As WikiLeaks continues to dump John Podesta’s emails onto the world, there’s a cornucopia of information to digest. I decided to start by focusing on a key source of tension between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primary: the transcripts of Clinton’s paid speeches at Goldman Sachs. These were supposed to contain information damaging to Clinton’s campaign.
After reading all three speeches … I don’t understand why Clinton didn’t make them public back in the spring.
Okay, I understand a little. Clinton’s Goldman Sachs transcripts are not speeches per se but rather structured conversations between Clinton and a Goldman Sachs interlocutor, as well as a Q&A with the audience. Clinton references the same Winston Churchill joke a bit much. She praises Chinese President Xi Jinping on occasion, mostly for his political skills and his apparent ability to rein in the People’s Liberation Army. Mostly, however, what comes through is Clinton’s comfort talking about the subtleties of international relations. The contrast with the current GOP nominee is rather striking.
In particular, there are three aspects of the speeches that are worthy of note in 2016:
1. Clinton sounded more enthusiastic about trade in 2013. From the transcript of her first speech:
But on the trade and regulatory harmonization, we are very serious about [the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership] and something that I strongly supported. The discussions are ongoing. It will come down, as it often does, to agriculture, particularly French agriculture, and we’ll just have to see how much we can get done by that process. And there is no doubt that if we can make progress on the trade regulatory front it would be good for the Europeans. It would be good for us. And I would like to see us go as far as we possibly can with a real agreement, not a phony agreement. You know, the E.U. signs agreements all the time with nearly everybody, but they don’t change anything. They just kind of sign them and see what comes of it.
I think we have an opportunity to really actually save money in our respective regulatory schemes, increase trade not only between ourselves but also be more effective in helping to keep the world on a better track for a rural spaced global trading system by having us kind of set the standards for that, along with the [Trans-Pacific Partnership], which we didn’t mention when we talked about Asia, which I think is also still proceeding.
This isn’t terribly surprising, as Clinton’s position on trade policy has easily been the most cynical part of her campaign. But it is worth noting.
2. Clinton is keenly aware of the link between domestic dysfunction and foreign policy. Clinton relayed this anecdote from her first speech about the effect of Congress’s possible failure to lift the debt ceiling:
I was in Hong Kong in the summer of 2011 and I had a preexisting program with a big business group there, and before we had a reception and there were about a hundred business leaders, many of them based in Hong Kong, some of them from mainland China, some of them from Singapore and elsewhere. They were lining up and saying to me: Is it true that the American Congress might default on America’s full faith and credit, their standing, that you won’t pay your bills?
And you know I’m sitting there, I’m representing all of you. I said: Oh, no. No. No. That’s just politics. We’ll work it through. And I’m sitting there: Oh, boy. I hope that is the case.
So for all of their efforts to take advantage of whatever mistake we might make or whatever problem we might have, they know right now at least in 2013, the beginning of this century, the United States isn’t strong at home and abroad. They’ve got problems, and it is for me pretty simple. If we don’t get our political house in order and demonstrate that we can start making decisions again — and that takes hard work.
In all three speeches, Clinton talks about the necessity for political compromise in the American system of government. In this polarized climate, I guess I can see how such statements would be seen as politically problematic. No, wait, I can’t.
3. Clinton presaged the rise of Trump. In her third speech, Clinton refers to shifts in the political culture of the United States, and places them in the proper historical context:
We have always had this kind of streak of whether it’s know-nothingism or isolationism or, you know, anti-Communism, extremism. Whatever. We’ve had it forever from the beginning. So it’s important that people speak out and stand up against it, and especially people who are Republicans, who say, look, that’s not the party that I’m part of. I want to get back to having a two-party system that can have an adult conversation and a real debate about the future.
A bit later, she elaborates further on the obstructionists in the GOP. See if this description sounds familiar:
What I really resent most about the obstructionists is they have such a narrow view of America. They see America in a way that is no longer reflective of the reality of who we are. They’re against immigration for reasons that have to do with the past, not the future. They can’t figure out how to invest in the future, so they cut everything. You know, laying off, you know, young researchers, closing labs instead of saying, we’re better at this than anybody in the world, that’s where our money should go. They just have a backward-looking view of America. And they play on people’s fears, not on people’s hopes, and they have to be rejected. I don’t care what they call themselves. I don’t care where they’re from. They have to be rejected because they are fundamentally un-American. And every effort they make to undermine and obstruct the functioning of the government is meant to send a signal that we can’t do anything collectively. You know, that we aren’t a community, a nation that shares values.
I mean, America was an invention. It was an intellectual invention, and we have done pretty well for all these years. And these people want to just undermine that very profound sense of who we are. And we can’t let them do that.
After that passage, Clinton goes on to discuss Alexis de Tocqueville. The horror, the horror.
These are transcripts, not videos, but my main takeaway is that Hillary Clinton is perfectly comfortable talking about both American foreign policy and the politics of American foreign policy. There is nothing in the way of bluff or bluster in these transcripts. Indeed, much like the original CableGate scandal (which Clinton talks about in the third speech), these transcripts mostly reveal a person who says similar things in private that she does in public.