Samantha Power, the able foreign policy advisor to Barack Obama who referred to Hillary Clinton as a “monster,” has quit her role with the Obama campaign.
That’s too bad, because Power has always been more open and honest than most key players you will find in or around presidential campaigns.
Of course, the off-hand remark by Power in a discussion recorded by a Scottish journalist was politically incorrect — both because it was hurtful to Clinton, someone the Anna Lindh Professor of Practice of Global Leadership and Public Policy at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government has known for a number of years, and because they suggested an ineptness on the part of the Obama campaign at precisely the time when it did the most harm.
Power’s comment about Clinton was a rough one: “She is a monster, too — that is off the record — she is stooping to anything… You just look at her and think, ‘Ergh.’ But if you are poor and she is telling you some story about how Obama is going to take your job away, maybe it will be more effective. The amount of deceit she has put forward is really unattractive.”
But let’s be a little serious here: What Power said is no different from what campaigners say about their opponents on a daily basis — except perhaps for the use of the rather sophisticated word “monster” as opposed to the usual explicatives. It’s just that Power said it in a setting where her attempt to take the word back with a “that is off the record” grasp was not going to work.
Ultimately, what was most striking about the whole incident was the genuine remorse Power showed.
Listening to the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide (2003) explain her intemperate remark reminded me of the danger of a politics that tosses anyone aside when they make a meaningless mistake like this one.
Here’s what Power told an Irish TV reporter when asked if she regretted her remarks: “Of course I regret them, I can’t even believe they came out of my mouth. The campaign was getting very tense, and I — in every public appearance I’ve ever made talking about Senator Clinton, I have sung her praises as the leader she’s been, the intellect. She’s also incredibly warm, funny. I’ve spent time with her. I think that I just had a very weak moment in seeing some of the tactics, it seems, that were getting employed. I was just afraid really that the campaign would not stay at the level it had been on and I let out in a wave of frustration.”
Speaking of Clinton, Power told the Irish network RTE, “I’m just truly sorry at the harm it may have caused her…”
And Power was frank enough to add that she was sorry for the harm she’d caused the Obama campaign.
Of the whole controversy, Power said, “It’s not good and it’s 100 percent thoroughly my fault. I apologize. I regret it. I wish I could go back in time, mainly because (the comments) don’t reflect my feelings about Senator Clinton… I think just, I’m a bit of a political rookie. I’m a policy-person, a scholar and new to campaigning. Perhaps maybe the heat of it got to me a little bit and I over-reacted to something that I had heard. But, again, it’s no excuse.”
She actually said it was the right move for the Obama camp to distance itself from her. “The campaign will be better for maintaining the high ground,” the scholar suggested.
Power’s still backing Obama. But she noted, “if he doesn’t get the nomination I will be backing Senator Clinton with the same enthusiasm.”
“We’re Democrats,” Power added, “and that’s why my comments were particularly hurtful and, frankly, just very, very stupid.”
Now, I have differed with Power on plenty of issues over the years. And I have not always been entirely impressed with Obama or his campaign. But I sure don’t see much to celebrate in the latest turn on 2008’s long campaign trail.
Power was so frank and remorseful that I was left feeling that this is not the sort of person we should want to see pushed away from the political process.
No good comes from sidelining frank and outspoken “rookies.” Obama and Clinton both need more aides like her. And we all need to accept that campaigns and campaigners can make honest mistakes — indeed, the mistakes are what tell us these are human endeavors, as opposed to mere spin machines.