On the Rez Watching Hillary

A number of folks have written to ask where I’ve gone. For a number of reasons I’ve chosen to stay quiet during the political season. I’ve needed my writing time for my books, and the political season is so seductive that I dare not write the first word or, like a reformed smoker deciding “just one can’t hurt,” I’ll fall off the wagon and find myself blogging every day about the political situation. So I’ve sworn off blogging while the political pot is boiling.

I would like to make one entry, though. It comes after standing on the windblown plaza in front of the Little Wound school in Kyle, South Dakota, watching Hillary make a speech to a small group of maybe 150 folks deep in the folds of the Pine Ridge reservation. I had recently had the good fortune to hear both her and Obama give presentations in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and I was impressed. This was a chance to see her up close (within about 20 feet) and see what she was like in a truly unfamiliar environment. What would she wear to show solidarity with the sweatshirt and blue jeans crowd on the rez? Would she reach down and pet one of the wandering rez dogs? Would she give a booming “fill the hall” oration to a group of several hundred? Would she have some policy initiatives or just “turn the crank” one more time?

Well, the answers were simple: she wore a well-chosen calf length black coat that was either from Christian Dior or Wal-Mart, thus appearing to be in sync with the rez folks whose favorite color is black; she petted no rez dogs; she started her speech slowly and unimpressively, but became animated and passionate when she hit on the theme of health care and started getting some response from the audience. She had me until she started her usual disingenuous thundering about making every vote count, which, sadly and irritatingly, is just an inversion of a whine about why she should be given the nomination. In that moment she became mean-spirited and unpleasant, and I left to go across the street to get a burrito.

Nonetheless, it was a rare experience seeing her in a small crowd on the rez, and it reminded me of everything that has me frustrated, confused, and, ultimately, dissatisfied with her as a candidate.

First of all, as in Grand Forks, she was uncommonly well-prepared. In Grand Forks, Obama gave one of his stem-winders about hope, with a few vague references to North Dakota sprinkled in. He was galvanizing, uplifting, and likable.

Hillary, running late, was like listening to the professor after listening to the preacher. She was whisked in from the airport and gave a solid, nuts and bolts talk that referenced very specific problems in the Dakotas and farm country. She knew her facts and had her policy proposals well prepared. She seldom referred to her notes. In short, she knew her stuff about a place that, frankly, neither she nor Obama cares one damn bit about. But, as in her talk on the rez, she was alive to the issues and had good, solid, helpful, and practical things to say, far more than did Obama.

As I watched her warm the dour Indian crowd on that plaza, I kept saying to myself, as I had in Grand Forks, “Damn! This woman knows her stuff. We’d do well with her at the helm. She could get things done.”

But just as I entertain this thought, another truth reveals itself: she has convictions but no principles. Anyone who is even mildly objective knows that her grand posturing about making every vote count is nothing more than her way of trying to get the party to include the results of the Florida and Michigan primaries. If there is anyone alive who believes that she would be making the same demand had Obama won in those states, I’d like to meet them. The hard truth is that Clinton consistently wraps self-serving ends in high-minded rhetoric about the common good. It is the curse of the Clintons: their policies and hearts are in the right place, but they have no principles about how they will get themselves in a position to effect those policies.

Such behavior is, of course, part of politics. But one should have moral clarity if one wishes to make claims on principle. If you would not hold the same position if it did not benefit you, you should look closely in a mirror before making grand claims about the high minded principles you are asserting.

In the end, it makes Hillary unlikeable, because it sets her high minded claims in stark contrast to her venal self-serving. In some ways it is no different than Hubert Humphrey, but Humphrey was protected by the simple fact that he seemed to genuinely like people. Hillary does not exude the same feeling. She didn’t seem to care about those Lakotas who were listening to her; she cared about their causes.

This is a valid political position. But she would be better served by taking the political stance of Lyndon Johnson, who said, famously, “If you grab them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.” She could grab the political process by the balls and move it to some solid, humane positions that have been lost, if not destroyed, during the deranged reign of George W.

But the unnerving self-serving nature of her movement from position to position to gain electoral leverage is unsettling and, ultimately, unappetizing. She moves her arguments wherever she has to in order to continue toward her goals. I’d be a whole lot more comfortable if she simply said, “I want to win because I’m the most experienced candidate with the best ideas, and I’m going to twist this political process every way I can to get into power to turn those ideas into policy. Watch me work.” But she doesn’t. She’s always asserting some high principle of democracy, but she discards a principle as easily as she discards outfits meant to make her look like the audience to whom she is speaking.

It is, indeed, sad that she sought to grab the hour just as Obama came onto the scene. But it happened. Now she has to accept it gracefully, and she is being anything but graceful. She is being bullheaded and unsavory. Her end game makes you want to hold your nose. Yes, she might still eke out a victory — though I doubt it — but at what price? That is the question. For my money, the ends do not justify the means, because the means will taint the end. It is time for her to withdraw with grace and civility. I hope she does so.

I, personally, moved to the Obama camp long ago. My reasons are simple: he puts hope in the eyes and hearts of young people. My generation was deeply wounded by the assassinations, cover-ups, governmental lies, and Viet Nam. Many of us, myself included, became deeply cynical about the political process. We were troubled by our emotional disenfranchisement and hoped not to pass it on to our children. We retreated to the local, or, in many cases, to the personal. The void was filled by a strange breed that took their cues from Ayn Rand, Ronald Reagan, David Stockman, and others who made the flawed case that seeking the personal good would ultimately benefit the common good. This point of view still holds sway.

These proponents of the self have hijacked the concept of freedom so that “government” has become synonymous with usurpation of rights, when, in fact, they have used government as a tool of self aggrandizement. Dick Cheney and his minions are among the most polished practitioners of this craft. Blessedly, their moral bankruptcy and self-serving manipulations have become too obvious for even the blindest to ignore. But they have been able to do this because those of us from my generation have either abdicated our political responsibility, gone over to the dark side of flat-out self-serving capitalism, or disappeared into a navel gazing that is wrapped in neo-Buddhist or psychologized claims that one must fix the self before one fixes society. In this latter case, the practitioners never quite get around to society, because the self is an ever expanding and self-renewing need.

Those of us who feel caught in this trap look at the Nelson Mandelas, Lech Walesas, and Vaclav Havels, and say, “May one like you come along and do for our country what you have done for yours.” To me, Obama is the closest we have. And I’ll hitch my geriatric wagon to his star if that’s what it takes to get the kids to look skyward with hope.

So I tip my hat to Hillary. She is a good person who has better and more fully thought out policy ideas than Barack. But she missed her moment. The measure is simple: if Obama gets in, he will reach out for Hillary’s expertise. I truly don’t believe Hillary would do the same.

This is a time when a new vision is needed as badly as new policy. Hillary will only be able to offer new policy; Barack might be able to offer them both. May he win, and may he put hope in the eyes of this current generation.

7 thoughts on “On the Rez Watching Hillary”

  1. I am like you of the generation that almost set free humanity but just as freedom was around the corner we stalled out and went backwards. I ask myself many times why we have not had a MLK or a Gandhi in recent times. I wonder as this season of politics winds down and a new season begins who should carry the banner? I as I read Obama’s books and came to like the fellow and as I listen and hear him maybe he is one who will lift the veil of our recent past from compassions face and we can again see hope. I teach Emotional and Behaviorially disturbed kids in high school and while your passion is where you are mine is in the class room trying to open eyes and ears. Peace be with you and who knows maybe one day our paths will cross and we can share a campfire and a few words. bird

  2. Aho Mitakuye Oyasin.

    The time for separations & distinctions is past, and consensus can only be achieved through healing.

    It’s an odd thing to see so much of the political analysis focused on the individuals … it seems that we forget what effect a president really has on the functions of our nation. A president can SUGGEST legislation, but at the end of the day, s/he can only accept or deny what Congress puts before him/her. What the Prez can do, however, is adjust the bureaucracy of how government is run so that the effectiveness of government as a whole is compromised … or enhanced.

    The next president will, in all likelihood, appoint Supreme Court Justices whom will steer the direction of interpretation of the laws in this land for the next generation. This will have a much larger effect on future generations than any stand on a particular issue or law will have.

    Please keep this in mind when you eventually (hopefully) cast your vote for the next president.

    May we receive the leader we need, in these turbulent times.


  3. Thank you, Kent. It’s good to hear from you again, making sense as always. This is a time when our country needs a leader who can bring us to our feet and make us believe in our dreams again. I don’t get that feeling from Hillary — but Barack can get me fired up! I believe that he is the leader who can bring our country back around to a mindset of hope and possibility. After the weariness that has come from enduring the last 8 years of W, I wasn’t sure that was possible any more, but it’s within our grasp, if we can only band together and make it happen. As you say, “May he win, and may he put hope in the eyes of this current generation.”

  4. I receive the Lakota Times and and listen to KILI frequently. I wasn’t surprised to hear Bill, Hillary, and Obama were targeting Indian Country. I e-mailed Bill awhile ago, suggesting that his foundation could do some good at places like Pine Ridge. I received a polite response reminding me of all Bill had done for the Indians during his presidency.

    When visiting with PR folks last summer, talk of the election came up. Jaded is the word that comes to mind. From local to state to national elections, people I spoke to talked about how places like PR only become important during elections. At the same time, most people I spoke with felt Obama is their best hope.

    I head out to the rez again next week. I’m anxious to renew friendships, remind myself of what is important, relax, and eat some great food at Betty’s. I’m not sure that any politician can really solve problems, but perhaps Obama is a good start. But instead of waiting for Obama, each of us needs to reach out our own hand.


  5. Dear Kent;

    Thank you for this observation. It puts into words what I had been feeling, but not quite understanding why I was feeling it.

    I am watching the US campaign from London with a mixture of hope and sometimes weary sadness.

    I do think, globally, that it is time for change, for new thinking.

    And there are some encouraging signs that voters around the world are making change.

    I have the real joy of attending a speech from the new Australian PM, Kevin Rudd, here in London a few weeks back. What an amazing guy. I really wanted to ask him if he can stand for British PM when he has sorted out Australia!

    We certainly need some fresh thinking in UK.

    Thanks again, for breaking your self imposed embargo on blogging the election.


  6. Hi Kent,

    Excellent and insightful. Seems to capture the germ of that ambivalent dis-ease so many of us feel about both of the Clintons.

    I wish I could get more excited about Obama though. Perhaps you could do a brief piece on him?


  7. Well, you got Hillary spot on … all substance, but no likability … and should be supporting her.

    You got Obama spot on … all inspiration, but no substance … and should avoid him like the plague.

    You got Ayn Rand/Reagan all wrong … it is not about, “that seeking the personal good would ultimately benefit the common good.” It is about the position that stealing from the creators of wealth, cannot ultimately benefit the common good … if it worked, Russia and New Orleans would be utopoias.

    You left out McCain … who wants to be seen as the next Reagan … but is as dishonest about his views as Kerry was about his.

    We need Davey Crockett again … (Please read through to my comments afterwards)

    March 22, 2008

    Originally published in “The Life of Colonel David Crockett,” by Edward Sylvester Ellis.

    One day in the House of Representatives a bill was taken up appropriating money for the benefit of a widow of a distinguished naval officer. Several beautiful speeches had been made in its support. The speaker was just about to put the question when Crockett arose:

    “Mr. Speaker–I have as much respect for the memory of the deceased, and as much sympathy for the suffering of the living, if there be, as any man in this House, but we must not permit our respect for the dead or our sympathy for part of the living to lead us into an act of injustice to the balance of the living. I will not go into an argument to prove that Congress has not the power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member on this floor knows it.

    We have the right as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right to appropriate a dollar of the public money. Some eloquent appeals have been made to us upon the ground that it is a debt due the deceased. Mr. Speaker, the deceased lived long after the close of the war; he was in office to the day of his death, and I ever heard that the government was in arrears to him.

    “Every man in this House knows it is not a debt. We cannot without the grossest corruption, appropriate this money as the payment of a debt. We have not the semblance of authority to appropriate it as charity. Mr. Speaker, I have said we have the right to give as much money of our own as we please. I am the poorest man on this floor. I cannot vote for this bill, but I will give one week’s pay to the object, and if every member of Congress will do the same, it will amount to more than the bill asks.”

    He took his seat. Nobody replied. The bill was put upon its passage, and, instead of passing unanimously, as was generally supposed, and as, no doubt, it would, but for that speech, it received but few votes, and, of course, was lost.

    Later, when asked by a friend why he had opposed the appropriation, Crockett gave this explanation:

    “Several years ago I was one evening standing on the steps of the Capitol with some members of Congress, when our attention was attracted by a great light over in Georgetown. It was evidently a large fire. We jumped into a hack and drove over as fast as we could. In spite of all that could be done, many houses were burned and many families made houseless, and besides, some of them had lost all but the clothes they had on. The weather was very cold, and when I saw so many children suffering, I felt that something ought to be done for them. The next morning a bill was introduced appropriating $20,000 for their relief. We put aside all other business and rushed it through as soon as it could be done.

    “The next summer, when it began to be time to think about election, I concluded I would take a scout around among the boys of my district. I had no opposition there but, as the election was some time off, I did not know what might turn up. When riding one day in a part of my district in which I was more of a stranger than any other, I saw a man in a field plowing and coming toward the road. I gauged my gait so that we should meet as he came up, I spoke to the man. He replied politely, but as I thought, rather coldly.

    “I began: ‘Well friend, I am one of those unfortunate beings called candidates and—

    “Yes I know you; you are Colonel Crockett. I have seen you once before, and voted for you the last time you were elected. I suppose you are out electioneering now, but you had better not waste your time or mine, I shall not vote for you again.”

    “This was a sockdolger…I begged him tell me what was the matter.

    “Well Colonel, it is hardly worthwhile to waste time or words upon it. I do not see how it can be mended, but you gave a vote last winter which shows that either you have not capacity to understand the Constitution, or that you are wanting in the honesty and firmness to be guided by it. In either case you are not the man to represent me. But I beg your pardon for expressing it that way. I did not intend to avail myself of the privilege of the constituent to speak plainly to a candidate for the purpose of insulting you or wounding you.’

    “I intend by it only to say that your understanding of the constitution is very different from mine; and I will say to you what but for my rudeness, I should not have said, that I believe you to be honest.

    But an understanding of the constitution different from mine I cannot overlook, because the Constitution, to be worth anything, must be held sacred, and rigidly observed in all its provisions. The man who wields power and misinterprets it is the more dangerous the honest he is.’

    ” ‘I admit the truth of all you say, but there must be some mistake. Though I live in the backwoods and seldom go from home, I take the papers from Washington and read very carefully all the proceedings of Congress. My papers say you voted for a bill to appropriate $20,000 to some sufferers by fire in Georgetown. Is that true?

    “Well my friend; I may as well own up. You have got me there. But certainly nobody will complain that a great and rich country like ours should give the insignificant sum of $20,000 to relieve its suffering women and children, particularly with a full and overflowing treasury, and I am sure, if you had been there, you would have done just the same as I did.’

    “It is not the amount, Colonel, that I complain of; it is the principle. In the first place, the government ought to have in the Treasury no more than enough for its legitimate purposes. But that has nothing with the question. The power of collecting and disbursing money at pleasure is the most dangerous power that can be entrusted to man, particularly under our system of collecting revenue by a tariff, which reaches every man in the country, no matter how poor he may be, and the poorer he is the more he pays in proportion to his means.

    What is worse, it presses upon him without his knowledge where the weight centers, for there is not a man in the United States who can ever guess how much he pays to the government. So you see, that while you are contributing to relieve one, you are drawing it from thousands who are even worse off than he.

    If you had the right to give anything, the amount was simply a matter of discretion with you, and you had as much right to give $20,000,000 as $20,000. If you have the right to give at all; and as the Constitution neither defines charity nor stipulates the amount, you are at liberty to give to any and everything which you may believe, or profess to believe, is a charity and to any amount you may think proper. You will very easily perceive what a wide door this would open for fraud and corruption and favoritism, on the one hand, and for robbing the people on the other. ‘No, Colonel, Congress has no right to give charity.’

    “‘Individual members may give as much of their own money as they please, but they have no right to touch a dollar of the public money for that purpose. If twice as many houses had been burned in this country as in Georgetown, neither you nor any other member of Congress would have Thought of appropriating a dollar for our relief. There are about two hundred and forty members of Congress. If they had shown their sympathy for the sufferers by contributing each one week’s pay, it would have made over $13,000. There are plenty of wealthy men around Washington who could have given $20,000 without depriving themselves of even a luxury of life.’

    “The congressmen chose to keep their own money, which, if reports be true, some of them spend not very creditably; and the people about Washington, no doubt, applauded you for relieving them from necessity of giving what was not yours to give. The people have delegated to Congress, by the Constitution, the power to do certain things. To do these, it is authorized to collect and pay moneys, and for nothing else. Everything beyond this is usurpation, and a violation of the Constitution.’

    “‘So you see, Colonel, you have violated the Constitution in what I consider a vital point. It is a precedent fraught with danger to the country, for when Congress once begins to stretch its power beyond the limits of the Constitution, there is no limit to it, and no security for the people. I have no doubt you acted honestly, but that does not make it any better, except as far as you are personally concerned, and you see that I cannot vote for you.’

    “I tell you I felt streaked. I saw if I should have opposition, and this man should go to talking and in that district I was a gone fawn-skin. I could not answer him, and the fact is, I was so fully convinced that he was right, I did not want to. But I must satisfy him, and I said to him:

    “Well, my friend, you hit the nail upon the head when you said I had not sense enough to understand the Constitution. I intended to be guided by it, and thought I had studied it fully. I have heard many speeches in Congress about the powers of Congress, but what you have said here at your plow has got more hard, sound sense in it than all the fine speeches I ever heard. If I had ever taken the view of it that you have, I would have put my head into the fire before I would have given that vote; and if you will forgive me and vote for me again, if I ever vote for another unconstitutional law I wish I may be shot.’

    “He laughingly replied; ‘Yes, Colonel, you have sworn to that once before, but I will trust you again upon one condition. You are convinced that your vote was wrong. Your acknowledgment of it will do more good than beating you for it. If, as you go around the district, you will tell people about this vote, and that you are satisfied it was wrong, I will not only vote for you, but will do what I can to keep down opposition, and perhaps, I may exert some little influence in that way.’

    “If I don’t, said I, ‘I wish I may be shot; and to convince you that I am in earnest in what I say I will come back this way in a week or ten days, and if you will get up a gathering of people, I will make a speech to them. Get up a barbecue, and I will pay for it.’

    “No, Colonel, we are not rich people in this section but we have plenty of provisions to contribute for a barbecue, and some to spare for those who have none. The push of crops will be over in a few days, and we can then afford a day for a barbecue. ‘This Thursday; I will see to getting it up on Saturday week. Come to my house on Friday, and we will go together, and I promise you a very respectable crowd to see and hear you.

    “‘Well I will be here. But one thing more before I say good-bye. I must know your name.”

    “‘My name is Bunce.’

    “‘Not Horatio Bunce?’


    “‘Well, Mr. Bunce, I never saw you before, though you say you have seen me, but I know you very well. I am glad I have met you, and very proud that I may hope to have you for my friend.’

    “It was one of the luckiest hits of my life that I met him. He mingled but little with the public, but was widely known for his remarkable intelligence, and for a heart brim-full and running over with kindness and benevolence, which showed themselves not only in words but in acts. He was the oracle of the whole country around him, and his fame had extended far beyond the circle of his immediate acquaintance. Though I had never met him, before, I had heard much of him, and but for this meeting it is very likely I should have had opposition, and had been beaten. One thing is very certain, no man could now stand up in that district under such a vote.

    “At the appointed time I was at his house, having told our conversation to every crowd I had met, and to every man I stayed all night with, and I found that it gave the people an interest and confidence in me stronger than I had ever seen manifested before.

    “Though I was considerably fatigued when I reached his house, and, under ordinary circumstances, should have gone early to bed, I kept him up until midnight talking about the principles and affairs of government, and got more real, true knowledge of them than I had got all my life before.”

    “I have known and seen much of him since, for I respect him – no, that is not the word – I reverence and love him more than any living man, and I go to see him two or three times every year; and I will tell you, sir, if every one who professes to be a Christian lived and acted and enjoyed it as he does, the religion of Christ would take the world by storm.

    “But to return to my story. The next morning we went to the barbecue and, to my surprise, found about a thousand men there. I met a good many whom I had not known before, and they and my friend introduced me around until I had got pretty well acquainted – at least, they all knew me.

    “In due time notice was given that I would speak to them. They gathered up around a stand that had been erected. I opened my speech by saying:

    “Fellow-citizens – I present myself before you today feeling like a new man. My eyes have lately been opened to truths which ignorance or prejudice or both, had heretofore hidden from my view. I feel that I can today offer you the ability to render you more valuable service than I have ever been able to render before. I am here today more for the purpose of acknowledging my error than to seek your votes. That I should make this acknowledgment is due to myself as well as to you. Whether you will vote for me is a matter for your consideration only.”

    “I went on to tell them about the fire and my vote for the appropriation and then told them why I was satisfied it was wrong. I closed by saying:

    “And now, fellow-citizens, it remains only for me to tell you that the most of the speech you have listened to with so much interest was simply a repetition of the arguments by which your neighbor, Mr. Bunce, convinced me of my error.

    “It is the best speech I ever made in my life, but he is entitled to the credit for it. And now I hope he is satisfied with his convert and that he will get up here and tell you so.’

    “He came up to the stand and said:

    “Fellow-citizens – it affords me great pleasure to comply with the request of Colonel Crockett. I have always considered him a thoroughly honest man, and I am satisfied that he will faithfully perform all that he has promised you today.’

    “He went down, and there went up from that crowd such a shout for Davy Crockett as his name never called forth before.’

    “I am not much given to tears, but I was taken with a choking then and felt some big drops rolling down my cheeks. And I tell you now that the remembrance of those few words spoken by such a man, and the honest, hearty shout they produced, is worth more to me than all the honors I have received and all the reputation I have ever made, or ever shall make, as a member of Congress.’

    “Now, sir,” concluded Crockett, “you know why I made that speech yesterday. “There is one thing which I will call your attention, “you remember that I proposed to give a week’s pay. There are in that House many very wealthy men – men who think nothing of spending a week’s pay, or a dozen of them, for a dinner or a wine party when they have something to accomplish by it. Some of those same men made beautiful speeches upon the great debt of gratitude which the country owed the deceased–a debt which could not be paid by money–and the insignificance and worthlessness of money, particularly so insignificant a sum as $20,000 when weighed against the honor of the nation. Yet not one of them responded to my proposition. Money with them is nothing but trash when it is to come out of the people. But it is the one great thing for which most of them are striving, and many of them sacrifice honor, integrity, and justice to obtain it.”

    – – – – – My Comments – – – – –

    Nevertheless, Davy Crockett DOES exist … in the body of Ron Paul …

    Brief Overview of Congressman Paul’s Record:

    He has never voted to raise taxes.
    He has never voted for an unbalanced budget.
    He has never voted for a federal restriction on gun ownership.
    He has never voted to raise congressional pay.
    He has never taken a government-paid junket.
    He has never voted to increase the power of the executive branch.

    He voted against the Patriot Act.
    He voted against regulating the Internet.
    He voted against the Iraq war.

    He does not participate in the lucrative congressional pension program.
    He returns a portion of his annual congressional office budget to the U.S. treasury every year.

    I know this was long … thanks for reading,

    James Roswell Quinn
    My Dream is of a joyous world, where ALL people treat themselves, ALL other people, and Earth with honor and respect.

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