Category Archives: The Clintons

Sunday Shorts: Hillary’s Money, Midterm Turnout and Illegal Immigration

It’s Sunday, and that means time for some short takes on trending stories:

In this earlier post I argued, tongue only partly in cheek, that Hillary Clinton may not be rich enough to be a great president. As I pointed out, our greatest presidents as rated by historians are, beginning with George Washington, often extraordinarily wealthy. Indeed, wealth seems to be a predictor of greatness! Despite this, I noted a spate of media stories of late suggesting that Hillary’s wealth may somehow prove to be a stumbling block for the presidency. Not surprisingly, given this narrative, Republican Party operatives have established a website designed to make Clinton’s wealth a campaign issue.

That Republicans are using Clinton’s wealth against her does not surprise Democratic pundit Paul Waldman. However, that the media seem to embrace the same logic does surprise him. As he writes in this Washington Post opinion piece, “But what may be even more remarkable is that so many in the press go right along with this stupidity… There’s a hidden assumption in some of this coverage that candidates should be nothing more than advocates for their class. If you’re rich, then you can’t sincerely care about the well-being of people who aren’t, and anything other than advocacy on behalf of other rich people is odd, even suspect.” The irony here, of course, is that Waldman’s Democratic colleagues used precisely this logic to attack Mitt Romney’s candidacy during the 2012 campaign.

Meanwhile, in an otherwise illuminating discussion of the reasons why midterm election turnout is typically much lower than that for a presidential election campaign, Pew Research Center author Drew DeSilver posted this graph based on research by Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political scientist:

As you can see, turnout out for congressional midterm elections was actually higher than for presidential elections during the period 1789-1824, which runs contrary to the norm for most of our nation’s history.  What explains this apparent anomaly?  DeSilver’s answer: “History break: As McDonald’s chart shows, in the early decades of the republic, midterm elections typically drew more voters than presidential contests. Back then, most states only gave voting rights to property owners, and Congress — not the presidency — tended to be the federal government’s main power center and focus of electoral campaigns.” What DeSilver’s explanation does not say, however, is that for the first several presidential elections, many states did not choose electors through the popular vote. In 1792, for example, George Washington won reelection, but only 6 of the 15 states chose electors based on some form of popular input.  It is no wonder, then, that turnout for congressional elections was higher – many people simply did not have the opportunity to vote for the president (or, more properly, for the electors who chose the president). Indeed, it was only after most states began using the popular vote as a means of choosing electors, along with a decline in property-based voting requirements, that popular participation in presidential elections began increasing. That increase in participation provided presidents, beginning with Andrew Jackson in 1828, with an independent base of power and rescued the office from a dangerous dependency on Congress.

Peter Rothschild brought the following Security Weekly article on immigration by Scott Stewart to my attention. You might think, given the extraordinary media attention to the immigration issue, most recently in reaction to Texas Governor Rick Perry’s decision to post the National Guard at his state’s border with Mexico, that we are facing a record influx of illegal immigrants. Think again. Stewart writes, “Lost in all the media hype over this ‘border crisis’ is the fact that in 2013 overall immigration was down significantly from historical levels. According to U.S. Border Patrol apprehension statistics, there were only 420,789 apprehensions in 2013 compared to 1,160,395 in 2004. In fact, from fiscal 1976 to 2010, apprehensions never dropped below 500,000. During that same period, the Border Patrol averaged 1,083,495 apprehensions per year compared to just 420,789 last year.”

Of course, as Stewart acknowledges, apprehensions may not be the best indicator of the rate of illegal border crossings. Still, the data seems to belie the media narrative that the country is enduring an illegal immigration crisis. But it is easy to lose sight of this with the media focus on the apparent increase in undocumented children crossing the border. That story has far greater media legs than does one focusing on the fact that “the Border Patrol will apprehend and process hundreds of thousands fewer people this year than it did each fiscal year from 1976 until 2010.”

Finally, we are scheduled to begin occasional “simulposting” with the Christian Science Monitor sometime this coming week. If past experience is any clue (see the comments to this post on the debt ceiling crisis!), the more visible platform is likely to mean more comments from readers who often have strongly-held views. That’s fine – I always enjoy the comments from readers from both sides of the political aisle and try to respond to all of them. I also exercise a very light touch on the censor button – as long as the comments are civil, I don’t care how passionate the language or what political views are expressed, although it is worth reminding everyone that my response to a comment doesn’t necessarily imply agreement (or disagreement) with that comment.  This is a non-partisan blog – it says so right in the title! I learn a lot from readers, and my hope is that we can continue this dialogue in the months to come.

Have a great Sunday!

Hillary Clinton: Is She Rich Enough To Be President?

Democratic Party activists and leading pundits have of late begun speculating whether Hillary Clinton’s wealth might prove to be an obstacle to her presidential aspirations. But history suggests their concerns are misplaced. The problem is not that Hillary’s too rich. It’s that she’s not rich enough – at least not rich enough to achieve presidential greatness!

As Clinton understands, a major drawback to being the front-runner for your party’s presidential nomination, with no clear rivals in sight, is that the media has no one else to talk about. Journalists, of course, view their mission as speaking truth to power and, not incidentally, they also have a strong preference for a competitive presidential nominating race. For this reason, they have spent considerable time of late, aided by issue activists and other party players, probing for weaknesses in Clinton’s candidacy. This is part of the candidate vetting process that Marty Cohen et al describe in their The Party Decides.  Part of that vetting involves testing possible negative campaign frames to see which ones might have legs on the campaign trail. So far the vetters have discussed Benghazi against the backdrop of Clinton’s record as Secretary of State, her evolving views on gay marriage and, most recently, her personal wealth. The wealth issue was triggered by Clinton’s statement, at the start of her recent book tour, that she and her husband were “dead broke” when they left the White House. Critics immediately pounced, noting that given her $200,000 speaking fees and current net worth hovering at an estimated $15 million,  the comments made her seem out of touch with ordinary Americans. More enticing still, pundits speculated that her wealth made her vulnerable to a challenge from a populist candidate (Elizabeth Warren, anyone?) who was not perceived to be so closely tied to Wall St. and the “1 percent”. (See also here and here.)

What are we to make of this effort to characterize Hillary as the poor-woman’s Mitt Romney – a plutocrat out of touch with the average American? History suggests Hillary’s critics are drawing the wrong lesson. Let’s face it – to paraphrase Ernest Hemingway (perhaps apocryphally) paraphrasing F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Presidents are different from you and me. They have more money.” Lots more, in fact. You don’t find very many presidents who were not men of considerable means when they took office.

Interestingly, the wealthier the President, the more likely he (someday she) will be considered one of the greater presidents, based on evaluations by historians and political scientists. (In previous posts I’ve discussed some of the problems with presidential rankings, so I won’t belabor the point here.) Consider the presidents typically ranked as the nation’s greatest: Lincoln, Washington, FDR, Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt. With the exception of Lincoln (and who knows where he would be ranked had he served out his second term) all took office possessing great personal wealth – in fact, they are among the wealthiest of all the presidents. Washington ranks second in net worth, just behind JFK. Jefferson is third (although he was mired in debt in his post-presidential years), and TR fourth. Even FDR, the poorest among them at a wealth ranking of only nine (again, excluding Lincoln) based on an estimated net worth in current dollars of $60 million, has 4 times Clinton’s fortune.  All told, at least 17 presidents outrank Hillary in personal wealth and these include some of the highest ranked presidents, including Jackson (ranked 8), Kennedy (11), Adams (12), Madison (13), LBJ (14) and Monroe (15). Indeed, if you control for the usual suspects (death in office, scandal, whether the nation is at war, and if the president won reelection), wealth is a statistically significant predictor of a president’s historical ranking (although I wouldn’t put too much stock in the coefficient)!

Now, to anticipate the expressions of outrage that are sure to flow into my comments section, I am in fact deeply skeptical that there’s any direct link between wealth and presidential greatness, regression results notwithstanding (although I don’t rule out the possibility!) My point is simply that there’s nothing in the historical record that says being wealthy should disqualify you from holding the nation’s highest office.

Indeed, I think that rather than shy away from publicizing her wealth, Hillary should embrace it. Think of the possible slogans!

Hillary Clinton. She’s not a….er…..witch. She’s just rich.

But is she rich enough to be in the “10 percent” of great presidents?

[Update: 12:08.  And now the New York Times piles on by analyzing Chelsea’s speaking fees!]

Meanwhile, Mad magazine has some fun at Hillary’s expense (hat tip to Shelly Sloan):

broke girl


Hillary Clinton on Gay Marriage: “I Think I’m An American!”

Will Hillary Clinton’s evolving views on legalizing gay marriage hurt her presidential prospects?  Probably not.

Clinton is taking heat for her “contentious” and “testy” exchange with NPR host Terry Gross yesterday regarding her evolving support for legalizing gay marriage.  Clinton’s appearance was part of her national book tour touting her new memoir, Hard Choices which chronicles her four years as Secretary of State.  Many pundits see the book tour as a pretest of her 2016 presidential campaign, and thus are using it as a barometer of how well prepared she is to make a second run for the nation’s highest office.  Based on the reaction by pundits to the interview, they do not believe she’s yet battle ready. Critics suggest that in response to Gross’ probing questions Clinton failed to adequately explain when and why her views on the issue of gay marriage changed – was it a case of political opportunism? – and that the exchange made her sound angry and thin-skinned (read: “unpresidential”), proving once again that Clinton is “not very adept” in these more intimate formats. This CNN post-mortem is not atypical of the pundits’ reaction.

The publicity and reaction by pundits to the interview led to an interesting if perhaps unduly complicated Washington Post effort to track Clinton’s “complicated” views, as expressed in the interview, via this flowchart. But in listening to the actual NPR interview with Terry Gross, Clinton’s views on the issue don’t seem very complicated at all. (Here is the particular segment dealing with gay marriage):

(I’ll leave to you to decide whether the exchange with Gross is “testy”.) Instead, it appears that her attitude on the topic has evolved almost in lockstep with those of most Americans. To see how, compare the Washington Post’s timeline of Clinton’s public statements on the issue with the attitudes of Americans on this topic more generally, as captured in survey data. As Clinton alludes to in the interview, when her husband signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) into law in September, 1996, support for gay marriage was quite low. Not surprisingly, Clinton does not appear to support legalized gay marriage at that time. Since then, support has grown among almost all demographic groups, so that today a majority of Americans support the legalization of gay marriage – as does Clinton.

Moreover, this increase in support has continued into 2014 and shows no signs of abating.

My point here is not to defend (or condemn) Clinton’s evolving attitude toward gay marriage. Clearly she was not in the vanguard of the movement toward marriage equality – something she openly acknowledges in the NPR interview. Most of us who change (grow?) individually do not have to worry that this process will take place publicly, with every statement taken down and potentially used against us as a sign of moral weakness and/or political opportunism. Presidential candidates, however, do not have that luxury. Everything they say can, and will be, used against them by somebody.

I suspect, however, that Hillary’s opponents will not get much traction on this issue in 2016 for the simple reason that although Americans’ support for gay marriage is on the rise, the issue does not have very high salience with most potential voters; as this Gallup survey indicates, gay rights issues barely register on the list of Americans’ non-economic concerns  (look way down the list of concerns to find it!):

It is probable, of course, that the issue will have greater salience among the party activists participating in the Democratic presidential nominating process, but even among this important subgroup I do not believe candidates’ evolving attitudes on gay marriage will be the deciding issue. In short, while the NPR crowd may get fired up by Clinton’s “testy exchange” with Gross, I suspect it will have little impact on her presidential fortunes.

UPDATE 4:39 pm: Charles Franklin posted this figure of aggregrate survey results regarding opinions on gay marriage. Again, it shows Americans’ position evolving in support of same-sex marriage:

Live Blogging Clinton’s speech

Ok, the Big Dog is on, but running late.  Let’s see him work his magic – and stick to the schedule!

Hard to believe he left office more than a decade ago, and under a cloud of suspicion for his last minute pardons.

Ouch!  Bill praising Obama’s choice of a wife – has that ever mattered to Bill before?

It didn’t take long for Bill to switch the focus to him.

Notice that he’s strayed from the script.  No teleprompter for most of this.  The question is whether he can wrap up in time for the evening news casts.

It’s worth remembering that Bill was crucified for “cooperating” with Republicans.

Uh, Bill  – don’t forget you aren’t running – Obama is.

Timing is becoming an issue here – he needs to wrap up in order to meet the evening news deadline.

Rumor has it that Obama will join him on stage.  If so, it is a reminder that Obama is worried about whether he can get the votes of the so-called “Reagan democrats” – middle and lower-income white working class voters.

Keep in mind that in 1988, Clinton’s convention speech went way over the time limit, and when he announced “In conclusion”, the crowd – relieved that it was finally over – broke out in huge applause.  How long will the audience stay with him tonight?  He’s only about half way through the speech, but the audience is still with him…

I’m shocked – shocked! – that Clinton has run over his time limit. He’s already 5 minutes past the 11 p.m. deadline, and only slightly half way through the speech.  Someone is going to have to drag him off the stage. He’s in his element now.

“This is personal to me” – Clinton touts his own welfare record.  I’m not surprised.

I think he’s gone longer than he did in 1988.  Is he losing the crowd?

This is veering toward self parody – hard to tell whether this is a validation of Clinton’s presidency – or a plea for Obama’s.

And – finally – he ends.  How long did this go?

As expected, Obama makes an appearance on stage – neither of them look particularly pleased to see the other guy!

And now – about 1/2 hour after bedtime – the Democrats will finally hold the roll call to confirm Obama’s nomination as the Democratic standard bearer. I hope you forgive me if I don’t stay up to describe the roll call vote.  I’m sure all the “great states” will, in the end, nominate the incumbent president.

I’ll be on tomorrow to see if Obama can secure the nomination!


Why Republicans Should Embrace Operation Hilarity

With polls indicating that Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are in a virtual tie in Michigan less than 24 hours before tomorrow’s primary there, it may be time for Republicans to start hoping that “Operation Hilarity” succeeds.  Operation Hilarity, of course, is the plan hatched by left-leaning blogger and Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas to have Democrats vote in Michigan’s Republican primary in order to defeat Romney in his “home state”.  If Democrats can swing the Michigan election to Santorum, Moulitsas  believes, they may derail Romney’s candidacy, extend the Republican nomination fight and weaken whoever the eventual Republican nominee might be for the general election.  Moulitsas isn’t the only one pushing this idea; already Michiganders are receiving 30-second robocalls organized by a Democratic operative urging them to vote for Santorum in order to “embarrass” Romney.

Note that the Democratic-inspired strategy in Michigan mirrors the advice Republican Sarah Palin gave fellow partisans a month ago, when she urged them to vote against Romney in order to extend the nominating process.  She argued that by doing so, it would give time for all the Republican candidates to be fully vetted, but it was clear she was particularly concerned about Romney, the frontrunner whose conservative bona fides remain suspect to many Tea Party activists. More recently, Palin openly speculated about the possibility of a brokered convention, allowing that it might not be a bad outcome and offering to do what is necessary to “help” her fellow Republicans if it came down to that.  Although she didn’t specify the nature of that “help”, one imagines it centers on her volunteering to head the Republican ticket.

The ultra-liberal Moulitsas and Tea Party favorite Palin reading from the same electoral playbook?  As Saturday Night Live’s Kenan Thompson might ask, “What up with that?”  The liberal Senator Ted Kennedy once remarked about cosponsoring legislation with Strom Thurmond, his conservative Senate counterpart from South Carolina, that “Whenever Strom and I introduce a bill together, it is either an idea whose time has come, or one of us has not read the bill”.

In this case, I suggest the Palin-Moulitsas “cosponsored” strategy indicates it is an idea whose time has come.  Here’s why.  Assuming the latest polling is correct, it is almost certain that Romney will not quell the growing doubts regarding his candidacy even if he squeaks by Santorum in Michigan and wins Arizona, which also holds its Republican primary tomorrow.  In my previous post I noted veteran prognosticator Charlie Cook’s latest column in which he admits to increasing skepticism regarding the viability of Romney’s candidacy. Today New Yorker columnist Ryan Lizza suggests that members of the Republican establishment may be starting to walk back their endorsements of Romney.  None of this should surprise longtime readers, of course; I’ve been citing evidence of Romney’s weakness since before the Iowa caucuses. It simply has taken awhile for others to catch on.

The problem for Republicans, however, has always been finding a suitable alternative.  The only non-Romney candidate that ever showed evidence of inspiring the base to turn out and vote was Newt Gingrich in South Carolina.  His victory there, however, led Romney to once again bury poor Newt in an avalanche of negative ads, much as he did in the run-up to the Iowa caucus.  Romney’s strategy had the desired effect; the Newtster fared poorly in Florida and to date has never really recovered.  Santorum, meanwhile, for all the media hype coming off of his caucus victories in Minnesota and Colorado, has so far not demonstrated that he can win in any state where turnout approaches double-figures, although he may snap that skein tomorrow in Michigan.  Nonetheless, among many Republicans there remain huge doubts regarding Santorum’s unyielding brand of social conservatism.

So what’s a good Republican to do?  To this point, it involves a lot of handwringing and hoping that someone – anyone! – will step forward to excite the base and win this nomination.  For all his money and organizational advantages, it is clear that Mitt simply lacks the political acumen to win this race in convincing fashion.  His victories to date testify more to his ability to drown his opponents in a sea of negative ads than to any power to attract broad-based support based on his own attributes.  Yesterday – as only Mitt can – he once again showed that he just doesn’t connect with the NASCAR shot and beer crowd, and he never will.  Ironically, the latest evidence came at a genuine NASCAR event; visiting the Daytona 500 Romney was asked about his love of racing.   He replied, “I have some great friends who are NASCAR team owners.”  That’s right.  Mitt rubs shoulders with the owners.  Santorum, meanwhile, had his name plastered on an actual race car.   Mitt, you will recall, prefers Cadillacs.

As we near Super Tuesday, however, it becomes increasingly clear that there simply isn’t time for one of the usual non-Mitt suspects – say, Mitch Daniels, Jeb Bush or Chris Christie – to get on the ballot in enough states to win the nomination outright – not that any of them has shown any willingness to do so.   Increasingly, for Republicans who are less than thrilled with the current crop of candidates, that leaves one option – the brokered convention.  More than one Republican strategist has openly speculated that the possibility of a brokered convention,  once considered completely unrealistic, is now at least plausible if still unlikely.  A few are even whispering, as Palin implicitly suggested, that it might be for the best if it allows a new Republican to step up.

I think Republicans are missing an opportunity here. Rather than wondering whether a brokered convention might occur, it’s time for Republicans to embrace the Moulitsas strategy in order to make certain it does occur.  That means an orchestrated campaign designed to prevent Mitt from securing a majority of delegates and winning the nomination outright.  Without active intervention, Romney is likely to slog his way to an uninspiring victory by dint of his massive advantage in resources.  He will simply outlast, if not outwit or outplay, his fellow Survivor contestants.   To prevent this, Republicans should organize against Mitt by backing his opponents – all his opponents.  The idea is to go into the convention with none of the current candidates having any real claim to the nomination.   If they are all discredited, it makes it easier to propose an alternative – and harder for the alternative to say no.  After all, it’s one thing to say I don’t want to endure three months of chicken wings, cheap hotels and character assassination.  It’s another to say I won’t accept a draft at a three-day convention.  I defy any of these non-Mitt’s to go Shermanesque on a desperate party and refuse a draft nomination.  It’s simply not going to happen.  They will fall all over themselves to do the right thing by the party and run for President – if asked.

Let’s be clear. There are real risks to this strategy.  No one can be sure how a brokered convention will play out.  Certainly it raises the possibility that the party establishment will lose control of events.  But then, that might be for the best, given their misguided efforts to ram Romney down Republican voters’ throats.  It is also true that whoever is chosen will not have been battled-hardened by a nomination run before the rigors of a general election campaign.  But keep in mind that in the pre-reform period, parties often chose candidates via a convention fight.  It’s not like this is completely unchartered waters.  And besides, think of the enthusiasm mingled with relief that will accompany the nomination of a new candidate, one who ideally will reignite the passions of the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party while retaining support of party moderates.

An unlikely scenario?  Undoubtedly so if Republicans continue to sit on their hands and hope for the best, while fearing the worst.  All the more reason to take matters into their own hands, beginning tomorrow in Michigan and continuing through the end of the nominating process.

Operation Hilarity, your time has come!

Addendum (10:45 p.m.): Public Policy Polling is hyping their latest Michigan poll on tweeter by suggesting Santorum may pull this out by virtue of support from Democrats!  The Master Plan Is Unveiled!