The Importance of Having Eric Holder's Back
By Al Giordano
As Jed says about the news reports regarding the possible appointments of Eric Holder as Attorney General and Tom Daschle as Secretary of Health and Human Services:
"Notice that with both Holder and Daschle, President-elect Obama has apparently offered the post, and the post has been accepted. No mess, no fuss."
No drama, indeed, compared to the simultaneous dysfunctional circus surrounding the media lobbying campaign and ethical quagmire-without-end of possibly installing Senator Clinton in as Secretary of State.
But there has been a bit of drama-from-below regarding Holder that I'd like to push back against: The suggestion that if somebody served in the Clinton administration that makes him a "Clinton retread" who would somehow impose the fracased politics of the past on the immediate future.
A brief history lesson is in order...
Way back in ancient times - I'm talking about 2007 - the most difficult place to be a supporter of then-Senator Barack Obama's presidential bid was inside the Washington DC beltway.
The Terry McAuliffe wing of the DNC didn't yet have Bill Richardson to call a "Judas" or John Kerry to proclaim "dead," and so their wrath was turned against the first small wave of those they considered turncoats for not backing Senator Clinton's presidential aspirations. Oh, they could tolerate the "progressive bureaucrats" flirtations with John Edwards, who they never really considered to be a threat. But, lordy, if you dared support the long, tall upstart from Illinois, they hated you intensely already.
If you were a Democrat in or around DC and backed Obama for president you were a pariah, shunned, no longer invited to the cocktail parties or policy panels. And no small number of Clinton bandwagoneers would take every chance to remind you that, once the White House had been reconquered, you would be screwed to the wall, and viciously so.
And that's why that some of the teeth-gnashing proclamations that Obama's appointment of Clinton administration veterans Greg Craig as White House Counsel and, now, the reports that Eric Holder may be nominated for Attorney General, somehow signal that "Clinton retreads" will seize the Obama Experiment are bizarrely wrong and lacking in political smarts.
No Obama administration staffers are more guaranteed to be free of Clintonesque manipulation or fantasy than those like Craig and Holder that at great risk to their careers bucked the Clinton machine back when the polls suggested Senator Clinton's "inevitable" nomination to the presidency. They're battle-tested, inoculated and have zero illusions about wanting to relive the failed Clinton presidency. They've learned decisively from its mistakes in a depth and detail that most will never have the chance to do.
Is "failed" too strong a word? Well, in the partisan won-loss category for the Democrats, the eight years of Bill Clinton's presidency resulted in significant Republican gains in the Senate, the House, the governorships and state legislatures across the land, even down to the municipal level. That's the objective math. And the quality of Democratic office holders deteriorated during that era, too.
Hope for progressive agendas snapped within the first two years of the Clinton administration. The Gingrich Revolution of 1994 and its "Contract for America" shut down all progressive initiatives, and the Clinton legacy - beyond its tabloid-fodder dysfunctions - turned out to be terribly corporate neoliberal: NAFTA, welfare "reform," the squandering of the post-Soviet peace dividend, and a bipartisan hawkish foreign policy. It all culminated in... Gore-Lieberman 2000 and the Bush-Cheney White House.
(Those that claim that critiques of those that brought us these multiple messes as somehow reflecting "Clinton hate" or "derangement syndrome" have not, without exception, studied or learned from the real results of that era in American politics. Some simply weren't paying much attention to American politics back then, and others should know better but lack historic memory.)
That said, many that do understand just how woefully harmful the Clinton presidency was to progressive politics and the Democratic Party, would do well to think before presuming that anyone that was part of the Clinton White House is therefore carrying its agenda and baggage into Team Obama.
Regarding Craig and Holder and others that openly defied and divorced the Clinton organization to support Obama for president, they burned their bridges consciously with beneficent aforethought last year. And they did so against a vindictive crew that warned them, at the time, that they'd be punished, even ruined, for it. That strongly suggests backbone, principle and political smarts (after all, they also bet early on the winning longshot horse).
Interestingly, not inoculated in the ways that Holder and company are now immune to Clintonism are certain sectors of the liberal Netroots who mistakenly see Senator Clinton as a viable option for Secretary of State. Some simply don't care that much about America's foreign policy or understand the State Department's role and how its Secretary daily determines life and death policies without chaperone from Pennsylvania Avenue. Others, I opine, are suffering a kind of "winner's guilt" after Chicago bested Chappaqua, children that, not understanding the reasons for the separation, wish their divorced parents would get back together all under one roof. Alas, it will take generations to overcome the infantilization of too much in American life and politics.
At Daily Kos, for example, the most influential online water-cooler in American politics, I would estimate this newly-Clinton-illusioned subgroup to be about 20 percent of the commenters, based on this math: that during the primaries, in poll after poll there, support for Clinton had a ceiling of about 10 percent. But in recent days, as the debate over the Secretary of State position has occurred and people have drawn up positions, there seems to be about 30 percent support. These are the people crying, "the primaries are over" as if all the critiques of Clintonism were merely insincere electoral charades or began only last year (and they are of course joined by the 10 percent that are Clinton fanboys-and-girls).
Meanwhile, among the 70 percent or so of the Netroots for whom events have not bamboozled us into thinking that anything at all has changed about Clintonian operating procedure (and have only seen it confirmed by the media freak show and cat-and-mouse Hamlet games surrounding talk of and lobbying for the Secretary of State post), some folks definitely need to learn to see the difference between the ex-Clintonites and the eternally stuck-in-the-90s ones.
Sometimes the best way to test reality is to go see what they are saying on the other side of the ideological spectrum. On the neoconservative right, the gushing over Clinton as Secretary of State from Kissinger on down has been very revealing (and has led some of the right-wing wiseguys that are sometimes capable of seeing the political machinations - in this case John Fund, Rush Limbaugh and Kathryn Jean Lopez - to suggest that we are witnessing another classic Obama "head fake" simply because it seems too good to be true that the Obama that just kicked their asses at the ballot box would so immediately hand back to them that gift that keeps on giving).
The right wing loves the idea of a Secretary of State Clinton.
But they're super scared about what an Attorney General Eric Holder could accomplish to undo all the harm that they have wrought.
To wit: Today's National Review editorial:
Holder is a conventional, check-the-boxes creature of the Left...
He is convinced justice in America needs to be "established" rather than enforced; he's excited about hate crimes and enthusiastic about the constitutionally dubious Violence Against Women Act; he's a supporter of affirmative action and a practitioner of the statistical voodoo that makes it possible to burden police departments with accusations of racial profiling and the states with charges of racially skewed death-penalty enforcement; he's more likely to be animated by a touchy-feely Reno-esque agenda than traditional enforcement against crimes; he's in favor of ending the detentions of enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay and favors income redistribution to address the supposed root causes of crime...
To be blunt, Holder is a terrible selection. If there's any Obama cabinet nomination that Republicans feel moved to oppose, this should be it.
In other words, if Holder is nominated, the right-wing - ready to toss flowers down the altar for a possible Clinton nomination, because they know how it would give them the permanent opportunity to flummox and bollix Obama from authentically changing US foreign policy - will focus its firepower on trying stop Holder's confirmation. And that's the best unintended endorsement that an Attorney General nominee can have. But it also means we have to protect Holder's back, go into battle, and best them once again.
Just as the Clinton for Sec. of State trial balloon has brought the first executive branch test of whether we at ground level can make a convincing case to keep Obama on his own stated path of no-drama change, the Holder nomination, if it happens, will offer the first test of whether Obama's grassroots base, inside and out of the blogosphere, will be ready and able to have the president-elect's back when he's right.
It's an open secret that if President-elect Obama wants to see what a nightmare it would be to have an adversarial relationship with a significant part of his base on matters of foreign policy, he'll get that and more if he nominates Senator Clinton as Secretary of State. I'm sure I'm not alone among those that would have to migrate from hope mode to watchdog vigilance if that were to become the new executive branch's first big boneheaded mistake.
And if he wants to see what a dream it would be to truly have the backing of one's base on matters of justice and law, he'll likewise get that and more if he nominates Eric Holder as Attorney General.
One would likely be the most damaging Secretary of State since Henry Kissinger: a train wreck in the making.
The other would likely be the best friend of the Bill of Rights at Justice since Ramsey Clark.
Two people, each with experience in the Clinton administration, would be as different as heaven and hell when it comes to governing.
Thus, how we view potential nominations to the new administration should not be about whether a person was ever involved with the Clinton White House, but rather whether each one, as an individual, would propagate its dysfunction or not. Holder has already broken from it. And I'm sure I'm not alone in having his back.
Update: There are already some comments here regarding Holder and drug policy, and I'll try to address them here up front.
I am utterly unconcerned about Holder's past positions as US Attorney or elsewhere regarding mandatory sentencing, marijuana policy and the rest. In fact, I think his past missteps on these matters will make it more possible for progressive changes to be made regarding drug policies on various fronts. He will provide cover for them.
First, because those stances will help him gain Senate confirmation in ways that an on-the-record anti-prohibitionist would not be able to do. Second, because Obama has been quite clear about changes he would make to certain law enforcement policies regarding the drug war.
This video - of Obama in New Hampshire in September 2007 - is a must-view for all of us that want to change drug policies. It clearly shows his agenda on some of the most key matters:
During the campaign, Obama also promised to halt federal raids on medical marijuana clubs. These are very clear policies that require simple one-step instructions to the next Attorney General, who, no matter who it is, will talk a tough game on crime and drugs to provide cover for these kinds of reforms. And I think Holder will be terrific at that. Just my two cents, based on my long experience in the drug policy reform field.