needed to take a break from those economic-policy/bank-deregulation/policy-of-by-and-for-the-mega-campaign-donors things and talk about the more important issue of government officials’ email-procedure? Really?
Look. Hillary Clinton should not run for president. Her life, her husband’s life, her family’s foundation’s life, all are too complicated for her to be able even to concentrate on serious, specific policy issues other than the women’s-movement issues whose clichés she cites, mantra-like, and has for the past 40-plus years. These are by no means trivial issues. They are, though, by no means what most people think should be the end-all-and-be-all of the Democratic nominee’s concerns.
I myself agree with Bill Clinton’s comments a few days ago that, on balance, their family’s foundation has done more good than harm—thanks in large part to Chelsea Clinton’s efforts to make the foundation into what it should be: something far more important than just a Bill and Hillary Clinton ad and a well-paying landing place for their many hangers-on. Hillary Clinton should put her time and effort into furthering the meaningful goals of that organization, and wind up her career with something truly special. She should not impose so upon those who need to have this election be about what it should be about. Which is to say, about things more important than her.
I can assure Dana Milbank, and Martin O’Malley, that I don’t believe in the tooth fairy. Even though Clinton will of course run.
Probing, persistent questions like these from the political press corps at Tuesday’s news conference are the sort that rival candidates would be expected to ask on the campaign trail or in televised debates, as Barack Obama did against Mrs. Clinton in 2007 and 2008 over the Iraq war and other issues.
Unlike then, however, Mrs. Clinton is not expected to face comparably aggressive opponents for her party’s nomination. Among the possible Democratic field, former Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland has shown little taste for cutthroat tactics.
— Early in 2016 Race, Clinton’s Toughest Foe Appears to be the News Media, Patrick Healy, New York Times, today
Uh-huh. Can’t beat Clinton unless you use cutthroat tactics. Talking just about economic-policy/bank-regulation/big-money-dictating-policy issues hasn’t worked well at all for Elizabeth Warren. Which is why, much as a huge swath of Democrats cares deeply about those issues, there’s no movement to draft Warren to run for the nomination, and why no one pays attention when she speaks, right? She doesn’t use cutthroat tactics against Clinton, instead using cutthroat tactics only against the Republicans.
Mr. Healy, talking about economic-policy/bank-regulation/big-money-dictating-policy is a cutthroat tactic. It’s just that the political-news media hasn’t noticed.
Updated 3/12 at 12:12 p.m.