Posts by Matt Bai
Let’s have a discussion this week about transparency and accountability. No, I’m not talking about Hillary Clinton and the server that lives in her attic. I’m talking instead about teachers’ unions and their fight to keep classroom evaluations secret.
In exurban Loudoun County, Va., about a half hour’s drive from Washington, a parent named Brian Davison is suing the state because it won’t release the ratings that public school teachers get based on the test scores of their students. The Washington Post reports that the Virginia suit is part of a growing national debate over new, data-based ratings in the classroom.
The question Davison and other parents are asking is why the schools won’t share these numerical evaluations with us. The question that occurs to me, though, is exactly the reverse. Isn’t it time that parents shared their own evaluations with everyone else?
If Clinton thinks, however, that her explanation is going to end speculation about whatever sinister secrets she is said to be keeping, she’s mistaken. And that’s not because she’s an especially nefarious person, or because she’s a woman, or because the media is bent on destroying her.
No, to understand why truth and transparency are Clinton’s main vulnerability in 2016, you need to understand the moment in which the Clintons entered American politics, and how they came to dominate it.
First, let me say that I have a hard time getting too worked up about Clinton’s vanishing emails, although maybe I should. It’s possible, I guess, that in the many thousands of unreleased emails is evidence of her having endangered national security by talking policy on unsecured servers. It’s possible that some emails refer to meetings that Clinton or her aides would rather not make public.
Old habits die hard. Presidential campaigns, not so much.
Cumulatively, though, these latest headlines about Clinton, along with other stories sure to come, reinforce her vulnerabilities as a candidate. Democratic primary voters are about to be reminded on a semiweekly basis of what left a lot of them so ambivalent about Hillary in 2008 — namely, the perception that the Clintons are like an unregulated industry within the party, impervious to scrutiny and contemptuous of anyone who would get in their way.
And this is why, if I were Joe Biden, and if I still harbored designs on the Oval Office down the hall, I’d be inclined to ignore what the insiders were saying. I’d run, and I’d run now.
The accepted wisdom where Biden is concerned is that you can’t have two establishment candidates representing continuity from the same administration, so the best he can do is to wait on the sidelines, keep his options open and hope that maybe Hillary decides to do something else in the twilight of her life, like bring a football team to Los Angeles, or anchor the “Nightly News” on NBC.
There was a time in American politics when the word “summit” called to mind Roosevelt at Yalta, Kennedy in Vienna, Reagan at Reykjavik. The fate of empires rose and fell on such summits. The legacies of statesmen were made and broken.
These days, the presidential summit is more like an extended photo op with some speeches and a dinner thrown in. This week’s “Summit on Countering Violent Extremism” (a response to the run of terrorist attacks from Paris to Copenhagen) closely follows similar White House summits on community colleges, early education, cybersecurity, football head injuries, “working families,” college opportunity, national service, youth (as in young people, not the fountain) and so on.
All of which is harmless enough, except that it tells you something about where the Obama presidency has ended up, and about the nature of governing in a city where governing seems to be the last thing on anybody’s mind.
In the days leading up to NBC’s decision to suspend Brian Williams, my inbox kept dinging with emails from readers and friends — some of them names you’d recognize — asking me about the connection between Williams’ public humiliation and the events of the late 1980s.
This is not because I still wear parachute pants or listen to the Thompson Twins. (That I will neither confirm nor deny.) It’s because I published a book last fall about the brutal week in 1987 when Gary Hart’s presidential ambitions imploded amid allegations of adultery. In that moment, a tabloid-fueled explosion incinerated the public career of a man who had been the premier Democratic politician of his generation — and, I argued, marked the onset of a new kind of all-consuming scandal culture in our politics and our media.
Writing in Politico last week, the ever-prescient Mike Allen reported that Clinton has already charged John Podesta, recently a senior Obama adviser and the closest thing the party has to a reigning wise man, with assembling her rumbling tank of a campaign. The current hope is that Clinton may not even have to risk debating in the primaries, unless someone really is crazy enough to run against her. (Um … have you guys actually heard Bernie Sanders?)
I have to say, there’s something about this latest iteration of Clinton Industries that I find a little dispiriting, though probably not for the reasons you might think.
It’s not that I think Hillary Clinton couldn’t be a good president, or even the right fit for the moment. Going back to her days in the Senate, Clinton has always been pragmatic and dexterous with the machinery of government. That might be a welcome contrast with Barack Obama, who after six years in the job still seems to regard himself as a critic of the system, rather than as the guy who owns it.
As a ’90s rapper, Sister Souljah was no Queen Latifah; she made one solo album that went nowhere, and that was that. As a political cliché, though, she seems bound to outlast all of her contemporaries. In modern punditry, “Sister Souljah” can be a noun, a verb or an adjective, as unsinkable a phrase as “the invisible primary” or “the likability factor.”
Earlier this month, the New York Times columnist Thomas Edsall wondered if Jeb Bush could succeed with a “Sister Souljah strategy” in the Republican primaries. Last weekend, my Yahoo News colleague Jon Ward, one of the best political writers anywhere, raised the question of whether Bush’s comments on immigration at a gathering of California car dealers — “Our national identity is not based on race or some kind of exclusionary belief,” Bush said — amounted to a Sister Souljah moment.
In case you didn’t watch the president’s swaggering speech Tuesday night, because after a month of previews it seemed to lack the drama of “Storage Wars” (which was on A&E at the same time and is actually a reality show about repossessed storage lockers, but let’s not get into it), here’s what you missed.
Remember that wrecked economy from the Bush years that was just kind of limping along, and how we were all living in 1930 with everybody destitute?
Yeah, forget all that. We’ve turned the corner. The economy’s on fire, and now it’s time to get back to building the country of our dreams, where everybody gets a Tesla.
Actually, Barack Obama’s case — slightly more nuanced than I just made it sound — is pretty compelling on the facts; by any traditional measure, the economy really is powering back from the steep recession he inherited. What’s puzzling is why it took so long for Obama to own that progress, and why he’s wasted so much of his presidency trying to figure out how to talk about it.
Trust me, we’re not going to find them in a repossessed storage locker.
I read with great excitement that you have decided to quietly sound out contributors about the possibility of forming an exploratory committee that could take the next step toward filing papers that might lead to your seriously considering a potential campaign for president. That’s precisely the kind of crisp, gut-level decision making we need in Washington.
I was even more excited about this possibility after someone reminded me that you had actually been the nominee in 2012. Memory gets hazy, but I could have sworn that Republicans in the last election had nominated a microtargeting algorithm. When Paul Ryan brings warmth and levity to your campaign, you know there’s a problem.
But let’s leave all that in the past. Because I’ve been reading the idle punditry of my colleagues this week, most of it saying you can’t win this time around, and I’m here to tell you that you shouldn’t take any of that seriously.
Haters gonna hate, Mitt, but you’ve still got that hella good hair, you know what I’m saying?
All this media handicapping of the unformed Republican field for 2016 is starting to sound like the seating chart for some nightmare family wedding where no one can stand to be near anyone else.
If Huckabee really does RSVP, yes, then surely Cruz and Santorum can’t both come too, right? And if Bush sucks up all the space at the head table, then there can’t possibly be room for Christie or Rubio, except maybe at the back. Walker cancels out Perry, or maybe Perry cancels out Pence — I can’t really keep it straight anymore.
I mean, they can’t all be running at the same time, can they?
Actually, they can, and most of them probably will — at least for a while. If you think about how a lot of these guys came to find themselves in power in the first place, then you can see why this may end up being the most crowded Republican field in memory, and why the old rules of presidential politics probably don’t apply.