A better kind of leadership
By SUSAN DAVIDSON | March 13,2008
I have a healthy dose of respect for Madeleine Kunin as a power politician in and from Vermont. But I take serious issue with her post-primary characterization of Barack Obama's supporters in Vermont as voters interested only in looking to the past — at the issue of authorizing the war in Iraq — not to the future, to the kind of leadership the country needs at this time.
This statement made by Governor Kunin last Wednesday sounded as though she was reading directly off a play sheet sent out by the Clinton campaign that giddy day following the Texas and Ohio votes. I have no other way of understanding how a smart woman such as Governor Kunin could so glibly dismiss 61 percent of the Vermont Democratic electorate who voted in Tuesday's primary.
I'm not alone in making my choice for Barack Obama based not only on his judgment about Iraq in 2002, but also based on his credentials and experience as a negotiator and legislator and organizer — credentials that I believe carry as much gravitas as Hillary's resume as advocate and legislator and first lady. The real difference between these two candidates is that one seeks to amass power toward the center of her familiars while the other seeks to empower the electorate.
Two stories about Hillary's urge toward autocracy are telling.
After his failed attempt to win the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, Gov. Howard Dean positioned himself to become head of the Democratic National Committee. He wrested power from the Clinton camp — Terrence McAuliffe was stepping down from the post, and Dean organized outside of the Clinton circle to get himself in place. He then began building the 50-state strategy that won Congress for the Democrats in 2006.
Under Dean, the Clinton camp could no longer steer the party committee according to its wishes, and they weren't happy about that. While the 50-state strategy was racking up successes all over the country, Hillary Clinton and the strategists aligned with her — Howard Wolfson, Terry McAuliffe, James Carville, Harold Ickes, and Rahm Emanuel — were building a parallel DNC organization based on big-money donors and business connections to take her to the presidency, and pressuring Dean to resign.
It's a good thing Dean is the bulldog that he is. That 50-state strategy of bringing the Democratic agenda not only to the two coasts but also to the South and the heartland and west of the Continental Divide regained Congress for the Democrats in 2006 and has made this year's presidential primary a truly energized forum for addressing our desires for the future of our country. Barack Obama's candidacy is viable precisely because the "big states" — where the old-style party scaffolding is well in place — are not the only ones that count in this election.
Another story to examine in looking at Hillary's style of power politics is the manner in which she set to opposing a Democratic congressman who proposed a health care reform plan in 1992 that had wide bipartisan support. Like Obama's health care proposal, Jim Cooper's plan did not include mandates to force universal coverage; that freedom from mandates was a key element in developing the reform package in order that it would move through Congress. Cooper's bill had 26 Republican and 32 Democratic co-sponsors behind it. Rather than sitting down to discuss their differences, Clinton warred against Cooper. When he had the temerity to tell the first lady that her health care plan would never make it through Congress, her reported response was, "We'll crush you. You'll wish you never mentioned this to me." She and her aides then initiated a slander campaign against Cooper, who had plans to run for the Senate in the next election.
Hillary Clinton is a smart woman. I will give her that. But these stories about Hillary's political maneuverings tell me that she's merciless toward those who do not agree with her or won't do her bidding. We've had enough of that hubris in the White House for the past eight years. We don't need to sign on for more.
Which brings me back to Madeleine Kunin —– who must know all of this history herself. I expect Governor Kunin would like to see a woman at the helm in this country. That's great. I would, too, and I hope Nancy Pelosi makes a run for the presidency some day.
But in this election I'm putting my voice and my vote behind the candidate who is a negotiator and a conciliator, who knows how to share power and work the grass roots, and who is eager to grow the Democratic base all across the country. Like many Vermonters I know who voted for Barack Obama on Tuesday, I make that choice based on my desires for our country looking forward, not back.
Susan Davidson works in alumni programming at Vermont Law School.