Saturday, September 27, 2014

Front-Runners And Front-Running

Have a gander at this Matthew Continetti piece about Hillary Clinton’s Designated Restroom Escorts:

Amy Chozick covers Hillary Clinton for the New York Times. She is an enterprising and dedicated reporter, and many of her stories have annoyed the 2016 presidential frontrunner. This week Chozick covered a meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative. It was her turn to be annoyed.

Chozick’s most revealing article about the event had nothing to do with the scheduled agenda, or with the opaque, labyrinthine, and seedy finances of the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, or with the tsunami of clich├ęs from the stage about global warming, gender equality, wellness, empowerment, polarization, Mohammed Yunus, sustainable development, globalization, Palm Oil alternatives, uplift, board diversity, education access, green energy, Malala, information technology, organic farming, public-private partnerships, and #YesAllWomen. The article had to do with Chozick’s bathroom habits.

Every time she felt the urge, a representative of the Clintons would accompany her to the ladies’ room. Every time. And not only would the “friendly 20-something press aide” stroll with Chozick to the entrance of the john. She also “waited outside the stall.” As though Chozick were a little girl.

If it was not embarrassing enough to be chaperoned to the water closet by a recent college graduate no doubt beaming with righteousness and an entirely undeserved and illusory sense of self-importance, some earnest and vacant and desperate-to-be-hip Millennial whose affiliation with the Clintons, whose involvement in their various schemes, consists of nothing more than her uniform of white shirt and silk scarf—if this was not on its own an indignity and an insult for a correspondent of the New York Times, when Chozick asked for comment on the bathroom police, she received the following response:

Craig Minassian, a spokesman for the initiative, directed me to a press release about American Standard’s Flush for Good campaign to improve sanitation for three million people in the developing world. ‘Since you are so interested in bathrooms and CGI,’ Mr. Minassian said.

Please read it all. It’s worth your time.

Hillary Rodham Clinton surely considers herself the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. Front-runners tend to adopt a primarily defensive posture; it stems from their conviction that the prize is “theirs to lose.” That results in predictable behavior of the sort Continetti comments on above, at least from the sort of politician to whom winning is everything, and justifies any tactic whatsoever – and the Clintons are politicians of exactly that sort.

I’ve written about the devolution of the political class several times in the past. The most salient aspect of that process has been the displacement – sometimes forcible – of honorable persons sincerely interested in serving the nation by persons who are merely interested in gaining the power, prestige, and perquisites of office and enlarging them to the greatest possible extent. This follows a law of human nature: other things being equal, selfish motivations will triumph over selfless ones. He who wants power for its own sake will naturally pursue it more ardently, and with greater determination, than will he who seeks it for “the greater good.” (For today, let’s pass in silence over the infinitesimal percentage of power-seekers who grasp what would really conduce to “the greater good.”)

But decent persons, at least here in America, understand how pernicious is the love of power. If we omit for the moment Milton Friedman’s aphorism about the imperative of creating incentives that will move bad men to do the right thing, this must be considered a prime civic virtue, for character will always tell. But the decent persons, whose understanding of what would conduce to “the greater good” is quite as flawed as any politician’s, are fatally fragmented along ideological lines, which gives election-deciding voting power to others – and those others are quite as self-serving as the most amoral power-seeker.

An example: At this time, the Congressional seat for New York State’s 1st Congressional District is being contested by incumbent Democrat Tim Bishop and moderate Republican Lee Zeldin. (We don’t often see conservative Republicans here in New York; the state might have placed an import restriction on them.) Zeldin, heretofore not an office holder, attacks Bishop as corrupt, while Bishop touts his efforts in “preserving Long Island jobs.” Zeldin’s allegations are well substantiated; the FBI is investigating them at this time. Bishop’s claims are essentially about having put pressure on the state legislature and other Congressmen through vote trading offers. But the edge goes to Bishop:

  • Bishop has succeeded in mobilizing Long Island’s organized labor in his favor;
  • Long Island voters are ideologically not heavily weighted to either Republicans or Democrats;
  • The local Board of Elections has already stolen one election for Bishop (i.e., from Randy Altschuler) and would surely be willing to repeat the favor.

Zeldin, in contrast, has no powerfully motivated constituency to counterweight Bishop’s edges in organized labor and local government. It would therefore require an unlikely energizing of Republican-leaning voters to oust Bishop from his seat. Mind you, it could happen; it’s just not likely.

State and local races tend to draw less journalistic attention than federal ones, for obvious reasons. Journalists are the easiest people in the world to bribe; all it takes is a promise of “access.” That stirs the emotions of the typical reporter even more energetically than would a large cash payment, again for reasons of motivation:

  • A journalist’s greatest desire, overwhelming all others, is to be read;
  • His altitude at a prestigious media organ is the key to increasing his readership;
  • His facility for getting close to the subjects of his reportage is essential to increasing that altitude.

Alongside those selfish motives, there’s the nominally “unselfish” one of possibly being consulted by the power-wielder for his opinions on various aspects of public policy, and thereby having the opportunity to shape it in his preferred direction. As most journalists are emotion-oriented, the trade is predisposed to government activism in “good causes,” with predictable consequences.

Yet once in a while, a career journalist will maintain his integrity against the importunings of politicians. Amy Chozick, with whose work I’m unfamiliar, might be such a case. If she’s willing to write articles that occasionally mention an unfavorable detail or two about the Clintons and their wholly unscrupulous political machine, it would surely prejudice them against her. The business about tailing her even to the ladies’ room would be entirely credible.

This is front-running without disguise. Hillary Clinton’s entire life has been dedicated to the pursuit, maintenance, and enlargement of political power. It’s the only reason she remained with her tomcatting husband after the infamous “bimbo eruptions” of the 1992 Presidential campaign and stuck with him through the subsequent Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky scandals. What we know of her, from her famous, sporadically violent rages to her involvement in the suspicious demise of Vince Foster, suggests a sociopathy that would place her at the pinnacle of the power uber alles sub-race of political climbers.

For such a person, no tactic that might deflect or blunt an enemy’s thrusts is too foul to employ...and a journalist who places objective service to his trade above self-serving or ideological considerations is automatically an enemy.

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

-- William Butler Yeats, 1919

I forgive Yeats his misuse of anarchy in the above for the starkly terrifying imagery and relentless cadence of his immortal poem. Note that he wrote it just after the conclusion of World War I, during the catastrophic influenza epidemic that threatened to lay a second Black Death upon war-ravaged, utterly exhausted Europe. There were many in those days who believed that the end of the world was at hand. The spiritual malaise that followed fell barely short of becoming a worldwide collapse, and for one reason only: the United States of America.

Yeats had tapped the Spiritus Mundi, which Germans term the Zeitgeist. His observation that “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity” was in full and garish view in those years, with the rise of totalitarian socialism in the East and the unconcealed efforts of the victorious Allies at stripping every asset of any economic value from their defeated opponents. There was no longer any denying that those at the top of the political food chain would have their fill despite any objections and all obstacles.

So it is today in America. Nor can we deny that the malady has infected nominally conservative ranks, as witness the relentless campaigning of the credible presidential contenders in the GOP’s ranks. Governors, senators, and former holders of those offices are all behaving as if the 2016 nomination is the most important thing in the world. Few of the positions they espouse can be taken as carved into stone. All are subject to revision for electoral advantage, as we shall see when the midterm elections are behind us and the campaigning for the Republican presidential nod gets really serious.

Front-runners will front-run, with consequences similar to Hillary Clinton’s restroom policing of Amy Chozick. Those who aspire to be front-runners will emulate such behavior as they think will serve them, and that they can get away with. Absent a great and barely precedented rebirth of the American conscience, the rest of us will merely look on in bewilderment.

Keep your powder dry.

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