Posts Tagged ‘The American Interest’

VAL 2016 | Om Hillary Clinton vinner valet beror det till stor del på att man lyckats knäcka koden för hur en modern politisk kampanjorganisation skall se ut.

The American Interest januari-februari 2016

Bill Clinton och Hillary Clinton har sakta men säkert över åren byggt upp vad professor Walter Russel Mead på The American Interest kallar “The First Postmodern Political Machine”.

The contrast between the apparent inevitability that surrounded Hillary Clinton’s procession toward the Democratic presidential nomination for so long and the air of scandal and suspicion that seems to trail behind her wherever she goes is striking. And it points to something important: Hillary Clinton isn’t a candidate borne aloft on a wave of popular enthusiasm. She is no JFK, no Ronald Reagan. She is no George Wallace or William Jennings Bryan. The marching bands processing before her have to be paid; she can’t fill vast halls with cheering throngs like Bernie Sanders or, heaven help us, Donald Trump. But she soldiers gamely on, determined to struggle through the exhausting and degrading routine of the eternal campaign.


But determination and grit aren’t the only forces behind her. To understand the Clinton candidacy and the odd mix of acceptance and resistance it conjures up in the party, one has to understand that she represents something that is at once very old and very new in American politics. She is a machine politician, but the machine behind her is a new kind of American political machine: a postmodern one.


There seem to be four pillars for this new kind of edifice.

First, there are the unintended consequences of the dysfunctional campaign finance “reforms” over the past thirty years that gutted traditional party organizations while empowering billionaires. Both the Democratic and Republican parties are, institutionally speaking, mere shadows of their former selves.


Second, there is the synergy created by the intersection of the Power Couple and the Twenty-second Amendment, which limited Presidents to two terms. Term-limited Presidents have a hard time convincing donors that further gifts will result in future benefits. This is a problem the Clintons do not have.

Hillary Clinton is the first person who can convince power brokers that she’s ready to make the transition from FLOTUS to POTUS.


What the Clintons have figured out is that a successful Power Couple can stay at the top of national life for decades—two terms for the first member, an interregnum of unspecified length followed, hopefully, but two terms for the second member, by which time the torch may have passed to a new generation.


Third, the Foundation vehicle allows the Clintons to attract enormous sums of money from foreign as well as domestic donors. Unlike ordinary politicians, the Clintons can take money from foreign individuals, states and firms without breaking US laws. They can even sidestep much if not all of the odium that comes from running an American campaign with foreign money. Raising money to fight breast cancer in Botswana is a much more creditable activity than taking political contributions from an African mining company with a dubious reputation. …] This is honest graft at work: one hires someone who is a reasonably qualified administrator for the program, but who is also plugged into the network of activists and operatives needed to keep the permanent campaign up and running. One can also spread the money around: the Clinton Foundation can make grants to other like minded non-profits, providing good jobs to loyal supporters.

Patronage in the service of doing good, that can effectively and legally use foreign donations in ways that build a powerful domestic political force: this might not be up there with the discovery of fire or the wheel as an invention that changes history, but it is not an insignificant contribution to the art of American governance.


Fourth, the Clintons have captured the power of networks. Like Facebook, the Clinton network is powerful because almost everyone is part of it. Since 1992, when the Clintons stormed out of Arkansas to take the White House, they have been at the center of world power and fame. Everybody who is anybody knows them or knows of them. They can introduce anybody to anybody; they can put together the most star-studded guest list for any purpose. The power of celebrity gives them the ability to publicize and glamorize almost anything; there are powerful reasons to be part of the network that includes virtually everyone in the media, in government, in finance, in business or academia that anyone wants to know or do business with.


Many find something deeply repellent in the ways that the new machine facilitates the integration of global and American politics and lobbying. Many will denounce the self-interested mingling of charity and political power-broking; others will gasp at the depth and degree of conflict of interest that a system like this inevitably entails. All these problems are real, and the Clintons, whatever their virtues, have never been at their best when it comes to disentangling the public good and their political interests.


Even the power of a great political machine cannot (yet?) deliver electoral victory on a national scale. Barack Obama (who seems increasingly interested in setting up a rival postmodern machine when his own presidency comes to an end) can tell us about that. In the old days, machine politicians had a hard time winning national campaigns; people out in the less corrupted (or, if you prefer, less sophisticated) flyover states aren’t always happy about big city politicians with big city connections.

Tidskriftsomslag: The American Interest, vol. XI, nummer 3, januari-februari 2016.

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VÄLJARE | Att framhäva politikernas personlighet och privatliv är något både media och politiker inte tycks kunna få nog av.

The American Interest

Det personliga säljer och politiker vill gärna få väljarna att tro att han eller hon är din kompis.

Det är därför Fredrik Reinfeldt gärna talade om att han tyckte om att städa och Stefan Löfven inte har något emot att berätta om sin arbetarbakgrund. Och det är därför Annie Lööf inte så sällan talar om att hon är uppvuxen i glesbygd.

Dessa berättelser är till för att väcka sympatier hos väljarna, få dem att identifiera sig med politikerna och öka förtroendet för politiken.

Om politikerna kan berätta en sympatisk historia om sitt liv hoppas man att detta skall öka sympatierna för deras politik. Och locka över tveksamma väljare.

Om väljarna kan fås att tro att politikern är ”som människor är mest” kan man minimera risken för att väljarna röstar på någon annan p.g.a. politiska förslag som inte är till förmån för väljaren. För inte skulle väl ”min kompis” fatta beslut som skulle skada mig som väljare?!

Resultatet blir att vi allt för ofta ser politiker som prioriterar deltagande i caféprogram och morgonsoffor istället för att möta hårdslående journalister.

En som var mästare på att säga ingenting var förra hälso- och landstingsborgarrådet Filippa Reinfeldt (M).

Den som lyckas hitta en intervju där hon verkligen får stå till svars för sin politik är bara att gratulera. Istället hittar man desto fler lättviktiga reportage och personporträtt som innehåller noll av värde för den politiskt intresserade.

En som tycker att det hela har gått för långt är författaren R. Jay Magill, Jr. som skriver om faran av politisk närhet mellan väljare och politiker (och media som så gärna bidrar till detta).

As the American presidential primary season gears up in earnest, prudent men and women would do well to steel themselves against the coming onslaught of mawkish promotionals bound to head in our general direction.


Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign message, too, is sculpted around intimate details of her life, including her upbringing by her long-suffering mother Dorothy Rodham and her rule-obsessed father Hugh Rodham. The script cries out, “I, like you, have been a victim”, a message crafted to resonate with Democratic constituencies. The New York Times eagerly assists in the effort; note the cover story of the July 19 New York Times Magazine by Mark Leibovich, “The Once and Future Hillary”, followed on Tuesday, July 21, by Amy Chozick’s front-page story, “Clinton Father’s Brusque Style, Mostly Unspoken but Powerful.”

Of course, emotional appeal has been an effective rhetorical device since the beginning of rhetorical devices.Of course, emotional appeal has been an effective rhetorical device since the beginning of rhetorical devices.


Some of what has happened to American political culture in recent decades is common to Western democracies generally, and some is not. On the one hand, there is evidence of a general personalization of politics in Western democracies over the past three decades. In Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands there has been a increasing focus on the personality of a political figure: his personal preferences, consumer choices, how he looks, behavioral tics, psychological and emotional makeup, personal histories or private family affairs.


Though certainly there is civic good that comes of knowing that an elected official is laundering money, lying to the citizenry about matters of the public interest, or defrauding taxpayers, it is unclear if knowing about politicians’ private affairs actually matters in their conduct of affairs of state. Europeans tend to think it does not; politicians are not asked to share the intimate details of their private or emotional lives because those details are deemed irrelevant to politics. But Americans tend to think it does.


Whether one prefers European or American sensibilities in such matters, political leaders are not just ordinary beings like you and me. They have willfully entered public life and, in a representative democracy, agreed to accept the responsibility of adopting a representative public role within it. They have agreed, in effect, to perform for us. They are therefore charged not with disclosing their personal feelings about certain subjects but with achieving what their constituents want them to achieve. This is why politicians in democracies are also known as “public servants”, an arrangement we too often forget, or from which we have been distracted by the culture of political celebrity.

After all, democracy involves giving up some things you want and begrudgingly accepting some things you don’t. And since getting things done is what we expect of our politicians, we ought to focus less on how “sincerely” a politician holds a given belief and more on how effective he is on achieving the ends with which he has been tasked. Indeed, “sincere” beliefs can beget opposing ideological rigidities so powerful as to make pragmatic compromise all but impossible.


We would be wise to remember that a performing self only becomes “fake” when the standards and qualities set for the private self are substituted into the template for the public political self. It would be better, and it would, by extension, generate less fakeness in the end, if we simply removed the expectation of wanting some of the positive qualities we set for the private self—authenticity, genuineness, sincerity—from the category of the public, political self altogether. We should instead demand other qualities from the political self that have nothing to do with private subjectivity: a strong work ethic, clarity of expression, sound judgment, and even objectivity. Rebuilding the wall between the two kinds of selves and understanding that this demarcation holds is not only morally advisable but would help reinvigorate public life. It would also free politicians from the tyranny of the sense that they must attempt to be intimate with strangers—even if they are voters.

Tidskriftsomslag: The American Interest, September-oktober 2015 (Vol. XI, nr. 1)

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