But for the grace of God &c.

by Henry on March 7, 2008

The NYT tells us that Samantha Power (who is, on a variety of levels, one of the most interesting senior foreign policy types in US politics) has just resigned from Obama’s campaign after a supposed-to-be-off-the-record quote about Hillary Clinton being a ‘monster’ was published by The Scotsman. Which makes this piece from David Glenn in the Chronicle a few months ago all the more interesting.

Ms. Power is just one of dozens of university-based scholars advising the current crop of presidential candidate … The role of presidential advisers has changed a great deal since the early 1960s, when John F. Kennedy was closely identified with a clutch of Ivy League scholars. One of those advisers, the late Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith, is credited with writing one of the most famous lines in Kennedy’s Inaugural Address: “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.”

Ms. Power and the other scholar-advisers of the 2008 season face challenges that Galbraith’s generation never knew. The public is much more skeptical of credentialed expertise than it was during the Kennedy administration. And new technologies make the candidate-adviser relationship more perilous than it once was. In theory a student in one of Ms. Power’s Harvard courses might post one of her classroom comments (perhaps wildly out of context) on a blog and create a news-media storm within hours.

“That’s the one thing that terrifies me,” Ms. Power says. “That I’ll say something that will somehow hurt the candidate.” She says that in public lectures and interviews, she sometimes fights the urge to make unkind statements about other candidates. “That’s just not Obama’s style,” she says. “Left to my own devices, I’d articulate my frustrations in a much harsher way.”

If further reinforcement be needed, this tells me again how bad I (and I suspect many other blogging academics) would be at real world politics in the highly unlikely event that someone wanted me to work for them in a campaign. It’s pretty easy to shoot off your mouth when you’re only representing yourself, but it’s obviously not so great when others can use what you say to attack the candidate that you work for.

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{ 34 comments }

1

Steve LaBonne 03.07.08 at 6:25 pm

Here’s what’s amazing: she’s a former JOURNALIST. Some cloistered academic might indeed have an excuse for being naive in dealing with journalists, but what’s hers?

2

Stuart 03.07.08 at 6:37 pm

Of course the silly thing is that this would have any impact on the public – anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the current Democratic primaries should know there has been some level of acrimony between the two campaigns, so that some members of either campaign being frustrated or exasperated with the opposing campaigners or candidate hardly seems particularly notable or newsworthy.

Now if they were giving a public statement along those lines, that would be different, but people that are part of campaigns this hard fought and are presumably significantly personally invested in the result, may be fairly highly stressed, etc., it just doesn’t seem too surprising that some of them would be making such comments in (presumed) privacy.

3

JW 03.07.08 at 6:38 pm

Grr…she was one of the reasons why I voted for him. What would have been wrong with him saying that he values her policy expertise, even though he strongly disagrees with her remarks? Is it too much to ask for an administration that can tolerate dissenting voices?

4

Seth Finkelstein 03.07.08 at 7:04 pm

Bleh “In theory a student in one of Ms. Power’s Harvard courses might post one of her classroom comments …”

Yeah, “in theory”, but that neglects something like “in practice, it might be seized upon by a well-funded attack machine”, which is a bit different :-(.

Double-bleh. Opponents have been making hay of candidate’s friends and advisors forever. Specifics change, but the process itself is common throughout political history.

5

McChowder 03.07.08 at 8:04 pm

She’ll return after the primaries. Clinton could attack Obama for this now (assuming she was allowed to stay), but McCain won’t be able to make hay by then.

6

c.l. ball 03.07.08 at 8:47 pm

Actually, it’s not that hard if you were in government, say on the NSC staff:

- never talk to the press
– never talk to your friends about your policy or personality differences
– keep a daily diary to vent frustrations

It’s not all that dissimilar to being an editor of a double-blind peer-reviewed journal, or even a staffer with access to the data (as I was): never talk to anyone about what you do outside general terms.

Let’s not beat up Powers. Powers is not a career journalist in the usual sense. She interned at CEIP out of Yale, started as a stringer in former Yugoslavia for two years (a gusty move), worked as an analyst for Int’l Crisis Group, went to Harvard Law, and was hired to help found the Carr Center at Harvard. She was never a beat correspondent for a regular daily or weekly, where the on-record/background/no-attribution/off-the-record distinction is drilled into you. Her journalism is more int’l affairs feature-writing with an advocacy spin, closer to Ignatieff or Gourevitch (Philip not Peter).

7

Matthew Kuzma 03.07.08 at 9:49 pm

You have to love gossip news. Who cares what someone advising a campaign says about anything at all? She doesn’t speak for Obama, and she doesn’t speak for the campaign, and not a single person on Earth honestly believes her name-calling against Senator Clinton means anything at all.

8

geo 03.07.08 at 10:01 pm

#7 is exactly right. It’s depressing that this bit of flotsam makes the news.

9

DC 03.07.08 at 10:18 pm

As a big Power fan I’m very dissapointed with this. I mean with the Obama campaign’s decision to cave.

10

Picador 03.07.08 at 10:24 pm

I’ll join the chorus of “Why is this an issue?” above. The writeup in the Times (UK) was interesting to me, not for what it had to say about Power’s remark, but for this quote from an anonymous Hillary aide:

Obama has won the small caucus states with the latte-sipping crowd. They don’t need a president, they need a feeling.

That’s right: Thomas Frank’s “latte libel”, now being used not by the Republicans to slander Democrats, but being used by the Clinton campaign against another Democrat!

What next? Is she going to start calling Obama an anti-American pinko hippy?

I’m looking forward to the “Clinton-Lieberman ’08” bumper stickers.

11

bicyclewarriorwith314 03.07.08 at 10:24 pm

I second what #9 said.

12

bernarda 03.07.08 at 10:31 pm

Because our home-grown academics don’t seem to be up to the job, Yale University has hired someone who could bridge the political/academic gap: Tony Blair.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/mar/07/tonyblair.usa

Of course this is a fall-back position for him since he was rejected by a British university. It seems it had something to do with an obscure war. But the best is what Tony is going to teach.

“Yale confirmed yesterday he is to join the schools of management and divinity, at the campus in New Haven, Connecticut.”

Yes indeed. Management and Divinity. What could go wrong? Yale even has its own version of faith-based initiatives.

“Yale said that he will teach a seminar and be involved in other events round the campus, all related to examining issues of faith and globalisation related to his Faith Foundation. While at Downing Street, he read the Koran to try to better understand the Muslim world in the aftermath of 9/11.”

Yup, Yale University thinks that America has a shortage of jesus freaks and has to import them.

13

Steve LaBonne 03.07.08 at 10:33 pm

I’ll join the chorus of “Why is this an issue?” above.

Because American politics- and political journalism- is teh stupid, that’s why. That’s what’s gotten us to the enviable position that we now occupy in the world. The present catastrophic incumbent got where he is because the “reporters” thought he was a guy you’d like to have a beer with. Deep thinkers, they are.

14

Hattie 03.07.08 at 10:47 pm

In words of one syllable, “Ouch.”

15

uptown 03.07.08 at 11:16 pm

Dear Ms Power,

In answer to your question -
If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Regards,
uptown

16

darcy 03.07.08 at 11:25 pm

She doesn’t speak for Obama, and she doesn’t speak for the campaign, and not a single person on Earth honestly believes her name-calling against Senator Clinton means anything at all.

Because American politics- and political journalism- is teh stupid, that’s why

Yes, only teh stupid Americans think that lack of discretion can have seriously policy consequences. Only learned Americans realize that someone shooting their mouth off has never seriously impacted the course of history.

17

nick s 03.07.08 at 11:41 pm

Bowing out now kills the story in the news cycle. Samantha Power won’t be deleted from Obama’s speed-dial.

Note: do not embark upon whistle-stop book promo tour across the pond while working for a political campaign, with attendant jetlag and hacks looking to make themselves part of the elections story.

(One thing I did note: the Torygraph described her as ‘Irish’, though she emigrated to the US with her family at the age of nine. I’d assume she still has an Irish passport, and flashed it at customs when she landed in Britain, but that’s the kind of parochialism you come to love from the Tg.)

This stage of the primaries is just pure grind, dominated by trivia and bullshit. It’s miserable.

18

rea 03.08.08 at 12:14 am

after a supposed-to-be-off-the-record quote about Hillary Clinton being a ‘monster’ was published by The Scotsman.

If the direct quote in the Scotsman article is accurate, she did not make the statement off the record, although she tried to put if off the record after-the-fact:

“She is a monster, too – that is off the record – she is stooping to anything.”

http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/latestnews/39Hillary-Clinton39s-a-monster39-Obama.3854371.jp

“Off the record” is something that occurs by mutual agreement between journalist and source–the source speaks on the condition that what he or she says is off the record. The source doesn’t get to declare something off the record later on, without the agreement of the journalist.

19

Michael Bérubé 03.08.08 at 12:24 am

this tells me again how bad I (and I suspect many other blogging academics) would be at real world politics in the highly unlikely event that someone wanted me to work for them in a campaign

For the record, I would be really really bad. I’m just hope that all the aspiring senators- and presidents-to-be who are considering hiring me as an advisor or consultant are reading this thread and scratching me off their lists right now.

Because I just can’t help mouthing off about things like this, you know.

20

yoyo 03.08.08 at 12:27 am

Yes, but just imagine how bad D^2 would be in such a role.

21

Ron 03.08.08 at 2:43 am

Here’s what Hillary Clinton said of a fellow Democrat, suggesting that McCain, a man indifferent to the length of the American occupation in Iraq, is preferable to Obama, yet no one will suggest that she should now resign her candidacy.

“I think you’ll be able to imagine many things Senator McCain will be able to say,…He’s never been the president, but he will put forth his lifetime of experience. I will put forth my lifetime of experience. Senator Obama will put forth a speech he made in 2002.”

And she is a professional politician. Why is Power’s sin the greater?

22

Sortition 03.08.08 at 3:57 am

The real issue should not be Power’s indiscretion at expressing herself in impolitic ways but the fact that she judges Clinton, who has a long public record, on the basis of how she handles her fight with Obama. It seems that the personality cult within the Obama campaign staff is such that political opponents are seen monsters – only monsters would dare criticize the chosen one.

23

bi 03.08.08 at 4:17 am

Why yes, Clinton should be judged by her public record, while Power should be judged by a quick remark she made.

Goo goo goo joob…

24

Katherine 03.08.08 at 9:30 am

Ron, I supposed Power’s “sin” (which I don’t think it is very much, actually) is that calling someone a monster is personally abusive. Expressing an opinion on someone’s experience (whether or not you agree that that opinion is correct, which I don’t) goes to ability.

25

RobDP 03.08.08 at 9:39 am

The World Service also held a fascinating interview just 24 hours before Power resigned. One of the questions Power gets asked is about “holding her tongue” and “playing the game” in politics. You also get lots about her impressions of Obama, though to me this increasingly felt like more use of a psychological study of the effects of the Obamacult than insightful into his character…

26

Ron 03.08.08 at 5:57 pm

Katherine:

You’re of course right that Power’s comment was overtly and directly personal in a way that Clinton’s was not.

That, however, is an observation on the form of their remarks and not the content. Clinton’s crack says of Obama that he has no experience worth respecting other than that speech, if that. Obviously, he, she thinks, has been unable to make anything of his time on the streets of Chicago or in the Senate chambers.

For that matter, length of experience is no criterion. The important question is what did you do with your time? Did you do good things? Clinton still has to face that question: her record on Iraq is clearly example of experience that needs interrogating.

In any event, until her attack on Obama, I for one found myself in that comfortable position where I could support either candidate. Not so after Clinton’s endorsement of McCain over Obama. My guess is that that’s the way her attacks will ultimately play with progessives (and congenital democratcs.)

27

Sortition 03.08.08 at 7:06 pm

In any event, until her attack on Obama, I for one found myself in that comfortable position where I could support either candidate. Not so after Clinton’s endorsement of McCain over Obama. My guess is that that’s the way her attacks will ultimately play with progessives (and congenital democratcs.)

I find both Democratic candidates rather repellent, but I am just wondering in what way is Clinton praising McCain’s experience is worse than Obama praising Reagan’s “clarity … optimism … dynamism and entrepreneurship.

28

Kevin Donoghue 03.08.08 at 7:40 pm

That’s a strange question, Sortition. Praise for dead Republicans (whether deserved or not) does no harm at all to currently active Democrats. Even Jimmy Carter is unlikely to be offended by Obama’s praise for Reagan.

29

Sortition 03.08.08 at 9:15 pm

Praise for dead Republicans (whether deserved or not) does no harm at all to currently active Democrats.

1. I must admit that this kind of tactical consideration did not occur to me – I find it rather superficial.

2. Even this tactical argument is rather weak: Obama’s praise for Reagan was done at the expense of the Clinton presidency and, by association, at the expense of Hillary Clinton and so could be detrimental to her chances of being elected.

3. If Ron’s concern is tactical, rather than a matter of principle, then his position is self-contradictory. For in that case surely he must support any Democratic candidate rather than risk having McCain elected.

30

Colin Danby 03.09.08 at 3:11 am

You might want to be just a tiny bit more careful in your quoting, sortition.

And as the NYT page shows Obama’s remarks on Reagan are pretty banal, and if you look the original video
http://news.rgj.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080115/VIDEO/80115026&oaso=news.rgj.com/breakingnews
you see that they are mere stage-setting for a larger argument. (In any case, Bill C is not running for President.) It’s surprising how many people have gone nuts over these innocent remarks.

The point you’re avoiding is not that HRC praised McC — I don’t see objection above to that by itself (BHO himself has praised McC’s heroism) — but that she has been saying explicitly that BHO is unfit to be Commander in Chief, and saying that in the context of a comparison between McC and BHO.

Now how that fits with the Clinton campaign’s simultaneous suggestions that BHO would be a fine Vice President
http://blogs.abcnews.com/politicalradar/2008/03/bill-clinton-ca.html
is beyond me, because obviously you would never choose someone incompetent to be C in C as your Vice President, right? A suspicious person might suspect the Clinton campaign of insincerity.

31

Sortition 03.09.08 at 6:27 am

I have seen the original video, and I find Obama’s comments offensive, but, I presume, quite revealing of his way of thinking. By the way, if Obama had indeed praised McCain for heroism that would be more along the same lines: McCain was taking an active part in a war crime perpetrated by the U.S. against the people of Vietnam and neighboring countries. The only way you can be a hero in this context is by refusing to go.

32

akatsuki 03.10.08 at 2:46 pm

Powers resigned almost immediately, and I have a feeling it was not like Obama had to force her to do it. She knew that the campaign message would be harmed if she stayed in and she fell on her sword… Guaranteed she will come out of this ahead in the long run.

As for Obama’s remarks about Reagan, the only people who claim not to understand his remarks are HRC supporters who can’t understand why the right reveres Reagan. Regardless of your opinion of Reagan (and mine is very very low) he was dynamic and changed politics forever in this country. HRC’s comments on the other hand were aimed at eviscerating Obama in the general campaign and a complete party betrayal. That is pretty “monsterish” from a partisan perspective so I don’t think it too extreme to find that Powers was upset.

33

Will 03.10.08 at 10:51 pm

I must be living in another Universe. It’s ok to call Hillary a monster, ok for Michelle Obama to call Bill Clinton a racist on national television. The media smear camapign against Hillary is ok, as are the disgusting insults flying from the Obama blogs. Actually it’s not a different Universe but another set of values; and the Obama people have removed from the party the democratic vaules of fairness, integrity, and respect for others. http://a-civilife.blogspot.com

34

Righteous Bubba 03.10.08 at 10:56 pm

the Obama people have removed from the party the democratic vaules of fairness, integrity, and respect for others.

Well then clearly St. Hillary cannot win and should give up.

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