Obama should rue the day he appointed Clinton

The revival of the Clinton psychodrama is blocking Obama's attempt to transcend the old divisions

Hillary Clinton's humourless response to a Congolese student who asked what her husband thought of China's economic relations with the Congo should remind President Obama of the hazards of having the Clinton family drama back at the centre of US politics.

The student, who in fact asked for Obama's thoughts on the subject and had his question mangled by a hapless translator, was dealt a stinging reply by Clinton.

"You want me to tell you what my husband thinks?" she asked incredulously. "My husband is not the secretary of state, I am. You ask my opinion, I will tell you my opinion; I'm not going to channel my husband."

The incident confirms that self-deprecation remains an art foreign to Clinton and that her status as secretary of state has done little to assuage her resentment at not landing the top job.

In today's Independent, Helen Wilkinson (while failing to note the erroneous translation) apparently defends Clinton on the basis that she is a female politician and that some of her critics are misogynists. She refers her readers to the almost "pathological" attacks on Clinton during the presidential campaign.

Well, in fact there was something rather vulgar and sinister about the sexist attacks on Clinton.

The Fox News correspondent Tucker Carlson, for instance, crudely remarked that Clinton: "feels castrating, overbearing and scary . . . When she comes on television, I involuntarily cross my legs." While right-wing goons, whose idea of a fun day out is to chant "iron my shirt" at female politicians, were painfully conspicuous throughout the campaign.

But what will not do is to rewrite history, as Wilkinson does, and portray Clinton as a political innocent who has always steered clear of smear tactics.

It was Clinton who during the scurrilous campaign to 'out' Obama as a 'secret Muslim' pandered to such paranoia by declaring that Obama was not a Muslim "as far as I know ". And it was the Clinton camp that appealed to the US electorate's basest instincts by circulating images of Obama dressed in traditional Somali garb across the media.

Moreover, Clinton's mendacious claim to have come "under sniper fire" at the Tuzla Air Force Base during her trip to Bosnia (a subsequent video revealed her peaceful arrival) should have disqualified her from holding any political office.

Obama's decision to welcome Clinton into his administration after her disgraceful campaign may have appeared magnanimous to some but to me it seemed almost masochistic.

As Maureen Dowd has cogently argued in the New York Times, the presence of Clinton in Obama's team has stymied his attempt to transcend the old political divisions.

"The postpartisan, postracial, post-Clinton-dysfunction world that Barack Obama was supposed to usher in when he hit town on his white charger, with turtle doves tweeting, has vanished."

At a time when the Obama administration desparately needs to mount a rearguard action against the conservative assaults on its health-care policy it can ill afford the revival of the Clinton psychodrama.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The SNP thinks it knows how to kill hard Brexit

The Supreme Court ruled MPs must have a say in triggering Article 50. But the opposition must unite to succeed. 

For a few minutes on Tuesday morning, the crowd in the Supreme Court listened as the verdict was read out. Parliament must have the right to authorise the triggering of Article 50. The devolved nations would not get a veto. 

There was a moment of silence. And then the opponents of hard Brexit hit the phones. 

For the Scottish government, the pro-Remain members of the Welsh Assembly and Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland, the victory was bittersweet. 

The ruling prompted Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, to ask: “Is it better that we take our future into our own hands?”

Ever the pragmatist, though, Sturgeon has simultaneously released her Westminster attack dogs. 

Within minutes of the ruling, the SNP had vowed to put forward 50 amendments (see what they did there) to UK government legislation before Article 50 is enacted. 

This includes the demand for a Brexit white paper – shared by MPs from all parties – to a clause designed to prevent the UK reverting to World Trade Organisation rules if a deal is not agreed. 

But with Labour planning to approve the triggering of Article 50, can the SNP cause havoc with the government’s plans, or will it simply be a chorus of disapproval in the rest of Parliament’s ear?

The SNP can expect some support. Individual SNP MPs have already successfully worked with Labour MPs on issues such as benefit cuts. Pro-Remain Labour backbenchers opposed to Article 50 will not rule out “holding hands with the devil to cross the bridge”, as one insider put it. The sole Green MP, Caroline Lucas, will consider backing SNP amendments she agrees with as well as tabling her own. 

But meanwhile, other opposition parties are seeking their own amendments. Jeremy Corbyn said Labour will seek amendments to stop the Conservatives turning the UK “into a bargain basement tax haven” and is demanding tariff-free access to the EU. 

Separately, the Liberal Democrats are seeking three main amendments – single market membership, rights for EU nationals and a referendum on the deal, which is a “red line”.

Meanwhile, pro-Remain Tory backbenchers are watching their leadership closely to decide how far to stray from the party line. 

But if the Article 50 ruling has woken Parliament up, the initial reaction has been chaotic rather than collaborative. Despite the Lib Dems’ position as the most UK-wide anti-Brexit voice, neither the SNP nor Labour managed to co-ordinate with them. 

Indeed, the Lib Dems look set to vote against Labour’s tariff-free amendment on the grounds it is not good enough, while expecting Labour to vote against their demand of membership of the single market. 

The question for all opposition parties is whether they can find enough amendments to agree on to force the government onto the defensive. Otherwise, this defeat for the government is hardly a defeat at all. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.