If U.S. politics doesn't interest you, skip this post.
Though anything can happen in the next two years, Hillary Clinton is seen as the likely front-runner for the Democratic nomination. Many GOP fans hate her and think of her as an uber-liberal. However, she can play to the middle more easily than many a Republican. To demonstrate that, here's a fictional interview-briefing for Mrs. Clinton.
Briefing paper 24-A01 [Feb 20,2006] CONFIDENTIAL
Title: Mock-Interview Prep against Right-of-Center Opponent
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Persona: Mrs. Clinton is a tough, small-government politician. You are religious, but your religion is personal. Government cannot solve problems. Government must lay the framework and then get out of the way. Government only belongs where business will fail.
Unspoken Approach: You aren't anti-Republican. You agree with almost everything that moderate Republicans say. The extreme right wing worries you. You do not agree with the extreme left. You understand their fears of big-government power, but you will not push their agenda. The extreme-right runs the Republicans; you will not let the extreme-left run the Democrats.
Your approach is positive. You are not anti-Republican. You are the candidate who will galvanize the sensible Republicans and Democrats.
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Q. Mrs. Clinton, a lot of people remember you as the person pushing a healthcare plan in the 1990s. Do you think healthcare should be nationalized?
A. Of course not. We have health-care issues, but we still have the best health-care system in the world. Other industrialized countries -- like the UK and Canada -- have problems with waiting-lines and availability. Why give up good healthcare to move to something like that? Why destroy something that works?
That's one side of the issue. On the other hand, everyone knows there's a problem with healthcare. Costs are ballooning. And, consider the people who are uninsured: is our system better for them? So, how do we control skyrocketing costs and how do we give basic healthcare to the uninsured? How do we increase the great incentives of a private system? Do you know how many billions are spent just on the marketing of drugs? We have to fix the system; we cannot leave our children paying half of their income on healthcare. And, it is an embarrassment that we have such a great and rich country and yet we let the poorest of the poor fend for themselves when it comes to the most basic of health care.
Q: Was your plan to nationalize healthcare a mistake, then?
A: We never ever planned to nationalize it. That's talk-radio propoganda. We have no plans to do so now. We want a system that increases private initiatives and incentives. Even then, we wanted more private sector involvement by getting more people insured by health-plans. What we wanted to do, in essence, was universal coverage that kept the incentives in place. The goverment might have subsidized essential health premiums for those who could not afford it- -- like food stamps and child-welfare. The plan itself was a good one. I think the way we articulated it and planned to phase it was a mistake. Our opponents like to demonize the Democrats as if we wanted to nationalize healthcare. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Here are some facts: 45% of healthcare dollars today are spent by government? If you count the tax-subsidy for health-care premiums, it's more like 60%. If the government is spending that much money, shouldn't we be concerned with how it is spent? The recent drug-coverage under Medicare was supported by the Republicans too. Were they trying to nationalize healthcare? Of course not. But, our plan would not include gifts to the large drug-companies. They added a provision that doesn't let the government negotiate good prices for drugs; and they're supposed to be the party of smart finance!
Q: I don't think you're addressing my question about your health plan, are you?
A: Yes I am, because the point is that the Republicans are trying to address the problems in healthcare too. But they cannot. Their moderates can't swing it. Our plan wasn't sweetened for the lobbyists. Maybe that was naive of us. Maybe the deception of the other party is better, where they pretend to be fighting for privatization and choice, while they implement their plan, and give away money to their high-powered friends. I'll be candid, I think my party needs to do a much better job at articulating and explaining its viewpoint. I'll also be candid that some people in my party want a system like Canada's; but that was not what we put on the table; that is not what I want. The real lesson from the plan we proposed is that the American people are saying how important this is to them; I see them saying that the known devil is more comforting that the unknown plan; I see it as a vote for incremental change and learning as we go. But, in no way do I see the average American saying: to hell with those poor folk, let them suffer, why do they need doctors. The average American is not saying: drugs are cheap, healthcare is cheap, Medicare is just fine.
Q: But, the point is, that your plan would increase the government's role in healthcare.
A: No, it wouldn't. The point is: what is the government's role? Is it to give the drug companies any amount they ask for? If you want to understand what the private sector wants, don't look to the vested interests. Ask companies like GM. Look at their fully-private health plan. Should their retirees be rolling the dice when they join a company like GM? Many top leaders in business want the government to get involved selectively. We have to figure out a way to do that, without removing the individual choice that American's enjoy. Will that mean that the government's role goes from 60% to 62% or does it mean it goes to 58%? I don't think that's the important question, that's not the goal one way or the other.
Q: Mrs. Clinton, if you're elected, you'll be the first woman in the job. Do you think a woman can be Commander and Chief of the US military forces?
A: Definitely. Many countries have had women heads of states. The U.S. has lagged behind. Remember Margaret Thatcher. Was she less tough because she was a woman? And Golda Meir? Look at other continents too -- Asia, South America. Women are tough; everyone knows that. Don't just look at world leaders. In our personal lives we all know at least one really tough woman: a mother, an aunt, a grand-mother, a teacher. When it comes to taking tough decisions, there are enough tough women and enough wavering men -- one can't stereotype. I think the only reason it's an issue is that it would be a first for the U.S. What I say is: show that you're a real man, by not dismissing someone just because they're a woman.
Q. Would you say you're a feminist?
A. That's just a label. Think of women who wanted the right to vote. If they were feminists, then I'll wear the label proudly Others use the word negatively. They evoke the image of a women who wants to rule and be bossy, they want to evoke the "starve the rat" slogan, they want to evoke the negative, those who hate, not those who want to make things better. Sometimes, when movements start as a reaction to injustice, they over-shoot themselves. Indeed there are many who call themselves feminists, who would tell you that I am not like them. If I am a feminist, then I am the type who values family, who values standing by her child and husband when times get tough. So, if people want to label me, let them; I am what I am, with or without the labels.
Q. Even if you're tough, can a Democrat president fight the war against terror with the same vigor?
A. Don't mistake bluster for vigor. What do you say of a party that makes a big show of renaming French Fries in the house cafetaria, but then suggests that our ports should be run by a company from the middle east? Or a party that makes a big deal about how we went to Iraq with the help of so many other nations, and on closer investigation we find out that most of those nations sent only a token number of troops. When confronted, they try to make their detractor feel guilty by saying "Don't belittle the contributions of others?" But, nobody is saying those countries did not contribute. That doesn't change the fact that many of them made token contributions, like a friend who thinks its rude to say "no".
Q: If your daughter wanted to have an abortion, how would you advise her?
A: At her age, I would explain what I see as both sides of the issue. Of course I would not flatly adivse one thing or the other. That wouldn't be fair, and it wouldn't work anyway. So, I wouldn't say: "Have an abortion" nor would I say "Don't have an abortion". It depends on so many factors about her age, her circumstances, the father, and so many other things. As a parent, I have an important role in giving her all the facts and helping her decide. I do know one thing, however, the last thing I want is a policeman at the door, telling her what to do.
Q: What about late-term abortions? As President, would you sign a law that bans them?
A: It depends on the law. If a qualified doctor thinks a medical procedure is necessary, the law should not stand between a doctor and his patient. We're not a big brother government; that's not what America is about. Previous attempts to pass laws like that have been ideological; the supporters refuse to put any clauses into them that make them reasonable. Sometimes I wonder if they're serious about passing them, or if they simply want to make a political point with the extreme right wing.
Q: But isn't the problem that any health exemption can be abused?
A: Every law can be abused, right? We allow people to drive cars. Do some abuse that? Lawmakers should put on their thinking caps! In every other case, they manage to craft laws that stop the worst abuses; why is this any different? Why doesn't the far right help craft good and reasonable laws on this issue? The answer is: because they do not want to. They want to be in your examination room, in your bedroom, in your television, on your phone line. You don't take away the rights of all women, just because a few try to beat the system; but then the extreme right isn't too keen on individual rights, are they!
Q: Doesn't your support for choice alienate a large chunk of voters?
A: I'm not going to lie. Now, some will paint me as a baby killer. So, let me say: I want laws that impose reasonable restrictions and also give people the right to make the right decisions about their health. But, if someone is going to vote against me because of that one issue, I'd ask them to rethink it. In fact, if someone if going to vote for me because of that single issue, they should rethink it too.
Q: How would you fix Social Security?
A: First and foremost, one has to deal with it honestly. The Republican approach is to call it a ponzi scheme, scare everyone, and get them to open Wall Street accounts. It's like their approach to health care. The real solution is to understand the problem in clear terms, plan a long-term solutions and then work towards it. President Bush set up a group to study the problem. That was a good start; but, the group was told not to consider putting away any more money than it does today. Now, everyone would like to have their cake and eat it too, but by starting with a goal like that before one has looked at the issue, constrains the options. If a chief executive wants a certain outcome more than he wants the truth, someone will be happy provide the "right" spin.
For starters, be clear that Social Security has a surplus; not a deficit, but a surplus. That's where it stands today. The problems are in the future. And, it's really simple math. In broad terms, the solution is also simple: increase savings or decrease expenses. That's where we need to have an open discussion as a nation. Start by asking: why do we have social security? We have it as a safety net. Now take the idea of means testing: there is such a political hullabaloo about it. But, think of it this way -- two people contribute money to this insurance scheme all their life. One of them does really well, the other loses his job to down-sizing and ends up in trouble late in life. Now, for whom is the safety net designed? Should both people get an equal amount from the safety net fund? We must ask basic questions, not push for canned answers that will help our Wall-Street buddies.
The far-right shout "tax increase" and shut their ears. They think a billionaire should get those few extra thousands. I don't think so. Talk to the billionaires like Warren Buffett and see what they say. See how willing they are to do their part and give back to this nation that has been the bedrock on which they could create so much wealth. Most are happy to give back. Yet, the extreme right won't have it. That's ideological blindness.
They will not even consider short-term solutions. Take this simple idea: social security has a current surplus every year. Not for long, but right now, it does. So, rather than spending that money, doesn't it make sense to keep it aside? The previous Democratic administration had turned deficits into surpluses. If we had continued to be fiscally responsible, we could have allowed the social-security surplus to remain safe. Instead, when Mr. Gore spoke about it, saying we need to put it in a "lock-box", the extreme right pooh-poohed his terms. They don't want people to understand his simple message of fiscal responsibility.
Q: Would you pull out of Iraq?
A: I voted for the Iraq war. I'm not sure we were given a candid assessment, but that's water under the bridge. President Bush wants to bring our young folk home. Is there anyone who does not? Americans do not want to rule other countries. I think General Powell was the one who warned the President: if you break it, you fit it! Well, he broke it, now we have to fix it.
It is funny how roles get reversed. The Democrats have always understood that there are some troubled places in the world, where things are serious enough to effect the world unless we help; other places where there is large-scale genocide that could be stopped by international help. A lot of Iraqi's don't want us to leave. They want peace. They want stability. A lot of evil people blowing up innocent civilians. We don't want to be viewed as cowboys who will do whatever we wish, regardless of the rule of law. That's not good; and, it does not work. It makes people suspicious of us, and turns away friends who might otherwise have been willing to help us.
You asked about toughness. I think the far-right confuse toughness and loud bluster. There's a way to be quietly, silently tough and show people you mean business, without shouting it out to the whole world and making them lose face and turn away. There's a way to talk to world leaders quietly and tell them you must have them on your team. Instead, if you shout it across the ocean, you put them in a tight spot. Even if they want to help, they don't want to be American yes-men. Some things must be done with quiet diplomacy. You might sneer at that as real-politik, but it's really human-relationships 101.
Q: People say the Bush's are soft on the oil-firms. Would you do something different?
A: It's a funny thing. Once again, when it comes to policy, everyone agrees we're right. Even the Republicans agree that we're right. Remember a couple of years back, when the oil-companies were making huge profits as gas prices were skyrocketing. Who was blazing it on their headlines? Not just the New York Times. No, Fox News and folks like Matt Drudge were just as vocal. The difference is that the liberal voices were mostly saying: "I told you so", while the right-wing was really angry that their friends were being so brazen about price-gouging.
Q: You're use the term "right-winger" and "extreme right" more than you use the term Republican. Is your opponent from the extreme right?
A. I'll admit that there are many who are more extreme than he is. All the same, most Americans are simply common-sensical about politics. You could say the country is pretty much in the center. Small government, less government intrusiveness, sensible handling of energy, foreign relations and infrastructure, and let religion and ideology be a personal issue. Most Republicans are not extreme in their ideas. The problem is that Presidential elections are often very close, with both parties getting 47% or more of the vote. So, a small group of ideologues can have an impact that is far out of proportion with their numbers. The tail is wagging the Republican dog.
Q: Are they really doing that? Are they getting their way?
A: Yes. Not all at once, but they are. Look at what's happening on teaching evolution. It is ridiculous. I doubt there's any serious school in any modern country that teaches anything other than evolution. I am religious and I see nothing controversial in thinking that this infinitely complex scheme of our universe was designed by a God. Of course it was; but, that does not conflict with evolution. The Catholic church and many other religions have accepted evolution for decades. God designed the universe; but we do not teach that in a public school. We don't want government meddling in religion. And, we don't want to undermine our schools; we all know our kids need more not less science learning.
Q: Don't you have your extreme wing too? Don't you have enviro-nazis and greens?
A: Not really; we don't kow-tow to extreme views. We're tougher than that. Do we want the votes of folks who vote Green? Sure we do. But, we won't change and let a small faction tell the the American people what to do. They might be impatient; but, this is America. You put your views out there and talk about them and change it the best you can. You don't force change. And leaving the party doesn't help their cause. I'd love to work for a greener world, but I absolutely will not be blackmailed by threats.
That's the difference between us and the Republicans. They will let themselves be held hostage by people like Pat Robertson who thinks hurricane Katrina was God's punishment to New Orleans. The Republicans would do well to spin off a "Red" party, instead of being the red party.
I know that many people join the Green Party because they think that the big parties do not move fast enough. But, joining the Greens is not going to make things better. While they do that, President Bush sells away 300,000 acres of government land.
Q. What do you say to Independent voters who stay away from the election?
A. I think every vote counts; more people should vote. I can empathize with people who think change is too slow, and who think there's too much politics and too litle good coming out of Washington. It's the nature of a democracy that things can be a bit messy and noisy. So, for voters who think that one side is just slightly better than the other, I say vote that preference. And, for those who think they want things dead center, vote a Democratic President to counter a Republican house. Voters should think about the whole picture. For example, think about the composition of the Supreme Court. Does an independent voter want all our justices to be interpreting cases from right of center?
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The current political wisdom says that if Mrs. Clinton does run, it increases the likelihood that the Republicans will field a centrist candidate like McCain. She'll have a hard time painting someone like that as being extreme!