Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

  Clinton not sure whether Unitary Executive has gone too far

Hillary Clinton in her own words is almost always more disappointing than the ideal candidate of her supporters' imagination. Today Michael Tomasky of the Guardian publishes an interview with her that ought to make your heart sink, that is if your heart is able to stomach all the equivocations.

Tomasky says that his goal in the interview was to circumvent her habit of "avoiding [rather than] actually answering the question, and reverting to a pre-ordained script". Her responses however do more to highlight Clinton's legendary evasiveness.

The most striking answer was to the first question, which had been intended (we're told) to evoke some candid thoughts: Which of the powers of the president that George Bush has assumed would you relinquish?

Clinton hemms and haws about having to look into the matter after she takes office. Chiz.

Here's that section of the interview:

I want to start with some questions about foreign policy and terrorism. If you become president you'll enter the White House with far more power than, say, your husband had. What is your view of this? And what specific powers might you relinquish as president, or renegotiate with Congress - for example the power to declare a US citizen an enemy combatant?

Well, I think it is clear that the power grab undertaken by the Bush-Cheney administration has gone much further than any other president and has been sustained for longer. Other presidents, like Lincoln, have had to take on extraordinary powers but would later go to the Congress for either ratification or rejection. But when you take the view that they're not extraordinary powers, but they're inherent powers that reside in the office and therefore you have neither obligation to request permission nor to ask for ratification, we're in a new territory here. And I think that I'm gonna have to review everything they've done because I've been on the receiving end of that. There were a lot of actions which they took that were clearly beyond any power the Congress would have granted or that in my view that was inherent in the constitution. There were other actions they've taken which could have obtained congressional authorization but they deliberately chose not to pursue it as a matter of principle.

I guess I'm asking, can a president, once in the White House, actually give up some of this power in the name of constitutional principle?

Oh, absolutely, Michael. I mean that has to be part of the review that I undertake when I get to the White House, and I intend to do that.


Let's look at the implications: "Other presidents...have had to take on extraordinary powers..." Actually, none have been obliged to do so. The problem is that some presidents wish to take them.

"But when you take the view that they're not extraordinary powers, but they're inherent powers..." That's not the problem. The Constitution gives the President no "extraordinary powers" except the role of commanding the armed forces during time of war or rebellion. The problem is that presidents wish to have powers that aren't granted by the Constitution.

"I think I'm gonna have to review everything they've done..." Why review? Hasn't the Senator from New York been paying sufficient attention during the last 6 years that she can declare definitively that she'll renounce powers that George W. Bush assumed? The question was not "Will you think about it?", but "What specific powers might you relinquish?".

"they took [actions] that were clearly beyond any power the Congress would have granted or that in my view that was inherent in the constitution." Taking actions without authority is merely the nub end of the problem. The real problem is that Bush takes actions that violate the letter and spirit of the Constitution.

It should have been relatively easy for Clinton to list a long series of presidential "powers" that she would renounce. In fact, Tomasky feeds her one suggestion in the question itself: the "power to declare a US citizen an enemy combatant". Yet Hillary Clinton cannot bring herself to identify a single power that she's definitely prepared to renounce before taking the oath to protect and uphold the Constitution.

The rest of the interview is fairly underwhelming as well, particularly if (like me) you'd like a candidate who's willing to lead.

Asked whether she agrees with the silly proposition that "the terrorists hate us because of our freedoms," Clinton first seems to reject it, or at least talk around it, but then doubles back to declare "Well, some do."

Asked why Congress doesn't cut off funding for Iraq, or attach it to timetables for withdrawal, as most Americans want, Clinton responds that Republicans won't let them. No explanation about why Democrats need to cave in and continue to send bills to Bush that the Republicans want.

Asked whether she'll support Mukasy's nomination despite his comments on torture, Clinton boldly declares that she's "gonna look at the entire record of the hearing." Again the dodge "I wasn't really paying attention at the time."

Tomasky also tried and failed to get Clinton to provide him with a single example of when she staked out a controversial position in favor of any progressive cause. As he remarks in a commentary on the interview:

One major concern of liberals about Clinton is her preternatural caution as a politician-her general unwillingness to stick her neck out and risk political capital in behalf of a progressive policy goal that wasn't a safe issue. I asked her to name one issue during her Senate tenure on which she'd done this. Answer: "Well, I think, you know, voting against funding. What did we get, 12, 13, 14 votes on that?" She was referring to a vote last May to make emergency supplemental appropriations to the Iraq war effort. The measure passed 80-14. Clinton and her chief rival for the Democratic nomination, Barack Obama, both voted no, announcing their votes very late in the process.

This, of course, wasn't really what I meant. By the time of this vote, she was in full presidential campaign mode and trying to establish her bona fides with the party's anti-war base. So the political risk inherent in this vote was small. Indeed it was Joe Biden, who was the only senator/presidential candidate to vote yea, who risked something politically, whatever one thinks of his vote substantively.

After I followed up, Clinton went into a defence of how progressive her voting record was; but again, this wasn't what I meant. I was asking about examples of leadership. So the answer to the question was that there really wasn't one thing that she could think of on which she'd taken a risk in behalf of a progressive policy end.


To be more precise, Clinton rejects the very premise that progressives have reason to think she's an "overly cautious politician":

Well, you know I've made so many votes, Mike, and I've tried to vote as I thought was the right thing to do, and if you look at my voting record as it's evaluated by most of the progressive organizations that look at voting records, I have a very, very high percentage of having voted with them, so I don't quite know what their concern is.


To be perfectly candid, I'm not one of those progressives who think Hillary Clinton is overly cautious. I'm a liberal.

crossposted from unbossed.com

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