After decades in the public eye, what will a $2.5 billion campaign tell us about her that we don’t already know?

I’ve got some questions about the candidacy of Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Presidency of the United States. Two items in the news caught my eye recently, and each brings on this uneasy feeling. One, a longtime DNC member, Rob Zimmerman, was moved to say that “it’s a moral imperative for people who are leaders of the progressive movement to support her.” The second item concerns Mrs. Clinton’s declared campaign fundraising goal.

First, to the matter of Rob Zimmerman volunteering to be our moral compass. His PR firm, Zimmerman/Edelson, works for clients including Lockheed Martin (missiles, fighters, bombers, that sort of thing ), the Port Authority of NY&NJ (not exactly a model of public-sector leadership) and Trans Canada, the Keystone Pipeline people. One might observe that leaders of the progressive movement might be uneasy with this client mix, but hey, business is business.

To the matter of his idea that progressives owe some kind of reflexive loyalty to Hillary Clinton: not so fast. If she’s the Democratic candidate, I’ll support her and vote for her. But there are issues on which I want her to step up and take the lead (Mike Weishar pointed to five of them in his April 13 piece) and I don’t give a damn about Benghazi or emails or any such kerfuffles. Wendy Cooper offered three reasons to put our shoulders to the Hillary wheel and again, I’m incline to agree, if…

I want to hear how candidate Clinton will deal with an obstructionist and unwelcoming Congress. The President cannot simply order up gun controls, universal health care, or financial reforms. She can’t end unilaterally our involvement in the Middle East without disrupting our policy on Israel. Wendy’s right, a Republican President would go on the attack against women, the environment, the fragile economic recovery. But how will Mrs. Clinton hold the line in a split government? Hillary Clinton served in the Senate for eight years so she must have some insights into how to find the devices necessary to get things done. Failing those devices, she probably knows where a number of skeletons are closeted and I want to know that she’s ready to play hardball.

I want to know her Cabinet, her Supreme Court shortlist, her brain trust. I think one of the singular weakness of the Obama Presidency has been (a) a not-ready-for-prime-time inner circle OR (b) his unwillingness to listen to the good advice of good advisors. I’d welcome a more transparent picture of how the President will find, use and engage with good people. This not all about her, no matter what her campaign says or the Republicans say.

I’m not as interested in her “vision for America” as my mayor Bill De Blasio seems to be. These are not good times for ambitious, sweeping agendas from the Executive Branch. For one thing there’s a Congress, dug in to oppose whatever a Democrat proposes. And the other thing is the American people. We are much more interested in meat-and-potatoes issues than in grand designs or Tomorrowland scenarios. A new electronic gadget, that we can get excited about. A picture of a changed America, not so much. So I don’t really care if she articulates a vision or not. I’m much more interested in what she’ll do about it Monday morning.

The second major concern at this point is the announced intention to raise $2.5 billion for the campaign. That seems a staggering amount on its own, but consider: Candidate Clinton has been in the public eye and/or in public life for more than 40 years.

She has been the subject of thousands of profiles, essays, op ed pieces, documentaries, news features and more. She campaigned extensively with Bill Clinton for his first Presidential run, served as First Lady, traveled to 79 countries. She campaigned during his second run, endured the white-hot light of scrutiny during the Monica Lewinsky scandal and saw her approval ratings soar.

She campaigned for the Senate seat in New York, won and won a second term. She carried out a vigorous and bruising primary campaign against Barack Obama. Then she accepted his invitation to serve as Secretary of State, becoming a visible and vocal team player for the Obama Administration.  She has written books, published a weekly syndicated column and has become a world figure.

So my question: what will a $2.5 billion campaign tell us about Hillary Clinton that we don’t already know? The Right will demonize her (they started airing attack ads the day she declared) and no amount of money can dampen their overheated antipathy.  Everybody agrees that the “arms race” in campaign spending is out of control.

What if Hillary Clinton became the first major candidate to declare a cap on spending and stuck to her guns even when the Koch Brothers go to town on her. I’m not persuaded that she needs to spend all that money so I can “get to know the real Hillary.” I don’t want a buddy or a pal for President. I want an effective, energized political infighter who can loosen up the Congress and actually accomplish a few of the many things we keep promising ourselves. That I could vote for.



  1. I agree with most of your essay –but with a couple of caveats.

    First, on the question of “Don’t We Already Know Everything about Hillary Clinton,” I’m not sure progressives really do know that much about what she’s done for our causes over the years.

    For instance, people seem surprised when I tell them about the direct, personal interventions she made in support of the Good Friday agreement that ended the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.

    Her work focused on empowering women on both sides to get involved in growing the movement to adopt the power-sharing agreement, and she’s carried that work over to much of what she’s done as Secretary of State to bring women into various peacemaking processes around the world.

    The theory, which I think is accurate, is that women’s silence tends to prolong war while their engagement promotes peace.

    Do American liberals know about that work? It doesn’t seem like they do.

    Second, on the question of whether these are “good times for ambitious, sweeping agendas from the Executive Branch,” I think this is PRECISELY the time when this country needs an ambitious strategy. Not in terms of airy hopes and dreams, but certainly in tangible, practical and yes, ambitious policies that will begin to turn this country around finally.

    Whatever you might think of President Obama, it’s undoubtedly true that we THOUGHT we were getting something ambitious, and we got something less than that. A huge part of why is that, I believe he and his team were naive about the way the right wing operates.

    Clinton is not.

    That, plus her decades in Washington, make me believe that she is exactly the right person to hit the ground running as President, build a constituency for real change, and push a real agenda through.

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