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Reading Goldman-Sachs: The Clinton Speeches

I just finished reading (twice to be sure I didn’t miss anything), Hillary Clinton’s speeches to Goldman-Sachs. I read the articles with both skepticism and cynicism, expecting to find the disingenuousness that fits her reputation, the cagily phrased “I’m on your side and we both know that the American electorate are ignorant boobs,” attitude that my progressive friends had prepared me to find, and in fact that media-reported excerpts from her emails and the speeches themselves had suggested was her attitude. That wasn’t what I found. Instead, I found a super-intelligent, extremely knowledgeable, classic liberal with a strong penchant for evidence-based decision making and reason, rather than ideology, determining her positions.

There were three speeches in all: one given on June 4, 2013 in Bluffton, South Carolina, a second given on October 24, 2013 in New York, and the third given on October 29, 2013 in Mariana, Arizona. The first speech was longer than the other two and dealt mostly with foreign policy. She demonstrated an amazingly complex grasp of Chinese politics, praising current leader Xi Jinping’s political astuteness and awareness of the world outside of China and expressing hope that his political savvy would allow him to rein in the Chinese military, a goal his predecessor, Hu Jintao, had been unable to do. She suggested that it was the military in China, acting separately from the civilian government, which has been supporting North Korea’s militant nuclear program. At the same time, she recognized the rise of nationalism, which has been characterizing Chinese policy as of late, particularly in its anti-Japanese stance, a position she said she understood, given the memories of Japanese atrocities by many older Chinese politicians, but which was something that frankly puzzled her in an otherwise canny leader such as Xi Jinping because it clashed with his country’s global economic ambitions. She provided a masterful overview of the core Chinese interests and how they are determining Chinese foreign policy. She also reminded her listeners that in situations such those that have occurred over the South China Sea, “They have a right to assert themselves. But if nobody’s there to push back to create a balance, then they’re going to have a chokehold on the sea lanes and also on the countries that border the South China Sea.” These are the words of someone who understands the realities of foreign policy, balancing cooperation with toughness. One of her greatest fears with regard to Asia is that the North Koreans, if not reined in by the Chinese (who she felt had the power to do it), would push a frightened Japan and South Korea toward the acquisition of nuclear weapons, an outcome she regarded as very alarming.

I can’t imagine Donald Trump providing such an analysis.

The proliferation of nuclear weapons was a major fear expressed by Secretary Clinton not only when she discussed Asia, but also when she focused on the Middle East. Her wariness of Saudi Arabia (which she characterized as “not necessarily one of the stablest regimes you can find on the planet”) was part of her overall warning about the dangers of Middle Eastern countries obtaining nuclear weapons. With regard to Syria, she recognized that the U.S. and Russia had very different views of how to deal with the crisis in that country and she had grave reservations about Putin’s motivation or perspective, yet expressed a need to try to work with the Russians to the extent possible. Far from being a hawk, hoping to arm rebels and overthrow Assad, she said that from the beginning the problem was figuring out whom you would arm if you chose to do so. Those at the forefront of the fight, she said, tended to be the most militant, sometimes Jihadists who had been fighting against regimes in other countries for sometime. She explained that she recommended developing “covert connections” to some of the groups “we thought we could build relationships with” in order to “give us some insight into what is going on inside of Syria ” (remember, this is 2013). Even the idea of a no-fly zone was one she approached cautiously, reminding the audience that, in order to make such a zone safe for American or coalition pilots, the ground-based air defense installations, which are located amidst civilian population centers, would have to be destroyed. In her words,  “So all of a sudden this intervention that people talk about so glibly becomes an American and NATO involvement where you take  [out] a lot of civilians.”

These are not the words of a militaristic hawk.

Clinton touched on the problem of a nuclear Iran (the nuclear deal with Iran was not achieved until two years later, but she expressed support for the talks that had begun), and stated, “Our policy is prevention not containment.” While she examined all options, including taking out Iran’s nuclear facilities with penetration bombs, something she hinted Israel favored, she expressed a negative reaction to such an idea, hoping for a diplomatic solution, but in the end admitting she had no immediate answer to the problem of Iran “and if it were easy, someone else would have figured it out.” Her approach could be characterized as informed and cautious, hardly the hardline hawk many have made her out to be.

Looking out across Europe, Clinton was worried about the rise of nationalism both on the continent and in the UK (Brexit had not yet surfaced). She is a globalist who favors global trade, but she made it clear with this group of corporate leaders that it must be regulated trade that also protects the environment, although she also expressed enthusiasm about how the surge in natural gas resources from the U.S. was helping to make us energy independent.

In all of her speeches, Clinton touched upon two themes: the need to promote the inclusion of women in the economy, by bringing them into leadership positions, by changing laws that discriminate against them and by removing cultural barriers to women having full economic rights, as well as the theme of ending the ideological battles that have stymied progress in Washington. With regard to women, she reiterated her concern for women’s rights globally, and pointed out to this group of mostly CEOs that, “…I don’t say this just because, you know, I think it would be wonderful if every girl in the world got the education she needed and the health care she needed and access to credit and politics, is imperative, but it is an economic imperative.”

When addressing the topic of ideological battles in Washington, she called for “evidence-based decisions” rather than “ideological partisan position[s] on all sides.”  She favored compromise instead of hardened positions. In her words, “Because in a democracy, especially as diverse as this one, which is not a theocracy or an autocracy, we don’t think anybody or any party or any interest group has a lock on the truth. We actually think people bring their experience, their ability to think to the table, and them you hammer it out.” To those legislators who are stuck in their ideological positions, she said, “And I don’t care if you’re a liberal icon or a conservative icon. If you are not willing to be active in your democracy and do what is necessary to deal with our problems, I think you should be voted out.”

When a questioner lamented that the government was hampered by law from using the military (except the national guard) to address disasters such as hurricanes and floods, Clinton corrected him on the name of the law, gave its history, and defended the need to keep the military from addressing domestic problems. “”I personally could not favor turning control over to the United States military as much as I respect the United States military. I guess I’m on the other side of this issue with you,” she told the person who raised the question.

The tradeoff between national security concerns and privacy issues was a topic she addressed, acknowledging the difficulty in drawing hard and fast lines. She admitted that the government had done a good job of keeping people safe, but also said, “So I think that maybe we should be honest that, you know, maybe we've gone too far, but then let’s have a conversation about what too far means and how we protect privacy to give our own citizens the reassurance that they are not being spied by their own government, give our friends and allies the reassurance that we’re not going beyond what is the necessary collection and analysis that we share with them and try to have a mature conversation.”  She added, “So it’s not good enough to say everybody does it, because we should hold ourselves to the highest standards, and we should have the right checks and balances in this whole system.”

The Wikileaks problem (which was not focused upon her at the time, but did involve some State Department emails) she relegated to “an embarrassment factor” but also one that put people at risk by identifying in emails, those who had been working with our government or those who were working covertly to further our interests, and said that “we moved a number of people to safe… to safety out of where they were in order for them to be not vulnerable.” With regard to Edward Snowden, she did not dismiss the information he brought forth, but wondered about the security of information he carried around with him on his computer as he moved from country to country looking for a safe haven from prosecution. She cited the precautions she had to take by not even carrying a cell phone in many countries and asked, “”why are those computers not exploited when my cell phone was going to be exploited?” Still, about the material revealed by Snowden, she said, “We should have the debate. We should have the conversation. We should make the changes where they’re necessary.”

Some of Clinton’s suggestions probably did not sit well with her audience. She lectured the bankers on their failure to make their actions transparent, on not understanding the implications of the practices in which they were engaged. She chided them on not even understanding how some of their own transactions actually worked. She did not shy away from the need for more regulations. “”There’s nothing magic about regulations, too much is bad, too little is bad.”  And in the most quoted part of her speech in which she said there was a need to do something like Dodd-Frank “for political reasons,” the entire paragraph reads, “And with political people, again, I would say the same thing, you know there was a lot of complaining about Dodd-Frank, but there was also a need to do something for political reasons, if your were an elected member of Congress and people in your constituency were losing jobs and shutting businesses and everybody in the press is saying it’s all the fault of Wall Street, you can’t sit idly by and do nothing, but what you do is really important.” The quotation in its entirety makes it clear that she’s talking about political responsibility, not political expediency. Finally, she gave these, no doubt mostly republicans, a short lesson in the need to use taxes to build a nation and a constituency so that they, in their need to keep the economy growing, have a market that serves everyone in what she described as, “inclusive prosperity.” She used the example of her father, a Republican who was suspicious of taxes and came home from WWII to find Truman and Marshall wanting to raise taxes to rebuild Europe and shore up Germany and Japan, our enemies during the just ended conflict. He, and the Republican banking and business establishment were swayed by the arguments of “visionary leaders” who convinced them that America would be more prosperous if the rest of the world were too, and American taxes were needed to achieve that end.

These speeches portray a woman who is incredibly informed about the world situation, who understands how government is supposed to work, who is cautious about making decisions about military actions when the situations being addressed are murky and who, in these speeches reveals herself to be pretty much the same person she has appeared to be during the present campaign. She knows the value of being informed and planning ahead. “You have to keep you eye on the trend lines even while you’re dealing with all of the crises because the trend lines will eventually materialize and could be the crisis of next year or in five years. And if you’re taken totally by surprise, it could be a crisis of long-lasting and severe impacts.”

Were there no worrisome comments? Yes, for me, I have reservations about her statement that, “… part of the problem with the political situation, too, is that there is such as bias against people who have led successful and/or complicated lives. You know the divestment of assets the stripping of all kinds of positions, the sale of stocks. It just becomes onerous and unnecessary.” In an election in which conflict of interest by both candidates is an issue, where there are questions about either of them keeping private foundations active while they are in office, I disagree that such concerns are “onerous and unnecessary.” But this is about all that truly troubled me in what she said in several hours of speeches.

Nowhere in Clinton’s speeches were there indications of the dangerous, militaristic hawk who peripatetic progressives claim will initiate World War III if elected. Nowhere was there the scheming politician who said the opposite of what she has been espousing on the campaign trail. It is almost impossible to think of Donald Trump being able to discuss world politics or even the real needs of this country in the highly informed, thoughtful, and even-keeled terms that Hillary Clinton used during these speeches.

I wish that these speeches had become public earlier in the campaign. I wish that Hillary Clinton had released them herself (perhaps in a quid pro quo with Trump for releasing his tax forms). Far from detracting from her viability as a candidate for the presidency, these speeches solidified my support and enhanced my belief that Clinton is as highly qualified as we are going to find in a candidate for our highest office. And her vision of America is not far different from mine.

Reader Comments (1)

A very thoughtful analysis but I can't say I'm persuaded. At the end of the day these are just words. Sadly they stand in stark contrast to deeds such as supporting the coup in Honduras (then deporting the refugees), the coup in Brazil, Clinton Foundation Cronies in Haiti (vs. the people), and the vile Saudis regime and our now-joint war in Yemen. Combined with a willingness to sell out to economic interests like exporting US fracking, supporting diploma mills and private prisons, the pattern of deeds show that Clinton's view of global stability is making the world safe for economic exploitation. She may be the lesser of two evils, but the preponderance of evidence is that she certainly is evil.

October 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAPage

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