Information Landmine

"The Americans keep telling us how successful their system is. Then they remind us not to stray too far from our hotel at night." - An un-named EU trade representative quoted during international trade talks in Denver, Colorado, 1997.

Monday, March 10, 2008


The Democratic primaries are my soap opera du jour.* Haven't commented much about them on this blog because there's so much material out there that there's really nothing new to say. But I just can't take it any more. If I don't have a rant about Hillary Clinto and her "We need a commander-in-chief with experience" line of attack on Obama, I'm probably going to have an aneurism.

For those who have real lives where they go around and meet people and don't bother about all this shit until there's an honest-to-God presidential election happening, the line has been that she has years of foreign policy experience, while he's just been hanging about in state legislatures and will go to pieces when he has to deal with big bad men like Putin, Ahmedinajad and Hu. This all culminated in the advert that's meant to have helped her in Texas, all about the White House phone ringing at 3.00am and "Who do you want there to answer it?"

Now the first thing to say about this is that, even on its own terms, it's silly. If Clinton's helped Obama prove one thing in the last few months, it's that, even when she really tries to apply the pressure, he's too cool for school. Also, her foreign policy negotiation experience seems to amount to having been first lady for eight years. That doesn't really seem like that great a recommendation, unless the phone at 3am thing was meant to be a veiled reference to the fact that Bill will probably be right next to her (which would seem to undercut as a potential commander-in-chief anyway).

The problem is that this line of attack is silly in a particularly destructive way. Because if you're going to run on the good-in-a-crisis ticket, you're going to need crises.

So, "What would the president do in a crisis?" is, generally speaking, a far less important question than "How likely is the president to cause crises?" I think we can make an at least credible argument that Obama - who's plan seems to occasionally talk to people rather than having big stare-downs, might score rather well on this point.

Invoking the possibility of looming crisis has become a big part of the political landscape, and it's spectacularly destructive. The Bush administration has been using the prospect of a looming crisis to get everything it wants with regards to foreign policy and home security for seven years now. Hillary seems to be doing her darnedest to continue the trend. What we in the rest of the world would like to see from the next US Presidential election, if at all possible, is a country that doesn't seem get round whatever political problems it faces by immediately trying to terrify its own people and everyone else. This is not apparently, an expectation she's much interested in meeting.

On a more tactical, it's massively empowering to John McCain, who's had far more military experience than either of them. He might be good in a crisis, but he is very clearly interested in bringing them about. Whether he faces Hillary or Barrack in November, he could take that add and use it verbatim for his campaign. I'd always thought Hillary's staff had just been overlooking that point, but no, apparently they're really happy to big up McCain so long as it gets them the nomination over Obama:

SEN. CLINTON: I think it's imperative that each of us be able to demonstrate we
can cross the commander in chief threshold, and I believe that I've done that.
Certainly Senator McCain has done that. And, and you'll have to ask Senator
Obama with respect to his candidacy.

*Well that and The Wire. Which I actualy got into because everyone blogging about the Democratic primaries seems to be obsessed with it.

Udate: Happily, the Obama campaign seem to want to emphasise the parallel:

Monday, for example, he labeled a Clinton television ad "straight out of the
Republican playbook." The ad asked voters whom they wanted to answer a White
House crisis phone at 3 a.m., which implicitly questioned his credentials as
commander in chief. "That's not change," he said at a rally in Jackson, Miss.

I think that's an encouraging sign. It's nice that they don't go in for negative campaigning, but that's not the same thing as letting the Clinton campaign get away with some of the idiocy they spout.


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