Photo: Walter ChinEverybody has now heard that Samantha Power, key foreign affairs advisor to Barack Obama, has resigned after referring to Hillary Clinton as a "monster" in an interview with The Scotsman. The intemperate remark was supposed to be off the record, but The Scotsman burned her publicly anyway. Here's what she said in the interview that led to the Hillary Clinton campaign's call for her head:
We fucked up in Ohio. In Ohio, they are obsessed and Hillary is going to town on it, because she knows Ohio's the only place they can win. She is a monster, too – that is off the record – she is stooping to anything... Here, it looks like desperation. I hope it looks like desperation there, too... You just look at her and think, 'Ergh'. But if you are poor and she is telling you some story about how Obama is going to take your job away, maybe it will be more effective. The amount of deceit she has put forward is really unattractive.True. (And here she is, now playing the xenophobia card).
Opinions are flying around the internets regarding whether Power should have resigned. On one hand, of course, campaigns play dirty, period. Both certainly have nasty things to say about each other, but there's a difference between doing so in public, doing so in private, and doing so in public but in more veiled terms. The fact that Power said this in an interview - even if she tried to back out of the remark by calling it off the record - is a really politically unsavvy move. As a strong believer in the urgent rhetorical necessity of applying a hearty "fuck off!" on occasion, I understand. But I'm also from what Josh Marshall refers to as the academic/policy world rather than the political/policy world, the former in which he locates Power. Living in the latter world constrains one's public expressions to the head of a pin.
The Clinton campaign did what it must do as a political animal (or... monster?), and it leapt to the ramparts. Power may have done what she had to do by resigning. But here's the problem, summarized by Matthew Yglesias,
So thinking a bit more reflectively about this Samantha Power business, I'm pretty pissed off. Sure, you can rail against the perfidy of the Clintons, but this sort of ritualized calls for resignations is all in the game. Having her resign, by contrast, is just playing the game poorly. Remember when fresh strategic thinking and common sense were going to break with the conventional wisdom? I do. The "monster" business was a dumb thing to say, and certainly the kind of thing you apologize for, but no kind of indication that she was a bad person to get foreign policy advice from.Power is a law professor at the Kennedy School, a Pulitzer Prize winner (for "A Problem from Hell": America and the Age of Genocide), and an active journalist. Plenty of plaudits. But she's also a serious advocate of human rights and eloquent activist against genocide. Her scholarly work is solid and it's driven by deeper moral sensibilities. In effect, she's exactly the kind of advisor we might hope a campaign would hire. Even Richard Holbrooke, advisor to Clinton, thinks so (from a June 2007 Vogue article speaking precisely to Power's attempts at dealing with Beltway politics),
Richard Holbrooke, Power's friend and rival of sorts—he has declared his support for Hillary Clinton for president—says that "Obama is very fortunate to have her." When Holbrooke was the U.S. special envoy to the Balkans and hashing out the Dayton peace accord in 1995, he received insistent messages from Power, then a first-year law student at Harvard. She was pleading for the release of David Rohde, a Christian Science Monitor correspondent who had gone on a solo border-crossing expedition into Bosnia and been arrested. "Here was this tall redhead of enormous passion," Holbrooke says of Power. "I can name you only a handful of journalists with that commitment: Newsday's Roy Gutman, who won the Pulitzer. He was the guy who really uncovered the genocide in Bosnia. Christiane Amanpour, when she was in the Balkans for CNN. David Halberstam in Vietnam. There are very few voices like that."And then this, also from Holbrooke,
She will always face the risk that more bureaucratically minded players—I'm picking my way through this very carefully—will exploit her passions, which make her vulnerable to the charge that she's not 'careful enough.' But I admire these qualities in her. We need voices like Samantha Power. Whether she does this inside the government or as an outside writer is a story that's still unfolding.We can't afford to continue to burn the decent people out of politics any more. I would think Obama understood this better than anyone. Hillary certainly doesn't.
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Samantha Power throws back her beautiful head and laughs, then offers me a glass of Balkan Cabernet.