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Hard Choices Are Hard Only When They Exist in The First Place

[Goodbye to all that, eh? --lambert]

And speaking of Hard Choices.... Even though I want to claw out my eyeballs when I even think about the 2016 Presidential election, let alone write about it, if not now, when? The cacophony already overwhelms. You know what I'm talking about:

‘Hard Choices’: A chapter-by-chapter breakdown of Clinton’s new book ("methodical"); "Hillary Clinton's book-tour launch has campaign feel" ("thousands"); "Hillary Clinton’s book tour: What to look for" ("fine in the belly"); "Hillary Clinton Explains Why She Might Not Run" ("becoming a grandmother"); "Hillary Clinton clarifies ‘dead broke’ comment" (er, "clarifies"); "Hillary Clinton’s Impressive Legacy in Foggy Bottom" (URL says "mixed," not "impressive"); "Hillary Clinton: ‘Sexism’ in 2008 Obama campaign" (true, grotesquely so); "Hillary Clinton Talks Monica Lewinsky" ("really?"); "Hillary Clinton Opens Up: Could She Have Done More in Benghazi?" ("personally"); "Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Power of Style" ("the whole hair brouhaha").

And many more. This is only the beginning!

Be that as it may and will, I have two sets of reservations about a Clinton candidacy, one personal, and the other political.

My personal reservation has to do with Clinton's health (and nothing, I hasten to add, to do with toad-like legacy party operative Karl Rove's views on Clinton's health, which he seems to have slithered away from). Clinton would be 69 in 2016, so it would be foolish not to think of her health. Here's WaPo's coverage:

Almost three weeks ago, Clinton, reportedly became severely dehydrated with an intestinal infection. She fainted, fell and hit her head, suffering a concussion. ...

Clinton has had at least one previous blood clot, in her right leg in 1998. She was treated with blood-thinning drugs for several months. In her memoir she attributed the clot to “my nonstop flying around the country.” Airplane flights lasting longer than six hours appear to be a slight risk factor for developing leg clots, known as deep venous thromboses (DVTs).

Head trauma can cause blood in a venous sinus to clot, but it almost always has to be severe enough to cause a skull fracture, said Aaron S. Dumont, director of cerebrovascular surgery at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.

“It’s probably a coincidence,” he said of Clinton’s fainting spell and the clot. He noted, however, that her history of a blood clot in the leg may indicate a predisposition to clotting.

But Gregory Piazza, a cardiologist and vascular medicine specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said he thinks a fall serious enough to cause a concussion could have caused the clot. It is also possible that a clot could have caused the fall. “Either could be a possibility in this case,” he said.The conventional treatment is an anticoagulant drug for at least six months. With Clinton’s history of a previous clot, however, it could be longer.

The usual drug is warfarin, which requires that the blood be tested periodically to make sure it is not excessively thinned. If it is, that problem can be reversed.

There are newer oral anticoagulants that don’t require monitoring, but they are not easily reversed.

Here's why that story rings alarm bells for me: My mother's first stroke happened because her warfarin dosage got out of whack. The second stroke, the big clot that killed her, happened after she fell and hit her head. Now, after her first stroke I came back to Maine for a few months, and did everything I could do to get her writing and playing music again, with success. And she lived another five years. But my mother wasn't running for President! Now, valar morghulis, and perhaps the trade-off for the wisdom, if any, of age, is mortality; I said "reservations," not "absolute barrier." ("I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience.") Clinton says she'll release her medical records, and that's good. But will that be enough?

Quite possibly not. Regardless of the actual state of Clinton's health, will the press cover the story? Probably not. FDR supplies one precedent; although pictures of FDR in his wheelchair were published, by his political enemies Henry Luce and William Randolph Heart, among others, these were exceptions to the general and successful choreography of his public appearances. Closer to home, we have the onset of Ronald Reagan's Alzheimers, as (possibly) described by CBS White House Correspondent Leslie Stahl:

As she, her husband, and her eight-year-old daughter were about to enter the Oval Office, Reagan's press secretary, Larry Speakes, told Stahl, "No questions at all, about anything." Stahl was angered by this, but she soon saw why Speakes had issued this instruction. When she and her family entered the office, the 75-year-old Reagan was standing by a Remington sculpture of a rearing horse, and Stahl immediately began to fret:

Reagan was as shriveled as a kumquat. He was so frail, his skin so paper-thin. I could almost see the sunlight through the back of his withered neck…His eyes were coated. Larry introduced us, but he had to shout. Had Reagan turned off his hearing aid?

…Reagan didn't seem to know who I was. He gave me a distant look with those milky eyes and shook my hand weakly. Oh, my, he's gonzo, I thought. I have to go out on the lawn tonight and tell my countrymen that the president of the United States is a doddering space cadet. My heart began to hammer with the import...I was aware of the delicacy with which I would have to write my script. But I was quite sure of my diagnosis.

Stahl tried to fill the silence, telling Reagan that her daughter used to tell everyone that the president works for her mommy, but after Reagan took office, she started saying that her mother worked for the president.

I wasn't above a little massaging. Was he so out of it that he couldn't appreciate a sweet story that reflected well on him? Guess so. His pupils didn't even dilate. Nothing. No reaction.

After Stahl mentioned that her husband, Aaron Latham, was a screenwriter, Reagan became animated, and pulled Latham to a couch to discuss a movie idea he had for a film in which he could star. Stahl recalls she was "too astonished to move." A few minutes later, the session was over. Reagan was now beaming, and after Stahl and her family left the Oval Office, Reagan chased after them and told her daughter, "I worked for your mother, too."

In her book, Stahl noted that she "had come that close to reporting that Reagan was senile. I had every intention of telling the American people what I had observed in the Oval Office."

But she didn't. This week, I asked her why not. In an email, she replied,

Because Reagan seemed to "recover"—I decided I could not go out on the White House lawn and tell the public what his behavior meant. So I never did a report.

I was obviously not equipped to interpret what LOOKED like a lapse into semi-awareness. Was it what I had assumed at first: senility? Was it an "act"—a way to avoid answering my questions? Was it some form of dementia (maybe not Alzheimer's)? I decided I couldn't report on my observations at all that night.

Stahl added,

Later, when I would ask White House officials if they had ever seen him float away like that, they’d say yes, but that, as with me, he always pulled himself together. It was confusing for everyone.

Indeed, in her book—published 14 years after she left the White House beat—Stahl noted that after Reagan had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, she asked one of his chief advisers if Reagan had been senile when he was president. "Maybe there were symptoms," this aide told her, "though I say that in hindsight. He would come to life for the cameras. He was on/off, on/off." Several former Reaganites Stahl spoke to about Reagan's mental conditions brushed aside any suggestion of mental deterioration. "People with Alzheimer's don't take down the Soviet Union," speechwriter Peggy Noonan told Stahl. (Noonan also admitted that she had rarely seen Reagan while working for him.) But another unnamed aide said that the subsequent Alzheimer's diagnosis "explains a lot."

Yikes. I always thought Reagan was lying on Iran-Contra when he said in 1987: "A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not." But what if, sadly, Reagan was already becoming forgetful, and believed he was telling the truth? So, suppose President Hillary Clinton has a stroke. Will the press cover the story? Or will they keep it under wraps, as they did when President Wilson had a stroke?

My political reservations, which I can state more briefly, have to do with the question of whether Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party are equal to the challenges of the times. (I should say that, in Brad DeLong's "Class of" formulation, that I am a member of the Class of 2008; I left the Democratic party permanently in July, when Obama voted to give retroactive immunity to the telcos after promising to filibuster it, presaging today's surveillance state just as surely as his support for TARP presaged his creature Geithner's "foaming the runway" for the banksters.) In other words, I'm going to vote on policy, and not on personalities, and certainly not on identity politics ("Wow, We Nominated The Black Guy").

Just look at the mind-bogglingly petty policy proposals Democrats are making: On a living wage: How on earth did the demand at street level for a $15 an hour minimum wage -- if you call that a living wage -- get hacked back to $10.10? Couldn't these clowns at least have rounded it up to the nearest quarter? On health care: Clinton took single payer off the table. So if you hear her described as a "policy wonk," or "transformative," remember that. On jobs and disemployment: "Economics Teacher: Bueller?... Bueller?... Bueller?" On debt: Liz Warren is tinkering around the edges of how much interest to squeeze students for. In Quebec, students took to the streets over a tuition increase from a baseline of $2168 a year. Is the United States so poor that it can't do as well by its students as Canada? Heck, why crap around? Why not free public education, K-16? On Social Security: The Democrats are tinkering with expanding Social Security for "certain groups," like Lady Bountiful distributing food baskets to the deserving poor. Here's an idea: Heave Simpson-Bowles and those weasels at the Peterson Institute over the side by stating openly what is true: That Social Security will be able to pay full benefits for 20 years at least. Once that's done, why not lower the age of eligibility to 60, and get some of the old farts like me out of the work force to make way for young people? (Not that I'd want to; shuffleboard is a death sentence.) And once that's done, why not make benefits "age neutral"? It's unconscionable that retirement gets less secure the younger you are. On war and peace: Clinton owns Obama's drones, and she owns whatever blowback comes from them, which it will; she should have gracefully resigned her position as Secretary of State in, say, 2011, and then she might not. On the State: Granted, Clinton voted against FISA reform in 2008, unlike President-elect Obama, but now she owns Obama's Stasi-like NSA surveillance regime; and she owns Obama's "disposition matrix," and whacking US citizens without due process. The bottom line is that although the Democrats will tinker round the edges, they have no intention whatever of delivering concrete material benefits that will raise the baseline for most Americans' lives; this in the face of the worst economy since the great Depression, a "recovery" whose benefits working Americans have yet to see, and which may well have run its course. Democratic loyalists tell you to vote for evil (putatively "lesser"), and people do. And then they're surprised when evil results! What kind of choice is this?

NOTE I retain a lingering affection for a picture of the Democratic Party, and the President, that might have been, and did not come to be. This explains why:

The night before Haverford, I was fidgeting in a Pennsylvania school gymnasium while waiting for Hillary Clinton and weeping over a dog. Senator Clinton, of all the candidates, brought out the pet-mania in a supporter. Canine attendance at her events was a phenomenon of the trail, and I had begun to take photographs of the various dogs, all wearing Hillary regalia, many squeezed into little Hillary costumes. On the evening of Monday, April 14, however, I realized that this penchant signaled more than enthusiasm. It was a sign that here sat a room full of losers--their loss magnified by their obliviousness to the reality that their candidate also was a loser. By April, despite Clinton victories in Texas and Ohio and a likely upcoming win in Pennsylvania, no one in the press, except for those prone to Super Delegate conspiracy theories, believed that Clinton would get the Democratic nomination.

But this was the time when Hillary Clinton, nourished perhaps by the respect she had received in the poor Hispanic communities of Texas, began to get her voice and a receptive audience--always now in a town's meaner streets and not, as only a season before, in the nation's professional enclaves, which had begun to drift into the Obama camp. Here filling the gym risers at the Bristol Borough Junior-Senior High School, listening to John Mellencamp's "Small Town" and chanting Hillary-Hillary-Hillary! were the working class folk who would stick with her until the end in South Dakota because she, more than any other candidate in decades, was finding a way to speak to the many and varied losses in these Americans' lives.

Oh well. 2008 was a long, long time ago.

NOTE Originally published at Naked Capitalism.

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BruceMcF's picture
Submitted by BruceMcF on

That final note sounds an awful lot to me like, "well, probably not going to win this thing, so may as well give some faux populism a try."

I may be from the Class of 1993 and NAFTA ... but since before then I've looked at the deck as being stacked so heavily against anybody who would be worth electing President getting elected President that is mostly a selection of the leader of the opposition to the public interest.