Monday, October 24, 2005

Hillary Comes to Atlanta

When I first heard that Hillary Clinton was coming to Atlanta to speak, I was stunned. Although Atlanta is an island of relatively progressive philosophy in a sea of Blood Red Georgia, the fact that Hillary Clinton would come to Atlanta still surprised me. It wasn't but a year ago that we in the Georgia Young Democrats begged Nancy Pelosi to come and speak to our state convention. She initially agreed, but then backed out around Christmas, scuttling the plans we had built around her. Unfortunately, we had already signed contracts for the hotel, so we took a financial bath. It seemed we couldn't beg, borrow, or plead for a nationally known Democrat to come to Georgia. I suppose that with as crazy as the Bushies are, the threat of assassination is real.
I then discovered that Hillary was coming at the invitation of Stuart Eizenstat who worked in the Carter and Clinton administrations. The lecture she presented was endowed by his family in honor of his father and uncle. Bill Clinton spoke in 2003, which I somehow missed. This year, though, we got at least two emails from Bobby Khan, chair of the Georgia Democratic Party, telling us about this free event. If Hillary Clinton was coming to GEORGIA, I would be there.
I arrived 50 minutes early for the lecture, and there was already a line around the synagogue. Apparently, the Ahavath Achim ("AA" for short) Synagogue is where all the power Jews go. I had heard of this synagogue's existance, but I wasn't sure where it was, since it wasn't in Druid Hills where I live. Lots of politically involved Jews attend this synagogue, including Bobby Khan, Sen. David Adelman, former Sen. Liane Levetan, and Rep. Mike Jacobs. I've never been in a synagogue, but this one is much like a church. In fact, it reminded me very much of any large megachurch, except you didn't see a cross or an alter.

No cameras were allowed by the public, so people with camera phones had to put them back in their car. All we had to do was go through a metal detector. Compare this to a Bush event (or really, almost any GOP event) where you must sign some sort of loyalty oath before being let in. I did not wear any buttons or clothing to indicate that I'm a Hillary supporter, and I was never questioned. Even though a lot of people had arrived before me, there was still good seating to be had, and I got to sit relatively close to the front.

I noticed some interesting features of the AA synagogue. First, there are several plaques with nameplates of people who have died. I guessed this from the "In memorium" inscription above the plaques. The interesting thing is that next to each name is a light. Some where lit and others were not. I'm not sure why this is the case or what it signifies. I also noticed that the prayer books and the Torah were printed upside and backward. I knew Hebrew was read right to left, just the opposite of how English is read. But I wasn't expecting the English version to be printed with the front of the book where you would normally expect the end to be. It was interesting.

The event was supposed to start at 7pm, but didn't get rolling until 7:30pm. I had no idea that Jews ran on Queer Standard Time (QST) ;-) Anyway, the second Hillary appeared on the stage, the audience erupted in cheers and rose to its feet. We had a brief welcome by the President of the synagogue followed by a small lesson about the fall harvest festival that is going on in the Jewish calendar. Then Stuart Eizenstat introduced Hillary, who really needs no introduction, but we all know these things are carefully choreographed.

On a side note, the number of Secret Service was truly amazing. They were taking NO chances on her safety. A lot of people were dressed up, but you could make out the Secret Service folks thanks most of the fact that they were the ones you could see scanning the crowd. They were positioned all over the synagogue. Again, that goes to my crazy right winger theory of why national Democrats are rarely found in Georgia. Not only does it have to do with the extremist voting pattern of the state in national elections especially, but there's a good chance that some Rush Limbaugh/Sean Hannity loving crazy will try to take out Hillary for "the conservative cause". When the speech was over, and everyone was pouring into the parking lot, we were all stopped by the entrance of the synagogue until Hillary could get into her (bulletproof, I'm sure) vehicle and start back to wherever she was going next. Since there were a lot of trees and the area was pretty dark, I am not surprised that the Secret Service required this.

Hillary looked fabulous in a black power suit with medium heeled pumps. Her hair was flawless, as was her make-up. I've seen Hillary looking pretty rough in the past, but she was definitely "on" for this event. She launched into a speech that covered broad themes...themes I'm convinced we'll see in late 2007 and 2008 when she runs for President. It is only October 2005, and she is well on her way to developing thoughtful arguments for where our country should go in the future.

Many might expect that Hillary would throw out some red-meat before a largely friendly crowd. But her criticism of Bush was not too pointed. She never mentioned him by name, and she criticised things like planning, budgeting, etc. She didn't go after the cronyism charges or the lack of intelligence thing that so many of us in the progressive world despise about the man.
She spent a good deal of her speech on national security issues. Turns out that her being on the Armed Services Committee has been a good thing, although I shouldn't be shocked that Hillary had a plan when she asked for the assignment. She has obviously put a lot of thought, effort, and time into developing her positions in this arena, and they come off as such. I've often wondered why she's made pro-Bush votes in the Senate, such as voting for the Iraq War, and not being sorry about it. She has even stated that having a deadline for getting out of Iraq is a mistake.

This does not mean she agrees with Bush. She deplores the lack of planning for the post-invasion phase of the war. She made a statement that just because Iraq didn't have weapons of mass destruction doesn't mean those weapons don't exist. I'm not sure what she meant by that, unless she meant that other nations who hate the US have weapons of mass destruction. That seems a bit obvious, but surely she doesn't make the argument that the WMD were there, but removed before we invaded? I'm not sure it's that important. Most people understand we were lied to in order to go to war with Iraq. We can argue motives for those lies (was it deliberate...or just "intelligence" errors? I believe Bush and company lied to us on purpose and cherry picked bad intelligence to make their case) until the cows come home, but the point is, we're in Iraq, we've broken it, and we have to make a good faith attempt to fix it.

This brings me to Hillary's answer to the question of when the troops should come home. I agree that setting a date only lets the insurgents know they can wait us out. But Hillary also thinks the open ended "We'll be there as long as necessary" mantra of Bush is also a mistake.
The Iraqis must understand that they will have benchmarks of progress in taking over their own security and setting up a working government. As those benchmarks are met, troops can be withdrawn accordingly. But there will also be the threat that if we do not see a good faith effort in making progress, that we will withdraw our troops and leave them to fend for themselves. In a way, it's a tough love advocacy, and it makes sense. The Iraqis are not going to become part of the USA. They do need to take responsibility for their own country and their own futures. We have the duty and obligation to help them. If they don't show they are willing to help themselves, then we will have done our duty in trying to help, and we can leave with a somewhat clean conscience (as clean as the Bush regime can leave us). This is a sensible compromise that keeps our promises but also doesn't keep us in a quagmire.

Hillary is also a member of a Pentagon panel (the only sitting Senator on it too!) that is rethinking the structure of our military. She said that we should expect to see more special forces in all branches in the future which will concentrate on a specific region of the world. Those serving will learn the language and become immersed in the culture of their area and will specialize in much more tactical strikes when used. At the same time, though, we mustn't neglect our conventional warfare. Even though she hopes that China will become our friendly competitors, we would be foolish to ignore the growing Chinese power and the fact that they are dramatically increasing their military spending. So we will have to have two kinds of armies, it seems. A smaller conventional one to answer the growing power of the Chinese, and this newer special forces heavy one to fight terrorists and the states that sponsor them.

Hillary also mentioned health care, but she did it from a business viewpoint. With costs rising dramatically, the private and public sector must work together to find a solution. Neither sector can do it alone. In a global economy where many of our competitors provide universal healthcare, the American system of employer-based healthcare is quickly becoming unsustainable. Companies are chosing to locate in places like Canada (ex. Toyota) where health care costs are not a cost of doing business. The auto industry in the US is in grave danger in large part due to pension and health benefits. Private industry appears to be reaching a point where it will work with government for a solution to this problem that doesn't overburden taxpayers, but also helps business remain competitive in worldwide markets. Hillary didn't offer any answers, but she did offer this method of solution. It could work if business and the public become willing to sit at the table together and come to a mutually beneficial solution. But, Hillary warned, there is a LOT of money to be had in healthcare, and plenty of people becoming quite wealthy under the current system, and they will fight change to the bitter end.
Hillary also catalogued a litany of things that from WWII forward were bipartisan approaches to national problems. You had a consensus that after WWII, we had to help rebuild not only our former friends, but our former enemies as well, even thought that meant keeping high tax rates. You had Eisenhower building the interstate highway system (she told a funny anecdote about being told by her teacher that President Eisenhower wanted her to study math just after Sputnik, and even though Hillary hated math, she wasn't going to disappoint the President). Even with Nixon, you had the creation of the EPA, and the Endangered Species Act. Ford reached out to all Americans after the horrors of Watergate. Even Ronald Reagan knew in 1983 that to help put Social Security back on track would take Democrats AND Republicans. Even Bush the Father worked with Democrats to solve the fiscal crisis in 1990, even though it meant raising taxes and alienating his base. He did what was right for the country, and we've lost that. That's why Hillary has reached out to GOP members like Newt Gingrich to shore up her credentials in working with the GOP. Even when you disagree on a vast majority of topics, there are areas where you can work with your political enemies. We've lost the ability and willingness to behave in a bipartisan way, and it's important for the country to get back to it. Hillary also mentioned that had we stuck with Carter's program of investing in alternative energy, we wouldn't be where we are today with energy prices and oil dependence. She said there's no excuse that we don't have a "Manhattan Project" for alternative enegy sources, especially since the energy crunch is only going to get worse as China and India grow their economies and look for resources to fuel it. If we invest in alternative energies now, we can find solutions that we could sell to India and China that would not only put Americans to work, but help us compete in the future. She makes a lot of sense.

This being a largely Jewish audience, she spent the last portion of her speech on Israel. She said that she supported Sharon's move toward non-engagement in Gaza, not in small part because we have no business dictating to a democratically elected leader. Sharon knows his country and its circumstances better than we do here in Atlanta, NY, or anywhere else. She imagines it was hard for him to withdraw like that, but she feels he did what he thought was best, and the US should support him. It also provides the Palestinians a "put up or shut up" (my words, not Hillary's) moment since they have a terroritory that is just theirs now. She mentioned support for the wall that is being built in the West Bank, and the need for education reform in Palestine so that children aren't taught to hate. One thing she pointed out was her belief that teaching your children to hate is a form of child abuse. I'm very pro-Israel on an emotional level. I understand there has been some horrible oppression of Palestinians by Israelis, but at the core, the Palestinians abandoned their land in 1948 because they thought that the Arab armies would crush the new Israeli nation. They gambled and lost. Quit yer bitchin', I say! I firmly believe that Israel just wants to live in peace and enjoy the life of a thriving democracy. This is the homeland of the Jewish people owed to them in no small part to the Holocaust. Israel is here to stay, whether the Palestinians like it or not. It's odd that this puts me on the side of Bush and the Christian Taliban, but they like Israel for one reason only: they believe that supporting Israel, they will provoke the 2nd coming of Christ. They could give a rat's ass about the Jews or their homeland.

The questions that came weren't all that difficult. Hillary talked about Darfur, and how China has blocked any resolution in the UN Security Council due to some deal they have with the Sudanese government. She urged continued pressure to be applied to our public officials to speak out and act on the Darfur genocide. She talked about why she voted no on John Roberts (he was evasive in his answers and didn't let us see there was a human being under that big brain of his), and she said that if she were on the Judiciary Committee, her first question to Miers would be ""Please tell us one thing you disagree with President Bush." I'm sure the silence would be deafening if she were asked that question.

Hillary's development as a potential presidential candidate is impressive. Her presentation last night was flawless. She had notes, but she rarely looked down at them, instead focusing on different people in the audience. Her voice was well regulated, and she came across as reasonable. The far right has painted her as such a harpie that seeing her in person is an amazing experience. She's calm, reasonable, and friendly. She has learned her craft in politics well. Of course, she is married to the master :) It's only 2005, and Hillary has a better rationale for being President and a better theme than John Kerry or Al Gore ever did. I can also see why the GOP is terrified of her...the country, once they got to see her and experience her, would actually like Hillary, and the lies about her would be exposed for what they are.

I fully expect Hillary to annouce her candidacy about two years for now for President. A Clinton restoration is just what this nation will need after 8 disastrous years under Bush. I just hope there's a country to save by the time 2009 gets here.