Showing posts with label Clinton-era. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Clinton-era. Show all posts

Monday, April 13, 2015

America Should Not Settle for Hillary Clinton

(Image credit: Bloomberg) 

"Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Lord Acton 

Before people start jumping to conclusions that this article is driven by the fact that Hillary Clinton is a woman, let me be very clear; her gender has nothing to do with it. I do not consider ethnicity or gender a factor when evaluating people for office; I prefer to judge them on the merits of their record, on their integrity and most importantly their character. That said, I would love nothing more than for America to follow in the footsteps of India, Great Britain, Germany, Brazil and Liberia, and elect a woman to the highest office in the land. But it should be based on the best possible candidate for the job, rather than an attempt to make history, as tempting at that may be.

There is no question that Ms. Clinton has both the experience and the smarts to be President. She has served as first lady, been a senator from New York, and a well-respected Secretary of State. Her professional pedigree is not in question. In fact, on this front she is probably better qualified than most of the Republican field put together. However, arrogance from having been in the public eye and on a pedestal for so long should be a question. This is where we should have our first concern with Ms. Clinton. It has to do with a sense of entitlement and a complete disregard for the rules applying to her. The recent email hoopla is the most recent case in point. In what world does a government servant have the gumption to decide, unilaterally, to not only use personal email while in office but also set-up a private server in their home, a server that nobody in government can access? 

I understand that we must respect the privacy of public officials, but we are talking about a government work email account that is meant to be preserved for the public record. Ms. Clinton had no business making this decision. Even more frightening to us should be the sheer arrogance with which she dismissed the issue; it smacked of the old adage of ‘absolute power.’ She had the audacity to suggest that we should all be grateful because she “took the unprecedented step of asking that the State Department make all my work-related emails public for everyone to see.”(Source: Time article). Forgive me if I am not feeling thankful.

Even if she was within the rules, the email example and her handling of it pose fundamental and intractable questions about her clear lack of judgement. More worryingly, it begs the question of what she is hiding. She said at the same press conference that she “turned over some 30,490 emails to the State Department in December”, nearly two years after leaving office. But she also said she “deleted nearly 32,000 others.” (New York Times article).  As a NARA (National Archives and Records Administration) employee told the New Yorker “Anytime a government official takes it upon themselves to edit their own communications, good government ceases to exist.” Any public servant who is deluded enough to believe that they are responsible enough to ‘police’ themselves surely cannot be trusted with the highest office in the land.

The second concern we should have with Ms. Clinton’s candidacy is her age (same goes for male candidates). She will be in her seventieth year when assumes office, not exactly in the prime of her life. Age is part of a bigger issue we should consider in politics. Why is this, the only profession where we routinely elect people who would otherwise be retired? Would you trust a surgeon or hire a defence lawyer in their seventies? The point is that no matter how fit or healthy a person might be, we all slow down physically and mentally as we get older. These days the only way many senators and congressmen vacate their offices is when they die. Strom Thurmond was eighty-four years old when he was briefly and absurdly second in line for the Presidency in the nineteen-eighties. He went on to serve in the senate until the age of 100, still firmly holding onto his pro-segregation views when he died in 2003. Senator Robert Byrd continued to serve despite years of declining health and routine hospital visits, and finally died in office at the age of ninety-two. It is one thing to serve as a congressman or senator, but the US President’s job is without doubt the toughest in America.

We all saw how quickly and visibly both George W. Bush and Barack H. Obama aged, after taking the oath of office. Based on his behaviour and actions I always suspected Mr. Reagan was senile during most of his second term; we now know that his Alzheimer’s started three years into his first term (Source: The Guardian article). Frankly, the world is a far more complex and fragile place today than it ever was during the cold war. We need fresh thinking, new solutions and bold ideas. We need someone who is hungry and daring, not tired and expecting a coronation. Ask yourself if you really want to put a person who in every other profession would be retiring to take on the most mentally gruelling, emotionally draining and physically challenging job in the world?

Then there are the ethics violations and open hypocrisy that should concern us. When Ms. Clinton accepted the position of Secretary of State, the White House was rightly concerned about the millions foreign governments had donated to the Clinton Foundation, and how they might try to use it as leverage to curry favour with the Secretary of State. For this reason Ms. Clinton agreed to sign an ethics agreement which we now know she violated at least one time during her tenure (Source: WashingtonPost article).

There is good reason why it is illegal for a foreign government to give money to a US political candidate (but Ms. Clinton’s candidacy is unprecedented in this respect, since her husband was President and after leaving office they started a foundation). I have no doubt the Clintons will stop accepting money now that she has decided to run, but it does not change the fact that nations who donated generously over the years will still want collect their dues. It would be naïve to think otherwise. 

The Wall Street Journal found in its investigation that “At least 60 companies that lobbied the State Department during her tenure donated a total of more than $26 million to the Clinton Foundation…” (Source: New Yorker article). The Clinton Foundation does an amazing amount of good in the world, and I support and laud their initiatives. But this is not about the foundation's efforts, but rather about the undue influence and sway donors have over recipients of their largesse and about the dangers of these recipients now occupying the White House; burdened with these obligations. 

There is also a great hypocrisy with regards to an issue Ms. Clinton claims to champion: empowering women. It is a great cause and while it is fair to say she has been a great champion, it is equally fair to question her acceptance of money from countries like Saudi Arabia and Brunei that openly abuse and deny women the most basic freedom and rights. I would have greater respect for Ms. Clinton if, on principle, she had refused to accept donations from this small handful of countries where women are less than second class citizens. One other point to consider is that she has also stood by a serial cheater and alleged abuser of women. While her marriage is her personal business, by calling herself a champion for women, it begs the question of whether she is more preach than practice.

We are at a critical and complex time in history. America has never been more divided, and the world is a far more complex place, one where it is hard to distinguish friend from foe. We need someone hungry and energetic enough to grab these challenges by the collar and take them on, not someone who feels the job is their due, and looks more tired than hungry; as Peggy Noonan recently wrote in a Wall Street Journal article. The world needs new ideas and fresh perspectives, not the same old same old.

My first great disappointment with Obama (among a long series that have followed) was that the moment he was elected, on the promise of “change,” he went and appointed a group of washed out Clinton-era advisers and Bush One and Two bureaucrats. This has shown in his administration’s lack of imagination and inability to change the status quo. While Jeb Bush is much younger than Ms. Clinton, there are many of the same issues with him pertaining to dynastic politics (incidentally, he also used private email as Governor of Florida, but did not set up his own server).

We know that Hollywood with its deep pool of talent, resources and money has never managed to deliver a sequel that lives up to the original; so rather than settling for a Clinton or Bush sequel that will never change the narrative, let’s use the vote to script a bold and original story in 2016.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Barack H. Obama: The “Non Partisan” Report Card


“Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes.”
Peter Drucker

When Obama became President in January, 2009 he and his party had a mandate from the country to lead them to greater unity, fewer unnecessary wars of choice and greater economic prosperity for all, not just a few. That meant lowering the debt, less wasted expenditure and most of all, a more efficient Federal government that once again was working for the people. His was a mandate to mend a dysfunctional political process and a broken country. What a grand mandate for any man wanting to become a great leader. Obama’s message of HOPE had not only resonated with a hungry electorate, but also energised and rallied a new generation that had never come out to vote before. Amazingly, Obama had managed to appeal to a broad swath of Americans in the middle, and reached across the political divide at a time when the country was more divided than ever before in its history. Even perhaps daring a few sworn enemies to believe that maybe this was the change the country had been thirsting for after sixteen years of unzipped pants and unwarranted swagger.

When Obama won the election in 2008, I wrote off his first few years in office based on his lack of experience, naivety and because he was not a career politician (albeit this was also, in large part the reason I liked the man - and felt he had a chance to succeed and help America – the fact that he was not a jaded career politician). However, he has failed to turn his charisma and words into real leadership and there has also been an odd dichotomy in his approach to the foreign and domestic fronts. In foreign affairs, his judgement, decisiveness and handling have paid great dividends for America, and will reap even greater one's in the long run based on his policy choices. He stood his ground on Egypt, under tremendous pressure from Israel, Republicans and members of his own party, and came out on the right side for both America and democracy. No doubt it will be a long, blood-filled and arduous road for Egypt but that is the only way democracy can be forged. Most importantly it is the path chosen by the people of Egypt and not one dictated by America or Israel’s interests in the region. On Libya he forced Europe to take the lead in military intervention, and again it proved to be the smarter and better move for America. But it is with his handling of US-Pakistan relations that I have been most impressed. He is the first American President to take off the kid gloves and give them less room to continue their double game, while receiving US aid. The man also ordered a US military raid on their soil without so much as asking permission - that took courage to do against a “key ally”. The result of Obama refusing to cower, mollycoddle and constantly apologise, like all his predecessors, has led to a more obedient and co-operative ally that now thinks twice before calling America’s bluff because there are real consequences each time they do.

However, at home he has been an often absent and detached leader, on all major domestic issues he has shown little desire to take charge or lead the way. It almost feels like he is perfectly content letting “his people” run the show and lead him. People like Larry Summers on economic policy, and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid on his signature legislation's. This at a time when the country needed a real leader, who would step up to the plate, outline a vision and then roll up his sleeves and work to bridge the divide on the Hill, reduce the vitriol and enact real solutions to grave issues facing this country. Nobody was expecting Obama to solve ALL the problems, or perform miracles and have Republicans and Democrats hugging and singing Kumbaya, but I was expecting him to at least take one or two big issues and make meaningful progress. One of Obama’s signature pieces of legislation, the healthcare bill, is 1,990 pages long (not unusual for spending bills which routinely run into 1,000’s of pages). It should be a major embarrassment for a President who swore to introduce transparency, clarity and simplicity into the process of legislation. While there is no doubt that there are some wonderful and much needed things in this bill, many parts of it are equally opaque, poorly conceived, written by lobbyists and filled with needless pork. And not one Republican voted for it. What’s more I cannot find anywhere who actually authored this bill. Then you have his other major legislation; the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform and Regulatory bill where Obama promised when signing "The American people will never again be asked to foot the bill for Wall Street's mistakes. There will be no more tax-funded bailouts — period." (Source: NPR News). However, the landscape of the financial sector has changed dramatically since this law was passed, not to mention the fact that the law itself was obviously hastily written and poorly conceived. They took scant time to write and pass it even though they were dealing with matters that were arguably larger than America itself. Besides, would it not have been prudent to first fully understand the causes and consequences of this complex, multi-layered and global crisis before penning a law to fix it? Here is one example of this haste: “SECTIONS 404 and 406 of the Dodd-Frank law of July 2010 add up to just a couple of pages. On October 31st last year two of the agencies overseeing America's financial system turned those few pages into a form to be filled out by hedge funds and some other firms; that form ran to 192 pages. The cost of filling it out, according to an informal survey of hedge-fund managers, will be $100,000-150,000 for each firm the first time it does it.”  (The Economist, February 2012). Also absent from the proceedings was any leadership from Obama; I expected him to lead from the front on both these colossal issues, bring the various stakeholders, across the political divide, to the table and forge solid, sensible, hard-fought solutions that put the country’s future ahead of any party or political brownie points.

The first red flag, for me, came right after the inauguration when Obama announced his core leadership team. The people he chose were mostly washed out Clinton-era advisers and Bush one and two era bureaucrats and policy wags, who brought with them the baggage of the past and more worryingly the same partisan ways of thinking and functioning that had become so cemented in the later Bush years. The next thing that shook my confidence in Obama was his acceptance of The Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples". Obama had given a few glorious speeches at this stage and perhaps even been a great community organizer. Sure he had become President of the United States of America (only the 44th man in history), but that alone does not qualify one for the Nobel Prize. Call me old fashioned but I believe that one has to actually achieve something before accepting an honour for the achievement. An honourable man would have declined it based on the simple fact that they had not yet earned it. I suspect this was in large part of the beginning of the unraveling of Obama; the point at which he began to drink his own Kool-Aid and start to believe the hype and hysteria about him. Obama put himself on the same pedestal (that much of the world had) based on his words. He had not yet proven that he belonged on it, through his actions. Sadly, no matter how you cut it, the bottom line is that he has failed to become a leader or demonstrate the type of leadership the country needed after eight years of disastrous shoot-from-the-hip politics and cowboy-style management. People can make all the excuses they want about the mess Obama inherited (and there is no question that he did inherit one), but leadership is about taking on great adversity. About locking horns with it and staring it down until you have found a path to overcome it. Great leaders relish taking on the greatest challenges. They lay out a vision, then work to forge alliances, even bringing east and west together on issues, and they find real solutions to problems; lesser men and politicians make excuses and speeches.