Is Hillary Clinton Responsible for Bill’s Policies?

I feel like Hillary isn’t making this argument because 1) It goes to her whole appearance as a “flip-flopper” even if she didn’t explicitly support these policies. If you’re defending yourself you’re losing the “narrative” 2) A lot of these policies she actively pushed for as an very involved first lady.

While I don’t think this is a political mistake here, I think it would be pretty rational to think that Hillary is not really responsible for Bill’s policies, even if she did advocate for them.

Why? Think about the consequences of disagreeing. A President has enough problems on his plate without his wife publicly disagreeing with his policies. Well, maybe she could just stay out on the spotlight in areas of disagreement. But as an active advocate the administration, an absence could be conspicuous, and she couldn’t be avoid be asked about it. She served very differently than Laura Bush and Michelle Obama, who stick to a few nonpartisan, generally apolitical issues.

Even if Hillary did privately agree with Bill on some of his more controversial issues, I’m not sure she should be responsible. Imagine being the President’s wife. It’s easy to argue she had a moral obligation to fight for what she believed in. But Hilary shares an ideology with Bill, so there judgements should generally be very similar. Furthermore, there’s no need to correct for some kind of consideration that Bill hasn’t heard. Presidents are adequately advised on all sides of an issue. His decisions don’t suffer from lack of information. So the only way Hillary could affect his decision making is by leveraging her status as her wife, not by adding information. I’m not going to go as far as saying that leveraging that status would be unethical but at the very least is very understandable.

Finally, this is easy example of where motivated reasoning would play a role in opinion formation. If Hillary decided that she is not going to advocate any areas where she disagrees with Bill, there’s no real cost of just impulsively agreeing with Bill. If she did privately disagree but never voiced those concerns, evenly publicly advocated for those policies, she’d have a textbook case of cognitive dissonance. For those unfamiliar with Social Psychology, Hillary’s private attitudes would conflict with her actions if she disagreed on some issue with Bill. People try to ameliorate the discrepancy between actions and beliefs (cognitive dissonance) by either changing those actions or beliefs. Since Hillary couldn’t change her actions, she would change her beliefs. Or even better, avoid dissonance altogether by reflexively agreeing with Bill.

When you really put yourself in Hillary’s shoes, I think that it’s easy to understand how she would reflexively agree with Bill, and how she shouldn’t be held responsible for those beliefs. This is especially true when she has a long political record after Bill’s presidency as Senator and Secretary of State which can be scrutinized. But I can certainly understand why Hillary herself doesn’t make that argument. 500 word blog posts full of excuses don’t make good politics.

Guns vs. Gays

The Democratic Primary narrative has seemed to have settled around an odd pair of issues the past few days: guns and gays. Bernie Sanders is targeting Clinton on her support of the Defense of Marriage Act while Clinton is targeting Sanders for his weaknesses on gun control.

Clinton’s campaign is taking advantage of a moment during the debate in which Sanders tried to defend his record on gun control by saying that “shouting” isn’t going to accomplish real change.

Not, only is that a poor argument for getting gun control passed, but it also could be subtly sexist, as Clinton implies in her tweet.

Sanders is trying to turn the tables by drawing contrasts on his record for gay right and Clinton’s  He tweeted:

This is a response to Clinton’s interview with Rachel Maddow, on which she framed her husband’s support of DOMA as a “defensive action” to protect against a constitutional amendment barring same sex marriage.

I’m sure in the next few days they’ll be plenty of pieces judging the alleged strategic vision of DOMA backers. But I think even assuming she’s misrepresenting her former position, Clinton still comes out as a stronger in this debate.

The point is not if Clinton was wrong about supporting DOMA in the past, but her position now. Does anyone think that if elected president, Clinton is going to turn around and say she’s against same sex marriage? While she might lose some progressive street cred for “evolving” it really has no baring on her future presidency. Clinton is clearly strongly in support of gay rights, no more or less than Sanders.

On the other hand, Sanders’s votes against gun control do have future relevance because it seems like they haven’t changed. From the debate, it seems as though he still supports some kind of shield law for gun manufactures as well as allowing guns on Amtrak trains. Perhaps more alarmingly, his main solution for combating mass shootings is increasing access to mental health care. Vox’s Dylan Matthews writes that a recent study reported “only 3%-5% of violent acts are attributable to serious mental illness, and most do not involve guns.” While expanding assess to mental healthcare may be an admirable goal, it would not substantially reduce gun violence and suggesting it would do so only stigmatizes the mentally ill.

The point of this contrast to show that while progressives may not like that Clinton opposed same sex marriage in the past, that position has no bearing on the future policy of a Clinton presidency. While Sanders long time support of gay marriage is admirable, we shouldn’t elect people based on progressive street cred. We should elect people based the policy differences on how they plan to govern. On gay marriage, there is no difference.

On gun control, there is a difference. Sanders proposal of mental healthcare will do next to nothing to stop mass shootings. Clinton’s aggressive plan of waiting periods, background checks, and ending gun manufacturers’ shield laws would have an impact. Furthermore, she has hinted at more aggressive positions, threatening executive action if Congress didn’t act and praising Australia’s measures on gun control which seized people’s guns.

Update: Perhaps Bernie isn’t a real progressive leader on gay rights after all:

“But Sanders is not quite the gay rights visionary his defenders would like us to believe. Sanders did oppose DOMA—but purely on states’ rights grounds. And as recently as 2006, Sanders opposed marriage equality for his adopted home state of Vermont. The senator may have evolved earlier than his primary opponents. But the fact remains that, in the critical early days of the modern marriage equality movement, Sanders was neutral at best and hostile at worst.” More here


“In the twenty years since DOMA, Hillary Clinton has not only evolved on the issue, she has become a global leader in the fight for LGBT equality. As senator from New York, she pushed to repeal the ban on gays in the military and secure employment protections for LGBT Americans. As secretary of state she extended her view of human and women’s rights with a groundbreaking speech at the United Nations in 2011 declaring that “gay rights are human rights” and made the protection of gays, lesbians and transgender people a priority in her dealings with repressive regimes around the world. Perhaps most importantly, she engaged with the community – closely – for the last 25 years. Listening, learning, sometimes disagreeing but always striving and evolving and always caring.

Bernie Sanders has done none of the above. Despite being from Vermont, a state with a progressive record on LGBT rights, Sanders was a follower.” More here

Ezra Klein is Writing a Book

I googled this a didn’t get any results. Maybe it isn’t news, but in case it is, Left Field is breaking it first. Ezra Klein is writing a book, according to his interview of Author Brooks on Vox’s the Weeds podcast. The topic isn’t mentioned, but it is past due with the publisher. Not to copy Tyler Cowen, but when it comes out its certainly self-recommending.

P.S. Ezra: if you’re one of our 5 viewers, please stop reading and work on the book!

Noam Chomsky on American Exceptionalism

Noam Chomsky gave a talk today at Rutgers University about American Exceptionalism, the idea that the U.S. is unique and extremely important in the world for the spread of equality, freedom, and human rights. This is a summary of the talking points.

It seems that many of the agendas pursued by the American government in terms of foreign policy are done in the name of liberty and democracy. Paradoxically, the U.S. is internationally seen as the single greatest threat to world peace. The U.S. has a history of rejecting World Court judgements, consistently violates the idea of non-aggression, and funds the unbridled aggression of its cronies Israel and the newest member of the group Saudi Arabia. Instead of being the leading nation of the free world as we like to think ourselves as, we ignore precedent, international law, and act like a rogue nation while condoning the actions of other lunatic states.

The U.S. has consistently blocked non-proliferation attempts in the Middle East to prevent investigation of Israel’s nuclear arms. The so-called Iranian threat is not military in nature. The intelligence states that the Iranian development of a nuclear weapon is for the purpose of a “deterrence strategy” as in, Israel and Saudi Arabia will be less aggressive if Iran has access to a nuclear weapon. While it’s certainly important that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons, it’s hardly the case that Iran would truly threaten to use them. The reaction the U.S. Congress had is reflective of what politics has become in the U.S. The entire Republican caucus is unilaterally opposed to the Iran deal. The entire spectrum has shifted to the right. Moderate Democrats such as Bill Clinton would have been seen as moderate Republicans in the ‘60s.

The normalization of relations with Cuba is long overdue. America has always been alone in its embargo with Cuba, other than its yes-man, Israel. America’s goal has long been to dominate the Western Hemisphere. It has been running a century long protection racket, and when a country like Cuba does not bow down, America does not tolerate it.

In conclusion, Noam Chomsky made many accurate points regarding the U.S. However, he may have been slightly over critical in certain respects. It certainly is true that the U.S. must be less aggressive and cease to condone the aggression of its allies. Also, many Americans are ignorant of the acts of violence and negligence America has committed in these last few decades. In order to solve a problem we must first acknowledge it exists. The U.S. is far from perfect. However, we must remain optimistic, raise awareness, and work to prevent future violence.