Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton at the 2012 State of the Union. Photo: Getty
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What Hillary Clinton’s new book tells us about her unspoken pact with Barack Obama

Clinton gets Obama’s donors and operatives, and in return Obama gets the Democratic nominee best able to make sure his accomplishments outlive his administration. What’s not to like?

So far, we know that Hillary Clinton’s new book, Hard Choices, catalogues the following disagreements with her former boss, Barack Obama: She favoured arming and training moderate Syrian rebels, keeping Hosni Mubarak in power longer, taking a tougher line with Vladimir Putin, and easing the economic embargo on Cuba. And all this comes before the book is even officially out.

In the history of presidential politics, it’s taken far less to prompt feuding between torch-passer and presumed recipient. (See, for example, that other politician named Clinton and his heir apparent.) Surely the White House is stewing over these politically-convenient revelations.

Actually, no. “I’m sure they’re trying to stay on top of what’s in there,” says a senior Obama campaign adviser from 2008 and 2012. “I’m sure there’s dialogue going on.” But the adviser discerns no particular “freak-out”, which certainly isn’t visible from the outside either.

What explains the apparent calm? The most obvious answer is the unspoken pact between Hillary’s world and Obama’s: for Clinton, the pact means she gets the Obama donors and operatives who helped derail her first presidential run (and, more importantly, she denies their services to any potential challenger). In return, Obama ends up with the Democratic nominee best able to make sure his accomplishments outlive his administration. As a senior White House aide from Obama’s first term told me: “I think it’s a good thing that she’s the odds on favourite to be president next. … If it weren’t for her, I’d be worried about Obama’s legacy, Obamacare, all those things.” Neither side has an interest in violating the terms of this win-win deal with more than two years left on the clock.

But, of course, the elemental forces of presidential politics have a way of undermining such arrangements even if no one is trying to defect. And, at first glance, the Clinton book looks like it may have unleashed these forces. After all, at some point between now and 2016, it will be in Hillary’s interest to differentiate herself from the current administration so as to avoid the drag that an almost any lame-duck president inflicts. And it will be in Obama’s interest to resist that differentiation, lest members of his own party prematurely decide that Hillary is their de facto leader. (Imagine members of Congress calling Hillary rather than the White House for direction in 2015 and you begin to see the downsides for Obama.) It wouldn’t be hard to read Clinton’s book as an early push in this inevitable shoving match.

But it turns out that there are powerful reasons for the two camps to stick to the arrangement for as long as possible, even through what would appear to be a provocation as serious as the Clinton book. For Hillary, no political persona has been more rewarding than her team-player persona. Her approval rating jumped 10 points when she agreed to become secretary of state in 2008, the significance of which was not lost on her advisers. As Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes report in their book HRC, sublimating her political ambitions to the Obama agenda was one of her team’s key self-imposed imperatives during her tenure as secretary. “The second she becomes political and partisan,” a Clinton campaign adviser told Allen and Parnes, “she becomes a little bit more radioactive.” 

And so even as Clinton’s book lays out a variety of dissents she will no doubt invoke when taking flak from Jeb Bush, for the moment she’s still far more interested in bucking up Obama than in distancing herself. Look no further than her emphatic comments on the release of Afghanistan POW Bowe Bergdahl. (“It doesn’t matter” how he was captured, she told ABC’s Diane Sawyer, “we bring our people home.”) The stand seemed to signal her posture of choice during the forthcoming book tour, and it was certainly welcome in the White House.

As for the president, as annoying as it must be to have the most popular Democrat in the country distance herself from his foreign-policy B-sides, the broader arrangement still beats any plausible alternative. Consider: if not for the way Hillary’s proto-campaign has frozen the Democratic presidential field, there would already be half-a-dozen Democratic governors and senators trooping through Iowa, complaining to anyone who will listen that Obama still hasn’t closed Guantanamo, arrested any Wall Street bankers, or brought the NSA to heel. “Put aside that she may or may not share all his positions,” says the Obama campaign adviser. “The fact that no one is doing that is a great thing for him.”

As long as Hillary’s 2016 plans continue to bring such benefits, the White House will happily ignore a book that would have the whiff of betrayal under any other circumstances. Like all great marriages of convenience, this one is built to withstand a little emotional distress. 

This article first appeared at newrepublic.com

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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.