Thursday, August 13, 2009

Clinton, Congo and Cooler Heads

So, earlier today I was checking out the video of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton* momentarily losing her cool after being asked a question that she thought was about what "Mr. Clinton" thought about an international trade issue:

""You want me to tell you what my husband thinks?" she asked incredulously when the student raised a question about a multibillion-dollar Chinese loan offer to Congo.

"If you want my opinion, I will tell you my opinion," she said. "I am not going to be channeling my husband.".

No, it wasn't an "outburst," a "meltdown" or a "blow-up." It was nowhere near a big deal** - unless, of course, you happened to be the extremely nervous Congolese student on the other end of Clinton's withering response.

And given her background, her husband's sometimes mettlesome ways and the relentless misogyny she's faced over the years, Clinton's initial exasperation at the question could certainly be understood.

But ...

More than anything, that response almost perfectly crystallized the reason why I preferred Barack Obama to Clinton, McCain and any of the other contenders for the White House last year. If we're being honest with ourselves, we know that very little separated Obama from Clinton in terms of agenda (if anything, I preferred Clinton's more ambitious health care goals). There was also a moment when - very early in the primaries - I found myself wanting Obama to gracefully bow out so that the stronger Democratic candidate could win the nomination.

But when it came to diplomacy, it became apparent very early on that Obama had no peer in the presidential race. He hardly ever seemed to lose his cool. He almost always seemed willing to disarm his opponents with poise rather than pique.

Remember his deft touch when Jeremiah Wright nearly threatened to consume his campaign? Remember John McCain's sneering performance in their debates, punctuated by the "That One" remark? Remember the moment we all - regrettably - came to know Joe the Plumber?

In retrospect, that impromptu confrontation had the potential to get ugly. It's almost amazing that anyone could have bum rushed Obama like that in the streets, especially given the heightened security that he was supposedly outfitted with from the start. But Obama completely diffused the situation. He politely answered the questions, and sent the perturbed - and phony - plumber back on his way.

Most importantly, when it came to matters of foreign policy, Obama was wedded to the idea that engaging your enemies was best while Clinton and McCain seemed all too eager to embrace military force as a solution. Of course, Clinton and McCain called Obama "naive" while Obama countered that diplomacy was no sign of weakness.

Yes, at some point during the campaign, I decided that I would rather have the composed Obama representing our country's interests abroad rather than someone given to "running hard right." We saw what eight years of that brand of cowboy diplomacy did to our country's rep around the globe.

Can you imagine President Obama dressing down an obviously jittery college kid? Even on his worst day? Right.

Then again, it's definitely possible that I'm making too much of this.

I don't think Clinton is an ugly American. I'm not out to do the dirty work of that The Corner can do so skillfully. I can understand why some might actually applaud her reaction. And I don't want the true purpose of her visit to Congo to get lost because of the news media's silly cycle.

But it's nice to remember that, once upon a time, my instincts might have been right.

*I'm a sucker for using formal titles. Sorry if that seems awkward.

** Unless you're referring to the presence of Dikembe Mutombo. That was really dope.


John P. Araujo said...

I agree that among Hillary, John and Barack, then Barack is better than the other two as far as how he handles himself in public. I'm tempted to say that Barack didn't so much win the Democratic nod as Hillary lost it - but no, he won it, and he won it outright.

maria said...

it's not fair to judge her on a few instances. everyone loses their cool sometimes. obama's cool is an impossible standard. she doesn't meet it and few would.

maria said...

and, you know, who cares what her husband thinks. she had a right to object to the question.

read on, my friend.

blackink said...

@J.P.: Barack is definitely the better diplomat, imo. It's not even close.

@Maria: The thing is, I'm not judging her on a few instances. There's several instances of her losing her cool publicly. I always thought she and McCain were too prone to taking things personally and losing their cool, if only for a moment. And in comparing her to Obama, that was the choice we had last spring and summer. That's why, imo, Obama was the better choice for prez.

And I don't disagree that she had a right to object to the question - as she heard it (because there's some confusion as to whether or not the kid misspoke) - but I still think she could have handled the situation much, much better. Again, I can't imagine Obama handling the situation that poorly.

It was not a good look for Hillary. Being tough with a nervous African college student really doesn't prove much to me.

blackink said...

I didn't really address the NY Times piece ... still doesn't matter to me. I don't think there's any conclusive answer as to what the student meant to say. I do think, imo, that he sounded extremely nervous.

And even if he was being rude, I don't think Clinton should have responded with rudeness.

Either you're a diplomat or you're not. Either you're America's top diplomat or you're not. You have to be above taking things personally, I think, unless you're in some sort of potential danger or someone calls you and your mama out of your name.

There was a much better way to handle that situation. She simply didn't.

esquire said...

I agree with you here. Although I think it was a bit overblown, Clinton could have kept her cool. While the question as translated was a bit rude, she still could have taken it a bit more in stride. I guess for me it just seems like questions about her husband and his influence are questions she should always be ready for. It should be something she can just immediately handle and keep things moving.