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“Hillary Clinton And The Burden Of Authenticity”: She Came, She Saw, She Talked, And She Listened

One of the funniest conversations I’ve heard took place among a small group of Arkansas women who’d done their best to clue the newlywed Hillary Rodham in on a basic fact of Southern life she’d been reluctant to accept in the 1970s: Cute counts. It’s not necessary to be a beauty queen, but a woman who doesn’t look as attractive as she can is often suspected of being too “authentic” for her own good.

The lady lumberjack look then fashionable on Ivy League campuses confused Arkansas voters, as did Hillary’s decision to keep her maiden name after marriage. (As the husband of a Southern girl often patronized to her face in a New England college town back then, I can testify that cultural incomprehension can run both ways. But that’s another topic.)

The point is that Hillary Rodham Clinton listened. As she later explained, she hadn’t really understood how strongly people in Arkansas felt about the name thing. So she took the name “Clinton” to stop sending a message she’d never intended. About the same time, it became fairly obvious that she’d started taking clothing, makeup, and hair-styling tips from female friends and quit looking like an outsider too.

So does that make her more or less “authentic” by current journalistic standards? Does it make her a big faker, the “manipulative, clawing robot” of a Maureen Dowd column? Or a relatively normal human being adjusting to the expectations of the people around her?

Not long afterward, Hillary also started doing something very much like what she’s recently been doing in Iowa and New Hampshire: holding small-scale town meetings with local school boards, parents, and teachers in support of the newly re-elected Bill Clinton’s Arkansas education reforms.

Clinton’s 1983 education package — its slogan was “No More Excuses” — brought math, science, and arts classes to many rural school districts for the first time. It raised teacher salaries and increased taxes to fund them. Over time, it’s helped close the historic gap between the state’s country and city schools.

And before the campaign was over, Arkansas’s First Lady was on a first-name basis with thousands of, yes, “everyday people” in all 75 Arkansas counties. She came, she saw, she talked, and she listened. As a secondary matter, Hillary’s image problems among Arkansan voters faded away.

How it works is pretty simple: You accept Arkansas, Arkansas accepts you. I’m pretty sure this is broadly true of Iowa and New Hampshire voters too. So is there an element of calculation in Hillary’s latest listening tour? Sure there is.

Is it merely cheap political theater?

Look, she’s a professional politician running for president. Of course her campaign events are stage-managed. How could they not be? Just as she ran for the U.S. Senate from New York back in 1999, a state where she’d never actually lived.

Although New Yorkers tend to be more flattered than offended when famous carpetbaggers descend upon them, she held small forums all across the state — impressing most observers with her industriousness and knowledge of local issues. America’s mayor, Rudy Giuliani, backed out of the race.

She’s a very smart cookie, Hillary Rodham Clinton. And she always does her homework. No, she’s not a mesmerizing speaker like Bill, and not the most outwardly charismatic politician in the race (whoever that may be). GOP focus groups say her biggest weakness is their perception of her “entitlement” and seeming remoteness from ordinary people’s lives.

So off she goes on another listening tour. “A sweet, docile granny in a Scooby van,” Dowd sneers. However, contrary to reporters who marvel at Hillary’s “willingness to put on the hair shirt of humility to regain power,” she actually appears to enjoy the fool things.

Partly, it’s a woman thing. See, Hillary and my wife worked together back when the governor’s wife served on the board of Arkansas Children’s Hospital. Diane always mentioned two things: how hard she worked on children’s health issues, and how she never pulled rank.

But what really endeared her to my wife was Hillary’s empathy during a prolonged medical crisis involving our son. At times, Diane was under terrible emotional strain. Hillary never failed to show concern. Was the new treatment helping? Had we thought about seeking another opinion? She acted like a friend when my wife needed all the friends she could get.

And no, there was nothing in it for her. I wasn’t a political journalist then. It wasn’t about me. It was about two mothers.

In an article unfortunately headlined “Manufacturing Authenticity,” Slate’s John Dickerson gets it right. For all her privilege and celebrity, Hillary “has something going for her that other politicians do not when it comes to these kinds of events… she has thought about family issues her entire life.”

Dickerson marveled that in Iowa, “Clinton actually appeared to be listening.”

And that could turn out to be her secret weapon.


By: Gene Lyons, Featured Post, The National Memo, April 22, 2015

April 27, 2015 Posted by | Arkansas, Election 2016, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Stop Lying!”: GOP Congressman Daniel Webster Called Out By Constituents Over His Multiple Votes To Repeal Obamacare

Things got heated for Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) during a town hall question-and-answer session in Winter Haven, Florida on Thursday. His constituents called him out over his multiple votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act and his misleading claims that the law’s consumer protections are being dismantled by the Obama administration.

Webster was responding to several constituents’ questions about the consequences that repealing Obamacare — which House Republicans, including Webster, have voted to do on 40 separate occasions — would have for the people in his district. Attendees asked Webster if he had any plans to replace consumer protections included in Obamacare, such as guaranteed insurance coverage for Americans with pre-existing medical conditions and free preventative health screenings for seniors:

QUESTIONER: What happens to us when Obamacare is repealed? What happens to people with pre-existing conditions that can’t get health care? What happens to those of us who finally have access to health insurance for the first time in nine or ten years? What happens to us? And you want to make this local, I’ll make this local. I’m a constituent, right now I can’t get health care. I’m waiting for this [insurance marketplace] to open and I’d like to know why we keep repealing [Obamacare]?

The congressman defended his repeal votes by saying the law would drive up Americans’ health care costs by requiring insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions. He then claimed that President Barack Obama himself thinks his signature law is unworkable. As evidence, Webster implied that the law’s protections — such as its cap on consumers’ annual out-of-pocket medical costs — were being dismantled by the Obama administration. That prompted an outcry from the audience, as people booed and countered Webster’s claims.

An event official interrupted at that point, asking the audience to be respectful and give Webster a chance to speak. One audience member replied by saying, “Well, tell him to stop lying!”

Watch it, courtesy of advocacy group Health Care for America Now (HCAN) and its local Florida partner Organize Now.

The Obama administration did, in fact, delay the health law’s cap on Americans’ out-of-pocket costs through their co-payments and deductibles. But as the audience correctly pointed out, it is a temporary one-year delay that only applies to certain employer-based insurance plans. The cap still applies for health policies sold through Obamacare’s statewide marketplaces beginning in October.

Webster isn’t the first GOP congressman to get flak from his constituents over his opposition to the health law. Last week, constituents confronted Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) over his many votes to repeal Obamacare and asked why he wanted to take away protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions. One grieving mother in the audience had told reporters before the town hall that her own son had died of colon cancer after being denied coverage for having a pre-existing condition.

Obamacare critics who have incessantly demonized the reform law and pushed for its repeal have been brushing up against a growing number of people that support its consumer protections. A recent poll from the Heritage Foundation’s advocacy arm that was ostensibly meant to show Obamacare’s unpopularity by over-surveying Republicans inadvertently showed that it is actually popular. Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) admitted that a “handful of things” in the law are “probably OK” in an interview on Wednesday.


By: Sy Mukherjee, Think Progress, August 16, 2013

August 18, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Marginalized By Louder Fringe Voices”: Barely A Blip On The National Radar, The Tea Party Is Losing August

August 2009 was the month of the Tea Party town hall.

We were just eight months into the Obama presidency, and Democratic congressmen headed home for recess only to get ambushed by mobs chanting their opposition to ObamaCare. As The New York Times reported at the time, “members of Congress have been shouted down, hanged in effigy, and taunted by crowds.” The August 2009 town halls certainly created obstacles on the road to health care reform, and in many ways, gave birth to the national Tea Party movement.

Now here we are in August 2013, when some observers thought that Tea Party groups would actually derail the tenuous legislative push for immigration reform. The anti-immigration group NumbersUSA is certainly trying, posting “Town Hall Talking Points” along with lists of congressional events at which to reel them off.

But midway through August, the Tea Party is barely a blip on the national radar. What happened?

1. The anti-immigration Tea Party crowd is being out-crazied
Despite the heroic efforts of Rep. Steve “Cantaloupe Calves” King, the anti-immigration faction of the Tea Party is being crowded out by voices even farther out on the fringe.

The news out of the town halls has featured Oklahoma’s “Birther Princess” and a Republican congressman casually musing about impeachment. Outside of the town halls, Republicans are publicly feuding with each other over whether to agitate for a government shutdown and conservative talk radio hosts are expending their energies defending the wisdom of turning a Missouri rodeo into a minstrel show.

The right wing’s summer cacophony is muffling the noise of the anti-immigration forces, as well as deepening the Republican image problem among moderates and people of color.

2. The Republican leadership wants no part of Tea Party agitation
For all we know, the Tea Party fizzle may be exactly what the Republican leadership wants. According to Politico, “House Republican leaders have spoken about immigration only when asked during the August recess.” That suggests Speaker John Boehner and his allies are looking to lower the temperature, creating a climate that eventually will allow compromise to win the day.

But it’s not just the formal Republican leadership that is refusing to join the anti-immigration crusade. Tea Party favorites like Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz haven’t been leading the anti-immigration parade either, despite their opposition to the bipartisan Senate bill. The Daily Caller‘s Mickey Kaus lashed out, saying, “If Amnesty Wins, Blame Cruz,” as Cruz is siphoning off conservative grassroots energy for his fight against ObamaCare.

The best NumbersUSA could book for its Stop Amnesty tour is Rep. King. A recent rally led by King, held in the congressional district of the second-highest ranking House Republican, attracted a mere 60 people. Meanwhile 1,500 pro-immigration-reform activists held a Wednesday rally in the heavily Latino congressional district of the third-highest ranking House Republican.

3. Republican money is on the other side
The 2009 town hall outbursts were nationally organized in part by conservative groups FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity, which were funded by the billionaire Koch brothers.

But the Kochs support immigration reform, as do Karl Rove and 100 other major Republican donors. As of June, pro-immigration groups had outspent opponents more than 3-to-1.

These three factors are connected. Because the anti-immigration squad is so poorly funded and lacking in leadership, it is vulnerable to being marginalized by louder fringe voices and better organized mainstream voices.

The louder the fringe voices become, the stronger the case mainstream Republicans can make to their leaders to accept immigration reform, on the grounds that the party can’t survive if it remains associated with birthers and bigots. At the same time, since the Tea Party can’t get the conservative grassroots riled up now, they won’t have much of a case to make to incumbent congressmen that they will face fierce primary challenges next year if they agree to a compromise with Democrats.

Score August as a big win for immigration reform.


By: Bill Scher, The Week, August 16, 2013

August 18, 2013 Posted by | Tea Party | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hiding From Town-Hall Hollering”: GOP Now In Awkward Position Of Disappointing Far-Right Activists They Worked So Hard To Rile Up

About a month ago, the House Republican Conference produced “exceptionally detailed” guides for their members on how best to survive the lengthy August recess. Party officials offered some rather remarkable advice in the “planning kit,” including “planting questions” so local events remain on message.

Of course, that assumes lawmakers will actually host local events in the first place. The New York Times reports today that this summer, many members of Congress have suddenly lost their interest in town-hall forums.

Though Republicans in recent years have harnessed the political power of these open mic, face-the-music sessions, people from both parties say they are noticing a decline in the number of meetings. They also say they are seeing Congressional offices go to greater lengths to conceal when and where the meetings take place. […]

With memories of those angry protests still vivid, it seems that one of the unintended consequences of a movement that thrived on such open, often confrontational interactions with lawmakers is that there are fewer members of Congress now willing to face their constituents.

A unnamed Senate Republican aide told the NYT, “Ninety percent of the audience will be there interested in what you have to say. It’s the other 5 or 10 percent who aren’t. They’re there to make a point and, frankly, to hijack the meeting.”

I don’t want to sound unsympathetic. I’ve never worked for a member of Congress, but I imagine it’s quite frustrating when you go to the trouble of organizing an event and “planting questions,” only to see some local troublemakers derail your plans.

Of course, I’d remind these lawmakers that democracy can be messy, and that hiding from constituents doesn’t seem especially healthy.

The Times piece doesn’t quantify the observation, so it’s hard to say with confidence whether there’s been a significant drop in the number of town-hall discussions or if this is just something “people from both parties say they are noticing.” Once the recess ends, it’d be interesting to see an official tally to bolster the point — counting up all of the meetings held by all of the members, and comparing the totals to previous years.

But if the argument is based on a real trend, it’s worth considering in detail why, exactly, members who used to love town-hall meetings suddenly changed their mind.

It’s easy to blame annoying loudmouths who show up and cause trouble, but I find it hard to believe this is a new phenomenon.

Rather, I think there are two other angles to this. The first is that the Republican Party base is starting to push for things Republican Party lawmakers don’t want to deliver — a government shutdown, national default, impeachment, hearings into the president’s birth certificate, a special committee to investigate Benghazi conspiracy theories — and town-hall forums put GOP officials in an awkward position of disappointing the far-right activists the party has worked so hard to rile up.

The second is the flip-side: the Republican Party base is pushing for extremism, many Republican officials are going along, and invariably someone catches this on video.

Note, for example, that three GOP members of Congress have embraced the birther conspiracy theory in the last two weeks — and in each instance, they were speaking at a town-hall forum, being egged on by birther constituents.

In other words, we’re looking at a dynamic in which Republicans (a) will be pressed to say something stupid; or (b) will go ahead and say something stupid.

Is it any wonder so many members are hiding?


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 13, 2013

August 14, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Right Wing | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Crazy Is as Crazy Does”: Congress Is Off To Suck Up To Its Lunatic Tea Party Constituents

Four years ago, Democratic representatives went home for the August recess and found themselves under assault from angry Tea Partiers, who took over town meetings with shouting and fist-shaking over the Affordable Care Act in particular, and more generally, the theft of their country by the foreign Muslim usurper Barack Obama. This August, however, it’s Republicans who are under attack by some of those same people.

At one town meeting after another, hard-right Republican House members are being confronted by constituents accusing them of not being quite doctrinaire and reckless enough (see here, or here, or here). Once again the immediate topic is Obamacare, but now the question isn’t whether the law should pass, but whether Republicans should shut down the government in a futile attempt to defund it. The members catching the most heat are those who argue that shutting down the government is useless, because Barack Obama is never going to sign a budget that defunds his greatest domestic accomplishment, so the only thing a shutdown would do is create more political headaches for the GOP.

This outbreak of relative pragmatism on the part of some Republican members of Congress is of course seen by Tea Partiers as little more than weak-kneed appeasement. It suggests that there’s a shift underway among the Republican base, from simply favoring the threatening of a government shutdown as a way to extract concessions, to supporting a shutdown of the government even with the knowledge that doing so will produce no concessions from Democrats.

As many a Republican politician will tell you (ask Marco Rubio, for one), convincing the Tea Party that you’re sufficiently conservative and that you hate Barack Obama enough isn’t just a full-time job, it’s a game that almost everyone will eventually lose. At some point you’ll take some position or express some opinion that is interpreted as less than maximal anti-Obamaism, and all it takes is one slip to be declared a traitor forevermore. So as crazy as Republican politicians sometimes seem, don’t forget that they’re under constant pressure from a base that is even crazier.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, August 8, 2013

August 11, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Tea Party | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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