Saturday, April 30, 2016

Today's BIG Question: How Low Can We Go?

In today's snark sweepstakes for blog entries, Eags (Timothy Egan) finished a close second to The Krait (Gail Collins); see his essay here. However, The Krait (explanation of this blog's nom de plume here. supplied an LOL-moment with nearly every line. Just when you think it can't get any worse... it does... in spades. If this is (fair & balanced) political nincompoopery, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
The One Thing Worse Than Trump
By The Krait (Gail Collins)

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Ted Cruz continues to astound. Every time it appears he can’t get more awful, he finds a new avenue, like a ground mole sniffing out a beetle. Right now, he’s in Indiana, trying to save his presidential career by ranting about transgender people and bathrooms.

“Even if Donald Trump dresses up as Hillary Clinton, he shouldn’t be using the girls’ restroom,” Cruz declaimed at a rally. It’s his new favorite line. He is constantly reminding Republican voters that Trump, when asked which bathroom transgender people should use, simply replied the one that they felt most appropriate.

That was possibly the most rational moment of the Trump campaign, and of course he has since started fudging on it. But not enough for Cruz, who has earned the distinction of being a presidential candidate who can make Donald Trump look good. “I get along with almost everybody, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life,” said the former House speaker, John Boehner. He also called Cruz “Lucifer in the flesh.”

If this has become a battle between fear and loathing, it appears that Republicans who know both candidates are deciding they’d rather be afraid.

Tuesday’s Indiana primary is critical for Cruz, and he scored a coup when Governor Mike Pence endorsed him. Perhaps Pence, an extreme social conservative, felt he had to go with the only candidate who opposed allowing rape victims to seek abortions. But you have heard more enthusiastic announcements from flight attendants demonstrating the proper use of seatbelts.

Pence praised Trump for taking “a strong stand for Hoosier jobs” while blandly commending Cruz for his “knowledge of the Constitution.” We all know that as a youth, Ted memorized that document, and you can imagine him reciting Article II for the edification of his classmates. Which is both commendable and a possible explanation for why his former college roommate told The Daily Beast that he’d rather vote for a name picked randomly from the phone book.

It was a week in which Cruz made headlines with his disastrous attempt to connect with Indiana sports fans, in which he referred to a basketball hoop as a “ring.” That was a terrible moment, although certainly not as bad as Trump’s boastful announcement that he’d gotten the backing of the ex-boxer Mike Tyson. (“I love it … Iron Mike. You know all the tough guys endorse me. I like that, O.K.?”) Tyson has strong ties to Indiana, having served three years in prison there for raping a beauty pageant contestant in 1992.

Cruz made a desperate play for attention by picking Carly Fiorina as his ticket’s vice-presidential candidate. While he’s still way behind in delegates, the senator from Texas now leads the pack in anointed running mates.

Fiorina was obviously chosen after long and careful consideration. But who do you think the other finalists were? He clearly needed a woman whose best career option was joining the Ted Cruz ticket. I am thinking the possible contenders were:

A) That State Board of Education candidate in Texas who claims Barack Obama used to pay for his drug habit by working as a prostitute.

B) Mrs. Cruz

C) The House member who made the impassioned speech denouncing government regulation of ceiling fans.

D) Wendy who delivered pizza to the campaign headquarters during the Ohio primary.

The woman from Texas is an actual person. The one from the House is Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). (“First they came for our health care. Then they took away our light bulbs … now they are coming after our ceiling fans.”) She’d be perfect, really. But unfortunately, she’s leaning toward Trump.

Cruz says that as the former head of a Fortune 500 company, Fiorina knows “where jobs come from.” (And where jobs go — she laid off 30,000 Hewlett-Packard employees.) She also ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in California — who can forget that campaign commercial where her opponent was depicted as a satanic sheep? The California connection might at least help him out in the state’s June primary, except that Fiorina decamped for Virginia after she lost the election, leaving behind memories and unpaid campaign debts.

The whole political world tuned in to watch Cruz announce Fiorina’s elevation, then wandered off to dust some bookshelves as he orated on for half an hour before turning over the stage. Fiorina then mesmerized the remaining viewers by singing a song, which she claimed she used to entertain Cruz’s daughters on bus rides, in a little-girl voice.

Cruz has been dragging the children, 5 and 8, into his campaign a lot. It appears they now spend their days on a bus with Carly Fiorina and being trotted onstage by Dad — before he gets to the part about Donald Trump cross-dressing in the girls’ restroom. They’ve also starred in a TV campaign ad reading from a mock Christmas book called “The Grinch Who Lost Her Emails.”

Free the Cruz Kids. Ω

[Gail Collins joined the New York Times in 1995 as a member of the editorial board and later as an op-ed columnist. In 2001 she became the first woman ever appointed editor of the Times editorial page. At the beginning of 2007, she took a leave in order to complete America's Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates and Heroines. Collins returned to the Times as a columnist in July 2007. Collins has a BA (journalism) from Marquette University and an MA (government) from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Gail Collins’s newest book is As Texas Goes...: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda (2012).]

Copyright © 2015 The New York Times Company

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Friday, April 29, 2016

Meet A Man For Our Season

Professor Steven Nadler, an expert on Spinoza, finds that the philosopher's writings in the 17th century resonate today with his exposure of ugly truths about his fellow citizens and their society in the 17th century. If this is a (fair & balanced) call for a neo-Spinozist, so be it.

Mea culpa from the blogger: the spellings of numerous words and the grammatical curiosity of single quotation marks betray the Anglo-Austo origins of Aeon.

[x Aeon]
Why Spinoza Still Matters
By Steven Nadler

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In July 1656, the 23-year-old Bento de Spinoza was excommunicated from the Portuguese-Jewish congregation of Amsterdam. It was the harshest punishment of herem (ban) ever issued by that community. The extant document, a lengthy and vitriolic diatribe, refers to the young man’s ‘abominable heresies’ and ‘monstrous deeds’. The leaders of the community, having consulted with the rabbis and using Spinoza’s Hebrew name, proclaim that they hereby ‘expel, excommunicate, curse, and damn Baruch de Spinoza’. He is to be ‘cast out from all the tribes of Israel’ and his name is to be ‘blotted out from under heaven’.

Over the centuries, there have been periodic calls for the herem against Spinoza to be lifted. Even David Ben-Gurion, when he was prime minister of Israel, issued a public plea for ‘amending the injustice’ done to Spinoza by the Amsterdam Portuguese community. It was not until early 2012, however, that the Amsterdam congregation, at the insistence of one of its members, formally took up the question of whether it was time to rehabilitate Spinoza and welcome him back into the congregation that had expelled him with such prejudice. There was, though, one thing that they needed to know: should we still regard Spinoza as a heretic?

Unfortunately, the herem document fails to mention specifically what Spinoza’s offences were — at the time he had not yet written anything — and so there is a mystery surrounding this seminal event in the future philosopher’s life. And yet, for anyone who is familiar with Spinoza’s mature philosophical ideas, which he began putting in writing a few years after the excommunication, there really is no such mystery. By the standards of early modern rabbinic Judaism — and especially among the Sephardic Jews of Amsterdam, many of whom were descendants of converso refugees from the Iberian Inquisitions and who were still struggling to build a proper Jewish community on the banks of the Amstel River — Spinoza was a heretic, and a dangerous one at that.

What is remarkable is how popular this heretic remains nearly three and a half centuries after his death, and not just among scholars. Spinoza’s contemporaries, René Descartes and Gottfried Leibniz, made enormously important and influential contributions to the rise of modern philosophy and science, but you won’t find many committed Cartesians or Leibnizians around today. The Spinozists, however, walk among us. They are non-academic devotees who form Spinoza societies and study groups, who gather to read him in public libraries and in synagogues and Jewish community centres. Hundreds of people, of various political and religious persuasions, will turn out for a day of lectures on Spinoza, whether or not they have ever read him. There have been novels, poems, sculptures, paintings, even plays and operas devoted to Spinoza. This is all a very good thing.

It is also a very curious thing. Why should a 17th-century Portuguese-Jewish philosopher whose dense and opaque writings are notoriously difficult to understand incite such passionate devotion, even obsession, among a lay audience in the 21st century? Part of the answer is the drama and mystery at the centre of his life: why exactly was Spinoza so harshly punished by the community that raised and nurtured him? Just as significant, I suspect, is that everyone loves an iconoclast – especially a radical and fearless one that suffered persecution in his lifetime for ideas and values that are still so important to us today. Spinoza is a model of intellectual courage. Like a prophet, he took on the powers-that-be with an unflinching honesty that revealed ugly truths about his fellow citizens and their society.

Much of Spinoza’s philosophy was composed in response to the precarious political situation of the Dutch Republic in the mid-17th century. In the late 1660s, the period of ‘True Freedom’ — with the liberal and laissez-faire regents dominating city and provincial governments — was under threat by the conservative ‘Orangist’ faction (so-called because its partisans favoured a return of centralised power to the Prince of Orange) and its ecclesiastic allies. Spinoza was afraid that the principles of toleration and secularity enshrined in the founding compact of the United Provinces of the Netherlands were being eroded in the name of religious conformity and political and social orthodoxy. In 1668, his friend and fellow radical Adriaan Koerbagh was convicted of blasphemy and subversion. He died in his cell the next year. In response, Spinoza composed his ‘scandalous’ Theological-Political Treatise, published to great alarm in 1670.

Spinoza’s views on God, religion and society have lost none of their relevance. At a time when Americans seem willing to bargain away their freedoms for security, when politicians talk of banning people of a certain faith from our shores, and when religious zealotry exercises greater influence on matters of law and public policy, Spinoza’s philosophy — especially his defence of democracy, liberty, secularity and toleration — has never been more timely. In his distress over the deteriorating political situation in the Dutch Republic, and despite the personal danger he faced, Spinoza did not hesitate to boldly defend the radical Enlightenment values that he, along with many of his compatriots, held dear. In Spinoza we can find inspiration for resistance to oppressive authority and a role model for intellectual opposition to those who, through the encouragement of irrational beliefs and the maintenance of ignorance, try to get citizens to act contrary to their own best interests.

Spinoza’s philosophy is founded upon a rejection of the God that informs the Abrahamic religions. His God lacks all the psychological and moral characteristics of a transcendent, providential deity. The Deus of Spinoza’s philosophical masterpiece, the Ethics (1677), is not a kind of person. It has no beliefs, hopes, desires or emotions. Nor is Spinoza’s God a good, wise and just lawgiver who will reward those who obey its commands and punish those who go astray. For Spinoza, God is Nature, and all there is is Nature (his phrase is Deus sive Natura, ‘God or Nature’). Whatever is exists in Nature, and happens with a necessity imposed by the laws of Nature. There is nothing beyond Nature and there are no departures from Nature’s order – miracles and the supernatural are an impossibility.

There are no values in Nature. Nothing is intrinsically good or bad, nor does Nature or anything in Nature exist for the sake of some purpose. Whatever is, just is. Early in the Ethics, Spinoza says that ‘all the prejudices I here undertake to expose depend on this one: that men commonly suppose that all natural things act, as men do, on account of an end; indeed, they maintain as certain that God himself directs all things to some certain end; for they say that God has made all things for man, and man that he might worship God’.

Spinoza is often labelled a ‘pantheist’, but ‘atheist’ is a more appropriate term. Spinoza does not divinise Nature. Nature is not the object of worshipful awe or religious reverence. ‘The wise man,’ he says, ‘seeks to understand Nature, not gape at it like a fool’. The only appropriate attitude to take toward God or Nature is a desire to know it through the intellect.

The elimination of a providential God helps to cast doubt on what Spinoza regards as one of the most pernicious doctrines promoted by organised religions: the immortality of the soul and the divine judgment it will undergo in some world-to-come. If a person believes that God will reward the virtuous and punish the vicious, one’s life will be governed by the emotions of hope and fear: hope that one is among the elect, fear that one is destined for eternal damnation. A life dominated by such irrational passions is, in Spinoza’s terms, a life of ‘bondage’ rather than a life of rational freedom.

People who are led by passion rather than reason are easily manipulated by ecclesiastics. This is what so worried Spinoza in the late 1660s, as the more repressive and intolerant elements in the Reformed Church gained influence in Holland. It remains no less a threat to enlightened, secular democracy today, as religious sectarians exercise a dangerous influence on public life.

In order to undermine such religious meddling in civic affairs and personal morality, Spinoza attacked the belief in the afterlife of an immortal soul. For Spinoza, when you’re dead, you’re dead. There might be a part of the human mind that is ‘eternal’. The truths of metaphysics, mathematics, etc, that one acquires during this lifetime and that might now belong to one’s mind will certainly remain once one has passed away — they are, after all, eternal truths — but there is nothing personal about them. The rewards or benefits such knowledge brings are for this world, not some alleged world-to-come.

The more one knows about Nature, and especially about oneself as a human being, the more one is able to avoid the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, to navigate the obstacles to happiness and wellbeing that a person living in Nature necessarily faces. The result of such wisdom is peace of mind: one is less subject to the emotional extremes that ordinarily accompany the gains and losses that life inevitably brings, and one no longer dwells anxiously on what is to come after death. As Spinoza eloquently puts it, ‘the free man thinks of death least of all things, and his wisdom is a meditation on life, not on death’.

Clergy seeking to control the lives of citizens have another weapon in their arsenal. They proclaim that there is one and only one book that will reveal the word of God and the path toward salvation and that they alone are its authorised interpreters. In fact, Spinoza claims, ‘they ascribe to the Holy Spirit whatever their wild fancies have invented’.

One of Spinoza’s more famous, influential and incendiary doctrines concerns the origin and status of Scripture. The Bible, Spinoza argues in the Theological-Political Treatise, was not literally authored by God. God or Nature is metaphysically incapable of proclaiming or dictating, much less writing, anything. Scripture is not ‘a message for mankind sent down by God from heaven’. Rather, it is a very mundane document. Texts from a number of authors of various socio-economic backgrounds, writing at different points over a long stretch of time and in differing historical and political circumstances, were passed down through generations in copies after copies after copies.

Finally, a selection of these writings was put together (with some arbitrariness, Spinoza insists) in the Second Temple period, most likely under the editorship of Abraham ibn Ezra, who was only partially able to synthesise his sources and create a single work from them. This imperfectly composed collection was itself subject to the changes that creep into a text during a transmission process of many centuries. The Bible as we have it is simply a work of human literature, and a rather ‘faulty, mutilated, adulterated, and inconsistent’ one at that. It is a mixed-breed by its birth and corrupted by its descent and preservation, a jumble of texts by different hands, from different periods and for different audiences.

Spinoza supplements his theory of the human origins of Scripture with an equally deflationary account of its authors. The prophets were not especially learned individuals. They did not enjoy a high level of education or intellectual sophistication. They certainly were not philosophers or physicists or astronomers. There are no truths about nature or the cosmos to be found in their writings (Joshua believed that the Sun revolved around the Earth). Neither are they a source of metaphysical or even theological truths. The prophets often had naïve, even philosophically false beliefs about God.

They were, however, morally superior individuals with vivid imaginations, and so there is a truth to be gleaned from all of Scripture, one that comes through loud and clear and in a non-mutilated form. The ultimate teaching of Scripture, whether the Hebrew Bible or the Christian Gospels, is in fact a rather simple one: practice justice and loving-kindness to your fellow human beings.

That basic moral message is the upshot of all the commandments and the lesson of all the stories of Scripture, surviving whole and unadulterated through all the differences of language and all the copies, alterations, corruptions and scribal errors that have crept into the text over the centuries. It is, Spinoza insists, there in the Hebrew prophets (‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbour as yourself’ [Leviticus 19:18]) and it is in Paul’s letters (‘He who loves his neighbour has satisfied every claim of the law’ [Romans 13:8]). Spinoza writes: ‘I can say with certainty, that in the matter of moral doctrine I have never observed a fault or variant reading that could give rise to obscurity or doubt in such teaching.’ The moral doctrine is the clear and universal message of the Bible, at least for those who are not prevented from reading it properly by prejudice, superstition or a thirst for power.

Does Spinoza believe that there is any sense in which the Bible can be said to be ‘divine’? Certainly not in the sense central to fundamentalist, or even traditional, versions of the Abrahamic religions. For Spinoza, the divinity of Scripture — in fact, the divinity of any writing — is a purely functional property. A work of literature or art is ‘sacred’ or ‘divine’ only because it is effective at presenting the ‘word of God’.

What is the ‘word of God’, the ‘universal divine law’? It is precisely the message that remains ‘unmutilated’ and ‘uncorrupted’ throughout the Biblical texts: love your neighbours and treat them with justice and charity. But Scripture, perhaps more than any other work of literature, excels at motivating people to follow that lesson and emulate its (fictional) portrayal of God’s justice and mercy in their lives. Spinoza notes that ‘a thing is called sacred and divine when its purpose is to foster piety and religion, and it is sacred only for as long as men use it in a religious way’. In other words, the divinity of Scripture lies in the fact that it is, above all else, an especially morally edifying work of literature.

And yet, for just this reason, Scripture will not be the only work of literature that is ‘divine’. If reading William Shakespeare’s The Tempest or Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn moves one toward justice and mercy, or if reading Charles Dickens’s Hard Times inspires one toward love and charity, then these works too are divine and sacred. The word of God, Spinoza says, is ‘not confined within the compass of a set number of books’.

In a letter to Spinoza, the Cartesian Lambert van Velthuysen objects that, according to the Theological-Political Treatise, ‘the Koran, too, is to be put on a level with the Word of God’, since ‘the Turks… in obedience to the command of their prophet, cultivate those moral virtues about which there is no disagreement among nations’. Spinoza acknowledges the implication, but does not see it as an objection. He is perfectly willing to allow that there are other true prophets besides those of Scripture and other sacred books outside the Jewish and Christian canons.

The Bible’s moral message and its prescriptions for how we are to treat other human beings represents the authentic ‘word of God’. Spinoza insists, then, that true piety or religion has nothing whatsoever to do with ceremonies or rituals. Dietary restrictions, liturgical and sacrificial practices, prayers – all such elements typical of organised religions are but superstitious behaviours that, whatever might have been their historico-political origins, are now devoid of any raison d’être. They continue to be promoted by clergy only to create docile and obedient worshippers.

What Spinoza regards as ‘true religion’ and ‘true piety’ requires no belief in any historical events, supernatural incidents or metaphysical doctrines, and it prescribes no devotional rites. It does not demand accepting any particular theology of God’s nature or philosophical claims about the cosmos and its origins. The divine law directs us only on how to behave with justice and charity toward other human beings. ‘[We are] to uphold justice, help the helpless, do no murder, covet no man’s goods, and so on’. All the other rituals or ceremonies of the Bible’s commandments are empty practices that ‘do not contribute to blessedness and virtue’.

True religion is nothing more than moral behaviour. It is not what you believe, but what you do that matters. Writing to the Englishman and secretary to the Royal Society Henry Oldenburg in 1675, Spinoza says that ‘the chief distinction I make between religion and superstition is that the latter is founded on ignorance, the former on wisdom’.

The political ideal that Spinoza promotes in the Theological-Political Treatise is a secular, democratic commonwealth, one that is free from meddling by ecclesiastics. Spinoza is one of history’s most eloquent advocates for freedom and toleration. The ultimate goal of the Treatise is enshrined in both the book’s subtitle and in the argument of its final chapter: to show that ‘freedom to philosophise may not only be allowed without danger to piety and the stability of the republic, but that it cannot be refused without destroying the peace of the republic and piety itself’.

All opinions whatsoever, including religious opinions, are to be absolutely free and unimpeded, both by necessity and by right. ‘It is impossible for the mind to be completely under another’s control; for no one is able to transfer to another his natural right or faculty to reason freely and to form his own judgment on any matters whatsoever, nor can he be compelled to do so’. Indeed, any effort by a sovereign to rule over the beliefs and opinions of citizens can only backfire, as it will ultimately serve to undermine the sovereign’s own authority. In a passage that is both obviously right and extraordinarily bold for its time, Spinoza writes:

a government that attempts to control men’s minds is regarded as tyrannical, and a sovereign is thought to wrong his subjects and infringe their right when he seeks to prescribe for every man what he should accept as true and reject as false, and what are the beliefs that will inspire him with devotion to God. All these are matters belonging to individual right, which no man can surrender even if he should so wish.

A sovereign can certainly try to limit what people think, but the result of such a vain and foolhardy policy would be to create only resentment and opposition to its rule. Still, the toleration of beliefs is one thing. The more difficult case concerns the liberty of citizens to express those beliefs, either in speech or in writing. And here Spinoza goes further than anyone else in the 17th century:

Utter failure will attend any attempt in a commonwealth to force men to speak only as prescribed by the sovereign despite their different and opposing opinions … The most tyrannical government will be one where the individual is denied the freedom to express and to communicate to others what he thinks, and a moderate government is one where this freedom is granted to every man.

Spinoza’s argument for freedom of expression is based both on the right (or power) of citizens to speak as they desire, as well as on the fact that (as in the case of belief) it would be counter-productive for a sovereign to try to restrain that freedom. No matter what laws are enacted against speech and other means of expression, citizens will continue to say what they believe, only now they will do so in secret. Any attempt to suppress freedom of expression will, once again, only weaken the bonds of loyalty that unite subjects to sovereign. In Spinoza’s view, intolerant laws lead ultimately to anger, revenge and sedition.

There is to be no criminalisation of ideas in the well-ordered state. The freedom of philosophising must be upheld for the sake of a healthy, secure and peaceful commonwealth, and material and intellectual progress. Spinoza understands that there will be some unpleasant consequences entailed by the broad respect for civil liberties. There will be public disputes, even factionalism, as citizens express their opposing views on political, social, moral and religious questions. However, this is what comes with a healthy, democratic and tolerant society.

‘The state can pursue no safer course than to regard piety and religion as consisting solely in the exercise of charity and just dealing, and that the right of the sovereign, both in religious and secular spheres, should be restricted to men’s actions, with everyone being allowed to think what he will and to say what he thinks’. This sentence, a wonderful statement of the modern principle of toleration, is perhaps the real lesson of the Treatise, and should be that for which Spinoza is best remembered.

When, in 2012, a member of the Portuguese-Jewish congregation in Amsterdam insisted that it was finally time for the community to consider revoking the herem on Spinoza, the ma’amad, or lay-leaders, of the community sought outside counsel for such a momentous decision. They convened a committee — myself, along with three other scholars — to answer various questions about the philosophical, historical, political, and religious circumstances of Spinoza’s ban. While they did not ask us to recommend any particular course of action, they did want our opinions on what might be the advantages and disadvantages to lifting the ban.

We submitted our reports, and more than a year passed without any news. Finally, in the summer of 2013, we received a letter informing us that the congregation’s rabbi had decided that the herem was not to be revoked. In his opinion, Spinoza was indeed a heretic. He added that while we can all appreciate freedom of expression in the civic domain, there is no reason to expect such freedom within the world of orthodox Judaism. Moreover, he asked rhetorically, are the leaders of the community today that much wiser and better informed about Spinoza’s case than the rabbis who punished him in the first place?

No doubt, Spinoza would have found the whole affair amusing. If asked whether he would like to be readmitted to ‘the people of Israel’, he would most likely have replied: ‘Do whatever you want. I couldn’t care less.’ Ω

[Steven Nadler is the William H Hay II Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His books include Spinoza: A Life (1999) and A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza’s Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age (2011). Nadler received a BA (philosophy) from Washington University (St. Louis) and both an MA and PhD (philosophy) from Columia University.]

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Thursday, April 28, 2016

For Some People, There Is Life After Blogging

If you ever wondered about the life of a talking-head away from cable news, think no further because former blogger (Wonkette) Ana Marie Cox pulls the curtain away from life as cable news "pundit." Cox is still snarky, but she no longer writes it (exception here and there— the "Talk" section of the NY Fishwrap Zine). If this is a (fair & balanced) consideration of the latest iteration of snark, so be it.

[x The Baffler]
Face Value
By Ana Marie Cox

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Cable news ratings peak during an election season, and networks add as much political content as possible to capitalize on the nation’s always fleeting interest in the process. The demand for pundits increases along with that interest.

I know because I’m one of them.

In the post-blogging era, the distinction between journalist and commentator, citizen and pundit, has dissolved. There are more opinions than there are people. (Science will have to come up with a new anatomical metaphor for the possession of so many.)

It’s a buyer’s market for news organizations, and I am fully aware that being an entertaining interlocutor with a face that doesn’t break the camera is a factor whenever I get work. Those are the two valuable assets I bring to the table, and when a print publication hires me—at least as I see it, looking back on the last eight years—cable news’ demand for me is part of the decision.

Going on TV makes my print employers happy. It makes me happy, too: it’s a relatively cost-free way of saying to a larger public what I write for my readers. To be completely honest, it’s fun. And the vast majority of the talking heads you see on cable news are doing it for the same reasons I am: it makes their employers happy, and it’s mildly exhilarating, like the rollercoasters you don’t have to be tall to ride. They are not doing it for the money, believe it or not. Only a fraction of the pundits appearing on any given show are paid “analysts.” Most of them are remunerated in more existential terms.

This is the process behind a cable news hit (they are called “hits,” for no good reason as far as I can tell, though I like to think of myself as a journalistic gun for hire). First, a booker calls you the day before in a panic. Bookers are always panicked. I understand that panic. If going on live TV is walking a high-wire without a net, programming live TV is stringing the wire without a net, under a deadline. The show needs you IMMEDIATELY, or, in fact, in about twenty-four hours, but they need a commitment IMMEDIATELY.

“We’re doing a segment on CAMPAIGN THING THAT JUST HAPPENED. Can you come on to talk about it?”

Once availability is established, then you move on to what you’re going to say. “Okay, HOST wants to see if THING THAT JUST HAPPENED is going to CHANGE THE NATURE OF THE RACE. What do you think?”

You can try to offer a nuanced view. A booker in a non-panicked state (maybe they’ve already booked the first person they need for the segment and therefore aren’t haunted by the specter of dead air) may be responsive to a nuanced view. Whatever you say will eventually show up as an extremely condensed sound bite when the host asks you about it, but there’s some payoff to trying for complexity—it could mean that you will get an open-ended interrogatory sound bite from the host.

However, there is also a chance that the booker will tell you, “I need to talk to my producer about this.” That usually means that what you plan to say doesn’t fit into the outline they’ve established for the segment. They ask you about foreign policy, but you want to say that foreign policy doesn’t matter. They want someone to explain why the White House did XYZ, but you think they did XZY. “I need to talk to my producer” isn’t a lie, but given the utter panic of most booking situations, if there’s any chance what you have to say will fit into the segment they envision, then they will start with the car confirmation and date-making immediately.

Yes, the car. I have a love-hate relationship with the car service that comes with doing a cable news hit. Sending a limo to pick you up seems like a big expense for what amounts to five minutes of airtime, but almost everything weird about cable news makes sense if you remember the sugar-high adrenaline rush of making sure nothing goes wrong, no one is ever late, and there are no surprises. They want you to be on time, and so, a car.

The car makes me feel conspicuous, especially in the neighborhoods where I’ve lived the past few years. On the other hand, being driven around by someone can generate a sense of pleasant alienation, a numbness on par with heading to a gangland sit-down: I am different, I am not in control, I am being driven to an appointment that I may not emerge from alive. (TV IS LIFE AND DEATH, remember. Panic.)

At the TV studio, you get makeup. Early on, I thought of objecting under the pretense of false modesty. But next time you watch cable news, think about how distracting it would be if everyone on the screen was airbrushed and sparkly except for that one person with the bad skin and greasy hair. I suppose it’s also the case that to give some people makeup and not others could affect how viewers felt about what they were saying. I mean, maybe.

(Ancillary weirdness about the spray-on makeup most network makeup artists use: it is almost impossible to clean off without a Silkwood shower. This leads to the very Washington spectacle of two badly dressed men sitting down for drinks wearing eyeliner.)

So resisting that tiny compressed-air foundation gun is futile, and after a while you get used to it. Also, the women (yup, usually women) who do your hair and makeup are probably the nicest people you’ll meet in the course of going on cable news, and they’re the ones most likely to listen if you talk to them.

The primary goal of those running a cable news network is to create interesting programming, though that is often in conflict with the primary goal of those booking the segment, which is to avoid surprises. Worst-case scenario is probably when two guests reach an unexpected agreement. Usually, it’s a balancing act: planned disagreement. When I first started being a regular guest on cable, engendering conflict was the rule. Bookers would make sure that my opinion on an issue was opposed to that of the other guest. Sometimes opinions don’t have a clear opposite, of course, in which case, sketching out a stance in shades of gray—the war in Iraq is a catastrophe and we shouldn’t necessarily pull out, sex education for children is a great idea and parents should have a say in it—is a great way to keep the show humming along and to keep your dinner plans intact.

But my opinions aren’t that complicated most of the time. So I’d give the booker my take (often based on having asked people who knew more than me), and usually the booker would tell me the name of the other guest (again, no surprises), and what his (come on, it’s a he) opinion was. I’d then tell the booker my witty rejoinders, which allowed the host to play knowledgeable intermediary. “Guest A, you have a problem with the kinds of solutions posed by Guest B. In fact, you’ve said [THING I SAID]. Is that right?”

This pattern kept the conversation from becoming an exchange of ideas. If a good debate is two people tossing ideas back and forth, then a cable news debate circa 2004 was two people tossing ideas to a third person, who held onto them and kept them from being in play. It was like trying to bounce balls off a marshmallow wall.

But that was years ago. Sometime in the last four years—I think it may have been during the 2008 election—the cable networks I appear on stopped trying to book guests on “both sides” of an issue (because, come on, every issue has exactly two sides, amiright?). Instead, segments now tend to take one side of an issue as the starting point; the role of guests is to work with the host to either build up or tear down that point of view.

To the extent there’s balance . . . well, only one of the networks pretends to be interested in “balance,” and it seems to have decided that balance means putting a big, fat finger on the scale. The other networks aim for the spectacle of polite outrage at what’s happening outside the studio walls: eye rolling as analysis. Though, to be honest, there’s a lot about political campaigns to roll your eyes at.

Outrage is, actually, an improvement—at least no one has to be an on-air punching bag. Selfishly, it’s meant that I’m freed up to improvise within the confined space allotted to me. Bookers still want me to spell out my opinions and arguments in advance, but since I’m not supposed to be directly addressing the ideas of whomever I’m on with, I can occasionally work in a fact that reflects the sometimes fuzzy contours of what I really believe. The downside of this approach is that it’s still not so much a conversation as a series of mini-monologues.

Occasionally, I wonder if this is what viewers enjoy. Twitter often lets me know if I did well, or at least hit a nerve (is there a difference?). But the people who watch cable news and immediately tweet about it are freaks (like me). What constitutes good infotainment for the rest of the nation? I’m worried that the answer is "Dancing with the Stars."

Am I insane to think that there’s even a tiny bit of educational value in the discussions we have on cable news? Because despite all I’ve said, I do believe that. I suppose I have to. If I think about it rationally, there’s probably a lot more to be learned about the state of the American economy in a half hour of "Pawn Stars" than in any block of dayside news, though it’s also true that you can’t fact-check "Pawn Stars" while it’s happening, and sometimes you get to say something worthwhile right in the middle of a news event. I often describe my role in the pageantry of election season as “color commentary,” the equivalent of what a SportsCenter anchor does, though probably with less impact.

The relationship between what happens on cable news and what happens in a campaign is much more direct than the relationship between cable news chatter and what happens to the country as a whole. Campaign staffers react to what reporters say about them, but voters’ desires and opinions are more mysterious. I wish I understood these relationships better. That said, I’m happy to offer my opinion on them. What time will you be sending the car? Ω

[In 2004, Ana Marie Cox became the founding editor of the political blog Wonkette. Cox and Wonkette gained notoriety in the political world for publicizing the story of Jessica Cutler, also known as "Washingtonienne", a staff assistant to Senator Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) who accepted money from a George W. Bush administration official and others in exchange for sexual favors. In July 2006, Cox was named the Washington editor of, where she also wrote The Ana Log. Presently, Cox is a NY Fishwrap 'Zine columnist ("Talk"). Wonkette emerita, political junkie, self-hating journalist, and author of Dog Days (2006). She has worked for Time, GQ, Mother Jones, and, most recently, The Guardian US. She received a BA (history) from the University of Chicago.]

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Here's A Survival Guide For The Days After Friday, January 20, 2017

Today, The New Yorker's resident psychologist, Maria Konnikova turns her gaze on resilience as an antidote to bad things happening to good people. Her report focuses on research that examines the victims or survivors of bad things, not the bad things themselves. If this is a (fair & balanced) secular alternative to the existence of evil in our midst, so be it.

[x New Yorker]
How People Learn To Become Resilient
By Maria Konnikova

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Norman Garmezy, a developmental psychologist and clinician at the University of Minnesota, met thousands of children in his four decades of research. But one boy in particular stuck with him. He was nine years old, with an alcoholic mother and an absent father. Each day, he would arrive at school with the exact same sandwich: two slices of bread with nothing in between. At home, there was no other food available, and no one to make any. Even so, Garmezy would later recall, the boy wanted to make sure that “no one would feel pity for him and no one would know the ineptitude of his mother.” Each day, without fail, he would walk in with a smile on his face and a “bread sandwich” tucked into his bag.

The boy with the bread sandwich was part of a special group of children. He belonged to a cohort of kids—the first of many—whom Garmezy would go on to identify as succeeding, even excelling, despite incredibly difficult circumstances. These were the children who exhibited a trait Garmezy would later identify as “resilience.” (He is widely credited with being the first to study the concept in an experimental setting.) Over many years, Garmezy would visit schools across the country, focussing on those in economically depressed areas, and follow a standard protocol. He would set up meetings with the principal, along with a school social worker or nurse, and pose the same question: Were there any children whose backgrounds had initially raised red flags—kids who seemed likely to become problem kids—who had instead become, surprisingly, a source of pride? “What I was saying was, ‘Can you identify stressed children who are making it here in your school?’ “ Garmezy said, in a 1999 interview. “There would be a long pause after my inquiry before the answer came. If I had said, ‘Do you have kids in this school who seem to be troubled?,’ there wouldn’t have been a moment’s delay. But to be asked about children who were adaptive and good citizens in the school and making it even though they had come out of very disturbed backgrounds—that was a new sort of inquiry. That’s the way we began.”

Resilience presents a challenge for psychologists. Whether you can be said to have it or not largely depends not on any particular psychological test but on the way your life unfolds. If you are lucky enough to never experience any sort of adversity, we won’t know how resilient you are. It’s only when you’re faced with obstacles, stress, and other environmental threats that resilience, or the lack of it, emerges: Do you succumb or do you surmount?

Environmental threats can come in various guises. Some are the result of low socioeconomic status and challenging home conditions. (Those are the threats studied in Garmezy’s work.) Often, such threats—parents with psychological or other problems; exposure to violence or poor treatment; being a child of problematic divorce—are chronic. Other threats are acute: experiencing or witnessing a traumatic violent encounter, for example, or being in an accident. What matters is the intensity and the duration of the stressor. In the case of acute stressors, the intensity is usually high. The stress resulting from chronic adversity, Garmezy wrote, might be lower—but it “exerts repeated and cumulative impact on resources and adaptation and persists for many months and typically considerably longer.”

Prior to Garmezy’s work on resilience, most research on trauma and negative life events had a reverse focus. Instead of looking at areas of strength, it looked at areas of vulnerability, investigating the experiences that make people susceptible to poor life outcomes (or that lead kids to be “troubled,” as Garmezy put it). Garmezy’s work opened the door to the study of protective factors: the elements of an individual’s background or personality that could enable success despite the challenges they faced. Garmezy retired from research before reaching any definitive conclusions—his career was cut short by early-onset Alzheimer’s—but his students and followers were able to identify elements that fell into two groups: individual, psychological factors and external, environmental factors, or disposition on the one hand and luck on the other.

In 1989 a developmental psychologist named Emmy Werner published the results of a thirty-two-year longitudinal project. She had followed a group of six hundred and ninety-eight children, in Kauai, Hawaii, from before birth through their third decade of life. Along the way, she’d monitored them for any exposure to stress: maternal stress in utero, poverty, problems in the family, and so on. Two-thirds of the children came from backgrounds that were, essentially, stable, successful, and happy; the other third qualified as “at risk.” Like Garmezy, she soon discovered that not all of the at-risk children reacted to stress in the same way. Two-thirds of them “developed serious learning or behavior problems by the age of ten, or had delinquency records, mental health problems, or teen-age pregnancies by the age of eighteen.” But the remaining third developed into “competent, confident, and caring young adults.” They had attained academic, domestic, and social success—and they were always ready to capitalize on new opportunities that arose.

What was it that set the resilient children apart? Because the individuals in her sample had been followed and tested consistently for three decades, Werner had a trove of data at her disposal. She found that several elements predicted resilience. Some elements had to do with luck: a resilient child might have a strong bond with a supportive caregiver, parent, teacher, or other mentor-like figure. But another, quite large set of elements was psychological, and had to do with how the children responded to the environment. From a young age, resilient children tended to “meet the world on their own terms.” They were autonomous and independent, would seek out new experiences, and had a “positive social orientation.” “Though not especially gifted, these children used whatever skills they had effectively,” Werner wrote. Perhaps most importantly, the resilient children had what psychologists call an “internal locus of control”: they believed that they, and not their circumstances, affected their achievements. The resilient children saw themselves as the orchestrators of their own fates. In fact, on a scale that measured locus of control, they scored more than two standard deviations away from the standardization group.

Werner also discovered that resilience could change over time. Some resilient children were especially unlucky: they experienced multiple strong stressors at vulnerable points and their resilience evaporated. Resilience, she explained, is like a constant calculation: Which side of the equation weighs more, the resilience or the stressors? The stressors can become so intense that resilience is overwhelmed. Most people, in short, have a breaking point. On the flip side, some people who weren’t resilient when they were little somehow learned the skills of resilience. They were able to overcome adversity later in life and went on to flourish as much as those who’d been resilient the whole way through. This, of course, raises the question of how resilience might be learned.

George Bonanno is a clinical psychologist at Columbia University’s Teachers College; he heads the Loss, Trauma, and Emotion Lab and has been studying resilience for nearly twenty-five years. Garmezy, Werner, and others have shown that some people are far better than others at dealing with adversity; Bonanno has been trying to figure out where that variation might come from. Bonanno’s theory of resilience starts with an observation: all of us possess the same fundamental stress-response system, which has evolved over millions of years and which we share with other animals. The vast majority of people are pretty good at using that system to deal with stress. When it comes to resilience, the question is: Why do some people use the system so much more frequently or effectively than others?

One of the central elements of resilience, Bonanno has found, is perception: Do you conceptualize an event as traumatic, or as an opportunity to learn and grow? “Events are not traumatic until we experience them as traumatic,” Bonanno told me, in December. “To call something a ‘traumatic event’ belies that fact.” He has coined a different term: PTE, or potentially traumatic event, which he argues is more accurate. The theory is straightforward. Every frightening event, no matter how negative it might seem from the sidelines, has the potential to be traumatic or not to the person experiencing it. (Bonanno focusses on acute negative events, where we may be seriously harmed; others who study resilience, including Garmezy and Werner, look more broadly.) Take something as terrible as the surprising death of a close friend: you might be sad, but if you can find a way to construe that event as filled with meaning—perhaps it leads to greater awareness of a certain disease, say, or to closer ties with the community—then it may not be seen as a trauma. (Indeed, Werner found that resilient individuals were far more likely to report having sources of spiritual and religious support than those who weren’t.) The experience isn’t inherent in the event; it resides in the event’s psychological construal.

It’s for this reason, Bonanno told me, that “stressful” or “traumatic” events in and of themselves don’t have much predictive power when it comes to life outcomes. “The prospective epidemiological data shows that exposure to potentially traumatic events does not predict later functioning,” he said. “It’s only predictive if there’s a negative response.” In other words, living through adversity, be it endemic to your environment or an acute negative event, doesn’t guarantee that you’ll suffer going forward. What matters is whether that adversity becomes traumatizing.

The good news is that positive construal can be taught. “We can make ourselves more or less vulnerable by how we think about things,” Bonanno said. In research at Columbia, the neuroscientist Kevin Ochsner has shown that teaching people to think of stimuli in different ways—to reframe them in positive terms when the initial response is negative, or in a less emotional way when the initial response is emotionally “hot”—changes how they experience and react to the stimulus. You can train people to better regulate their emotions, and the training seems to have lasting effects.

Similar work has been done with explanatory styles—the techniques we use to explain events. I’ve written before about the research of Martin Seligman, the University of Pennsylvania psychologist who pioneered much of the field of positive psychology: Seligman found that training people to change their explanatory styles from internal to external (“Bad events aren’t my fault”), from global to specific (“This is one narrow thing rather than a massive indication that something is wrong with my life”), and from permanent to impermanent (“I can change the situation, rather than assuming it’s fixed”) made them more psychologically successful and less prone to depression. The same goes for locus of control: not only is a more internal locus tied to perceiving less stress and performing better but changing your locus from external to internal leads to positive changes in both psychological well-being and objective work performance. The cognitive skills that underpin resilience, then, seem like they can indeed be learned over time, creating resilience where there was none.

Unfortunately, the opposite may also be true. “We can become less resilient, or less likely to be resilient,” Bonanno says. “We can create or exaggerate stressors very easily in our own minds. That’s the danger of the human condition.” Human beings are capable of worry and rumination: we can take a minor thing, blow it up in our heads, run through it over and over, and drive ourselves crazy until we feel like that minor thing is the biggest thing that ever happened. In a sense, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Frame adversity as a challenge, and you become more flexible and able to deal with it, move on, learn from it, and grow. Focus on it, frame it as a threat, and a potentially traumatic event becomes an enduring problem; you become more inflexible, and more likely to be negatively affected.

In December the New York Times Magazine published an essay called “The Profound Emptiness of ‘Resilience.’ “ It pointed out that the word is now used everywhere, often in ways that drain it of meaning and link it to vague concepts like “character.” But resilience doesn’t have to be an empty or vague concept. In fact, decades of research have revealed a lot about how it works. This research shows that resilience is, ultimately, a set of skills that can be taught. In recent years, we’ve taken to using the term sloppily—but our sloppy usage doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been usefully and precisely defined. It’s time we invest the time and energy to understand what “resilience” really means. Ω

[Russian-born Maria Konnikova came to the States with her parents at age 4. Konnikova is a contributor to The New Yorker (online), where she writes a weekly blog focusing on psychology and science. She is the author of both Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes (2013) as well as The Confidence Game (2016). Konnikova received a BA (psychology and creative writing, magna cum laude) from Harvard University and a PhD (paychology) from Columbia University.]

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Roll Over, Golda Meir — Make Way For The (Political) Hawk Of New York

The Hillster has determined that the presidential calculus requires that she have the longest talons and sharpest beak in the land. Today's account of our very own GI Hil offers lessons in political machinations ranging from sycophancy with generals who serve the military-industrial complex in returement to cozy relationships with national security wonks. If this is (fair & balanced) suspicion of military men whispering in the ear of a POTUS, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap 'Zine]
How Hillary Clinton Became A Hawk
By Mark Landler

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Hillary Clinton sat in the hideaway study off her ceremonial office in the State Department, sipping tea and taking stock of her first year on the job. The study was more like a den — cozy and wood-paneled, lined with bookshelves that displayed mementos from Clinton’s three decades in the public eye: a statue of her heroine, Eleanor Roosevelt; a baseball signed by the Chicago Cubs star Ernie Banks; a carved wooden figure of a pregnant African woman. The intimate setting lent itself to a less-formal interview than the usual locale, her imposing outer office, with its marble fireplace, heavy drapes, crystal chandelier and ornate wall sconces. On the morning of February 26, 2010, however, Clinton was talking about something more sensitive than mere foreign affairs: her relationship with Barack Obama. To say she chose her words carefully doesn’t do justice to the delicacy of the exercise. She was like a bomb-squad technician, deciding which color wire to snip without blowing up her relationship with the White House.

“We’ve developed, I think, a very good rapport, really positive back-and-forth about everything you can imagine,” Clinton said about the man she described during the 2008 campaign as naïve, irresponsible and hopelessly unprepared to be president. “And we’ve had some interesting and even unusual experiences along the way.”

She leaned forward as she spoke, gesturing with her hands and laughing easily. In talking with reporters, Clinton displays more warmth than Obama does, though there’s less of an expectation that she might say something revealing.

Clinton singled out, as she often would, the United Nations climate-change meeting in Copenhagen the previous December, where she and Obama worked together to save the meeting from collapse. She brought up the Middle East peace proc­ess, a signature project of the president’s, which she had been tasked with reviving. But she was understandably wary of talking about areas in which she and Obama split — namely, on bedrock issues of war and peace, where Clinton’s more activist philosophy had already collided in unpredictable ways with her boss’s instincts toward restraint. She had backed General Stanley McChrystal’s recommendation to send 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan, before endorsing a fallback proposal of 30,000 (Obama went along with that, though he stipulated that the soldiers would begin to pull out again in July 2011, which she viewed as problematic). She supported the Pentagon’s plan to leave behind a residual force of 10,000 to 20,000 American troops in Iraq (Obama balked at this, largely because of his inability to win legal protections from the Iraqis, a failure that was to haunt him when the Islamic State overran much of the country). And she pressed for the United States to funnel arms to the rebels in Syria’s civil war (an idea Obama initially rebuffed before later, halfheartedly, coming around to it).

That fundamental tension between Clinton and the president would continue to be a defining feature of her four-year tenure as secretary of state. In the administration’s first high-level meeting on Russia in February 2009, aides to Obama proposed that the United States make some symbolic concessions to Russia as a gesture of its good will in resetting the relationship. Clinton, the last to speak, brusquely rejected the idea, saying, “I’m not giving up anything for nothing.” Her hardheadedness made an impression on Robert Gates, the defense secretary and George W. Bush holdover who was wary of a changed Russia. He decided there and then that she was someone he could do business with.

“I thought, This is a tough lady,” he told me.

A few months after my interview in her office, another split emerged when Obama picked up a secure phone for a weekend conference call with Clinton, Gates and a handful of other advisers. It was July 2010, four months after the North Korean military torpedoed a South Korean Navy corvette, sinking it and killing 46 sailors. Now, after weeks of fierce debate between the Pentagon and the State Department, the United States was gearing up to respond to this brazen provocation. The tentative plan — developed by Clinton’s deputy at State, James Steinberg — was to dispatch the aircraft carrier George Washington into coastal waters to the east of North Korea as an unusual show of force.

But Admiral Robert Willard, then the Pacific commander, wanted to send the carrier on a more aggressive course, into the Yellow Sea, between North Korea and China. The Chinese foreign ministry had warned the United States against the move, which for Willard was all the more reason to press forward. He pushed the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, who in turn pushed his boss, the defense secretary, to reroute the George Washington. Gates agreed, but he needed the commander in chief to sign off on a decision that could have political as well as military repercussions.

Gates laid out the case for diverting the George Washington to the Yellow Sea: that the United States should not look as if it was yielding to China. Clinton strongly seconded it. “We’ve got to run it up the gut!” she had said to her aides a few days earlier. (The Vince Lombardi imitation drew giggles from her staff, who, even 18 months into her tenure, still marveled at her pugnacity.)

Obama, though, was not persuaded. The George Washington was already underway; changing its course was not a decision to make on the fly.

“I don’t call audibles with aircraft carriers,” he said — unwittingly one-upping Clinton on her football metaphor.

It wasn’t the last debate in which she would side with Gates. The two quickly discovered that they shared a Midwestern upbringing, a taste for a stiff drink after a long day of work and a deep-seated skepticism about the intentions of America’s foes. Bruce Riedel, a former intelligence analyst who conducted Obama’s initial review on the Afghanistan war, says: “I think one of the surprises for Gates and the military was, here they come in expecting a very left-of-center administration, and they discover that they have a secretary of state who’s a little bit right of them on these issues — a little more eager than they are, to a certain extent. Particularly on Afghanistan, where I think Gates knew more had to be done, knew more troops needed to be sent in, but had a lot of doubts about whether it would work.”

As Hillary Clinton makes another run for president, it can be tempting to view her hard-edged rhetoric about the world less as deeply felt core principle than as calculated political maneuver. But Clinton’s foreign-policy instincts are bred in the bone — grounded in cold realism about human nature and what one aide calls “a textbook view of American exceptionalism.” It set her apart from her rival-turned-boss, Barack Obama, who avoided military entanglements and tried to reconcile Americans to a world in which the United States was no longer the undisputed hegemon. And it will likely set her apart from the Republican candidate she meets in the general election. For all their bluster about bombing the Islamic State into oblivion, neither Donald J. Trump nor Senator Ted Cruz of Texas have demonstrated anywhere near the appetite for military engagement abroad that Clinton has.

“Hillary is very much a member of the traditional American foreign-policy establishment,” says Vali Nasr, a foreign-policy strategist who advised her on Pakistan and Afghanistan at the State Department. “She believes, like presidents going back to the Reagan or Kennedy years, in the importance of the military — in solving terrorism, in asserting American influence. The shift with Obama is that he went from reliance on the military to the intelligence agencies. Their position was, ‘All you need to deal with terrorism is N.S.A. and C.I.A., drones and special ops.’ So the C.I.A. gave Obama an angle, if you will, to be simultaneously hawkish and shun using the military.”

Unlike other recent presidents — Obama, George W. Bush or her husband, Bill Clinton — Hillary Clinton would assume the office with a long record on national security. There are many ways to examine that record, but one of the most revealing is to explore her decades-long cultivation of the military — not just civilian leaders like Gates, but also its high-ranking commanders, the men with the medals. Her affinity for the armed forces is rooted in a lifelong belief that the calculated use of military power is vital to defending national interests, that American intervention does more good than harm and that the writ of the United States properly reaches, as Bush once put it, into “any dark corner of the world.” Unexpectedly, in the bombastic, testosterone-fueled presidential election of 2016, Hillary Clinton is the last true hawk left in the race.

For those who know Clinton’s biography, her embrace of the military should come as no surprise. She grew up in the buoyant aftermath of World War II, the daughter of a Navy petty officer who trained young sailors before they shipped out to the Pacific. Her father, Hugh Rodham, was a staunch Republican and an anticommunist, and she channeled his views. She talks often about her girlhood dream of becoming an astronaut, citing the rejection letter she got from NASA as the first time she encountered gender discrimination. Her real motive for volunteering, she has written, may have been because her father fretted that “America was lagging behind Russia.”

Political conversion came later, after Vietnam and the ’60s swept over Wellesley College, where she spoke out against the establishment at her graduation. But even in the tumultuous year of 1968, she was still making her transition from Republican to Democrat, managing to go to the conventions of both parties. As a Republican intern in Washington that summer, she questioned a Wisconsin congressman, Melvin Laird, about the wisdom of Lyndon B. Johnson’s escalating involvement in Southeast Asia.

It was after law school that she had her most curious encounter with the military. In 1975, the year she married Bill Clinton, she stopped in at a Marine recruiting office in Arkansas to inquire about joining the active forces or reserves. She was a lawyer, she explained; maybe there was some way she could serve. The recruiter, she recalled two decades later, was a young man of about 21, in prime physical condition. Clinton was then 27, freshly transplanted from Washington, teaching law at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and wearing Coke-bottle eyeglasses. “You’re too old, you can’t see and you’re a woman,” he told her. “Maybe the dogs will take you,” he added, in what she said was a pejorative reference to the Army.

“It was not a very encouraging conversation,” Clinton said at a lunch for military women on Capitol Hill in 1994. “I decided, Maybe I’ll look for another way to serve my country.”

Some reporters have cast doubt on the veracity of this story, which she repeated in the fall of 2015 over breakfast with voters in New Hampshire: certainly, there’s no concrete evidence that it happened, and Bill gave a different account of it in 2008, substituting the Army for the Marines. Why would a professionally minded Yale Law graduate, on the cusp of marriage, suddenly want to put on a uniform? It’s impossible to decipher her possible motives, but Ann Henry, an old friend who taught at the university after Clinton moved to Little Rock, offers a theory: During those days, she recalls, female faculty members, as an exercise, would test the boundaries of careers that appeared closed to women. “I don’t think it’s made up,” she says. “It was consistent with something she would have done.”

Clinton’s next sustained exposure to the military did not come until she was first lady, almost two decades later. Living in the White House is, in many ways, like living in a military compound. A Marine stands guard in front of the West Wing when the president is in the Oval Office. The Mili­tary Office operates the medical center and the telecommunications system. The Navy runs the cafeteria, the Marines transport the president by helicopter, the Air Force by plane. Camp David is a naval facility. The daily contact with men and women in uniform, Clinton’s friends say, deepened her feelings for them.

In March 1996, the first lady visited American troops stationed in Bosnia. The trip became notorious years later when she claimed, during the 2008 campaign, to have dodged sniper fire after her C-17 military plane landed at an American base in Tuzla. (Chris Hill, a diplomat who was onboard that day and later served as ambassador to Iraq under Clinton, didn’t remember snipers at all, and indeed recalled children handing her bouquets of spring flowers.) But there was no faking the good vibes during her tour of the mess and rec halls. With her teenage daughter at her side, she bantered and joked with the young servicemen and women — an experience, she wrote, that “left lasting impressions on Chelsea and me.”

When Clinton was elected to the Senate, she had strong political reasons to care about the mili­tary. The Pentagon was in the midst of a long, politically charged process of closing military bases; New York State had already been a victim, when Plattsburgh Air Force Base was closed in 1995, a loss of 352 civilian jobs for that hard-luck North Country town. New York’s delegation was determined to protect its remaining bases, especially Fort Drum, home of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, which sprawls over a hundred thousand acres in rural Jefferson County. In October 2001, a month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Clinton traveled to Fort Drum at the invitation of General Buster Hagenbeck, who had just been named the division’s commander and would be deployed to Afghanistan a month later. Like many of the officers I spoke with, he had preconceptions of Clinton from her years as first lady; the woman who showed up at his office around happy hour that afternoon did not fulfill them.

“She sat down,” he recalls, “took her shoes off, put her feet up on the coffee table and said, ‘General, do you know where a gal can get a cold beer around here?’ ”

It was the start of a dialogue that stretched over two wars. In the spring of 2002, Hagenbeck led Operation Anaconda, a 16-day assault on Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters in the Shah-i-Kot Valley that was the largest combat engagement of the war to date. When the general came back to Washington to brief the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Clinton took him out to dinner on Capitol Hill for her own briefing. They also spoke about the Bush administration’s preparations for war in Iraq, something which Hagenbeck was following anxiously. The general, it turned out, was more of a dove than the senator. He warned her about the risks of an invasion, which was then being war-gamed inside the Pentagon. It would be like “kicking over a bee’s nest,” he said.

Hagenbeck excused Clinton’s vote in 2002 to authorize military action in Iraq. “She made a considered call,” he says. And “she was chagrined, much after the fact.” For him, what mattered more than Clinton’s voting record was her unstinting public support of the military, whether in protecting Fort Drum or backing him during a difficult first year in Afghanistan.

Clinton’s education in military affairs began in earnest in 2002, after the Democratic Party’s crushing defeat in midterm elections moved her up several rungs in Senate seniority. The party’s congressional leaders offered her a seat on either the Senate Foreign Relations Committee or the Senate Armed Services Committee. She chose Armed Services, spurning a long tradition of New York senators, like Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Jacob Javits, who coveted the prestige of Foreign Relations. Armed Services deals with more earthbound issues, like benefits for veterans, and it had long been the preserve of Republican hawks like John McCain. But after 9/11, Clinton saw Armed Services as better preparation for her future. For a politician looking to hone hard-power credentials — a woman who aspired to be commander in chief — it was the perfect training ground. She dug in like a grunt at boot camp.

Andrew Shapiro, then Senator Clinton’s foreign-policy adviser, called upon 10 experts — including Bill Perry, who was defense secretary under her husband, and Ashton Carter, who would eventually become President Obama’s fourth defense secretary — to tutor her on everything from grand strategy to defense procurement. She met quietly with Andrew Marshall, an octogenarian strategist at the Pentagon who labored for decades in the blandly named Office of Net Assessment, earning the nickname Yoda for his Delphic insights. She went to every committee meeting, no matter how mundane. Aides recall her on C-SPAN3, sitting alone in the chamber, patiently questioning a lieutenant colonel. She visited the troops in Afghanistan on Thanksgiving Day in 2003 and spoke at every significant military installation in New York State. By then — 30 years after she recalled being rejected by a Marine recruiter in Arkansas — Hillary Clinton had become a military wonk.

Jack Keane is one of the intellectual architects of the Iraq surge; he is also perhaps the greatest single influence on the way Hillary Clinton thinks about military issues. A bear of a man with a jowly, careworn face and Brylcreem-slicked hair, Keane exudes the supreme self-confidence you would expect of a retired four-star general. He speaks with a trace of a New York accent that gives his pronouncements a rat-a-tat urgency. He is also a well-compensated member of the military-industrial complex, sitting on the board of General Dynamics and serving as a strategic adviser to Academi, the private-security contractor once known as Blackwater. And he is the chairman of an aptly named think tank, the Institute for the Study of War. Though he is one of a parade of cable-TV generals, Keane is the resident hawk on Fox News, where he appears regularly to call for the United States to use greater military force in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. He doesn’t shrink from putting boots on the ground and has little use for civilian leaders, like Obama, who do.

Keane first got to know Clinton in the fall of 2001, when she was a freshman senator and he was the Army’s second in command, with a distinguished combat and command record in Vietnam, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo. He had expected her to be intelligent, hard-working and politically astute, but he was not prepared for the respect she showed for the Army as an institution, or her sympathy for the sacrifices made by soldiers and their families. Keane was confident he could smell a phony politician a mile away, and he didn’t get that whiff from her.

“I read people; that’s one of my strengths,” he told me. “It’s not that I can’t be fooled, but I’m not fooled often.”

Clinton took an instant liking to Keane, too. “She loves that Irish gruff thing,” says one of her Senate aides, Kris Balderston, who was in the room that day. When Keane got up after 45 minutes to leave for a meeting back at the Pentagon with a Polish general, she protested that she wasn’t finished yet and asked for another appointment. “I said, ‘O.K., but it took me three months to get this one,’ ” Keane told her dryly.

Clinton exploded into a raucous laugh. “I’ll take care of that problem,” she promised.

She was true to her word: The two would meet many times over the next decade, discussing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Iranian nu­clear threat and other flash points in the Middle East. Sometimes he dropped by her Senate office; other times they met for dinner or drinks. He escorted her on her first visit to Fort Drum and set up her first trip to Iraq.

They generally agreed to forgo talk of politics, but at a meeting in Clinton’s Senate office in January 2007, Keane tried to sell her on the logic of a troop surge in Iraq. The previous month, he had met with President Bush in the Oval Office to recommend that the United States deploy five to eight Army and Marine brigades to wage an urban counterinsurgency campaign; only that, he argued, would stabilize a country being ripped apart by sectarian strife. His presentation angered some of Keane’s fellow generals, who feared that such a strategy would deepen Iraq’s dependency and prolong America’s involvement. But it had a big impact on the commander in chief, who soon ordered more than 20,000 additional troops to Iraq.

Clinton was another story. “I’m convinced it’s not going to work, Jack,” she told him. She predicted that the American soldiers patrolling in Iraqi cities and towns would be “blown up” by Sunni militias or Al Qaeda fighters. “She thought we would fail,” Keane recalls, “and it was going to cause increased casualties.”

Politics, of course, was also on her mind. Barack Obama was laying the groundwork for his candidacy in mid-January with a campaign that would emphasize his opposition to the Iraq War and her vote in favor of it — a vote that still shadows her in this year’s Democratic primaries. Obama was setting off on a fund-raising drive that would net $25 million in three months, sending tremors through Clinton’s political camp and establishing him as a formidable rival. Although she disagreed with Keane about Iraq, Clinton asked him to become a formal adviser. “As much as I respect you,” he replied, “I can’t do that.” Keane’s wife had health problems that had moved up his retirement from the Army, and he did not, as a policy, endorse candidates. Sometime during 2008 — he doesn’t remember exactly when — Clinton told him she had erred in doubting the wisdom of the surge. “She said, ‘You were right, this really did work,’ ” Keane recalls. “On issues of national security,” he says, “I thought she was always intellectually honest with me.”

He and Clinton continued to talk, even after Obama was elected and she became secretary of state. More often than not, they found themselves in sync. Keane, like Clinton, favored more robust intervention in Syria than Obama did. In April 2015, the week before she announced her candidacy, Clinton asked him for a briefing on military options for dealing with the fighters of the Islamic State. Bringing along three young female analysts from the Institute for the Study of War, Keane gave her a 2-hour-20-minute presentation. Among other steps, he advocated imposing a no-fly zone over parts of Syria that would neutralize the air power of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, with a goal of forcing him into a political settlement with opposition groups. Six months later, Clinton publicly adopted this position, further distancing herself from Obama.

“I’m convinced this president, no matter what the circumstances, will never put any boots on the ground to do anything, even when it’s compelling,” Keane told me. He was sitting in the library at his home in McLean, VA, which is lined with books on military history and strategy. His critique of Obama was hardly new or original, but much of it mirrors the thinking of Clinton and her policy advisers. “One of the problems the president has, which weakens his diplomatic efforts, is that leaders don’t believe he would use military power. That’s an issue that would separate the president from Hillary Clinton rather dramatically. She would look at military force as another realistic option, but only where there is no other option.”

Befriending Keane wasn’t just about cultivating a single adviser. It gave Clinton instant entrée to his informal network of active-duty and retired generals. The most interesting by far was David Petraeus, a cerebral commander who shared Clinton’s jet-fueled ambition and whose life stories would mix heady success with humbling setbacks. Both would be accused of mishandling classified information — Clinton because of her use of a private server and email address to conduct sensitive government business, a decision that erupted into a political scandal; Petraeus because he had given a diary containing classified information to his biographer and mistress (he was eventually charged with a misdemeanor for mishandling classified information).

On Clinton’s first trip to Iraq in November 2003, Petraeus, then a two-star general commanding the 101st Airborne Division, flew from his field headquarters in Mosul to the relative safety of Kirkuk to brief her congressional delegation. “She was full of questions,” he recalls. “It was the kind of gesture that means a lot to a battlefield commander.” On subsequent trips, as he rose in rank, Petraeus walked her through his plans to train and equip Iraqi Army troops, a forerunner of the counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan. It worked to their mutual benefit: Petraeus was building ties to a prominent Democratic voice in the Senate; Clinton was burnishing her image as a friend of the troops. “She did it the old-fashioned way,” he says. “She did it by pursuing relationships.” When Petraeus was sent back to Iraq as the top commander in early 2007, he gave every member of the Senate Armed Services Committee a copy of the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, which he edited during a tour at Fort Leavenworth. Clinton read hers from cover to cover.

Although Clinton’s reservations about the surge were valid — the stability that the additional troops brought to Iraq didn’t last — her opposition to it, like her vote for the war, came back to haunt her. This time, it was her ally Bob Gates who summoned the ghost. In his memoirs, Gates wrote that she confessed to him and the president that her position had been politically motivated, because she was then facing Obama in the Iowa caucuses. (Obama, he wrote, “vaguely” conceded that he, too, had opposed it for political reasons.) Clinton pushed back, telling Diane Sawyer of ABC News that Gates “perhaps either missed the context or the meaning, because I did oppose the surge.” Her opposition, she told Sawyer, was driven by the fact that at that time, people were not going to accept any escalation of the war. “This is not politics in electoral, political terms,” Clinton said. “This is politics in the sense of the American public has to support commitments like this.”

The next time she found herself in a debate over sending troops into harm’s way, she voiced no such reservations.

“We need maps,” Hillary Clinton told her aides.

It was early October 2009, and she had just returned from a meeting in the Situation Room. Obama’s war cabinet was debating how many additional troops to send to Afghanistan, where the United States, preoccupied by Iraq, had allowed the Taliban to regroup. The Pentagon, she reported, had used impressive, color-coded maps to show its plans to deploy troops around the country. The attention to detail made Gates and his commanders look crisp and well prepared; the State Department, which was pushing a “civilian surge” to accompany the troops, looked wan by comparison. At the next meeting, on October 14, the team from State unfurled its own maps to show the deployment of an army of aid workers, diplomats, legal experts and crop specialists who were supposed to follow the soldiers into Afghanistan.

Clinton’s fixation with maps was typical of her mind-set in the first great war-and-peace debate of the Obama presidency. She wanted to be taken seriously, even if her department was less central than the Pentagon. One way to do that was by promoting the civilian surge, the pet project of her friend and special envoy to the region, Richard Holbrooke. “She was determined that her briefing books would be just as thick and just as meticulous as those of the Pentagon,” a senior adviser recalls. She also didn’t hesitate to get into the Pentagon’s business, asking detailed questions about the training of Afghan troops and wading into the weeds of military planning.

She resolved not to miss out on anything — a determination that may have been rooted in a deeper insecurity about her role in what was to become the most White House-centric administration of the modern era. On the morning of June 8, 2009, she emailed two aides to say: “I heard on the radio that there is a Cabinet mtg this am. Is there? Can I go? If not, who are we sending?” On February 10, 2010, she dialed the White House from her home, but couldn’t get past the switchboard operator, who didn’t believe she was really Hillary Clinton. Asked to provide her office number to prove her identity, she said she didn’t know it. Finally, Clinton hung up in frustration and placed the call again through the State Department Operations Center — “like a proper and properly dependent secretary of state,” as she later wrote to one aide in a mock-chastened tone. “No independent dialing allowed.”

The Afghan troop debate, a three-month drama of dueling egos, leaked documents and endless deliberations, is typically framed as a test of wills between the Pentagon’s wily military commanders and an inexperienced young president, with Joe Biden playing the role of devil’s advocate for Obama. While that portrait is accurate, it neglects the role of Clinton. By siding with Gates and the generals, she gave political ballast to their proposals and provided a bullish counterpoint to Biden’s skepticism. Her role should not be overstated: She did not turn the debate, nor did she bring to it any distinctive point of view. But her unstinting support of General McChrystal’s maximalist recommendation made it harder for Obama to choose a lesser option. (McChrystal was later fired by Obama after his aides made derogatory remarks about almost every member of his war cabinet to Rolling Stone magazine; she was the exception. “Hillary had Stan’s back,” one of his aides told the reporter, Michael Hastings.)

“Hillary was adamant in her support for what Stan asked for,” Gates says. “She made clear that she was ready to support his request for the full 40,000 troops. She then made clear that she was only willing to go with the 30,000 number because I proposed it. She was, in a way, tougher on the numbers in the surge than I was.” Gates believed that if he could align Clinton; the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen; the commander of Central Command, David Petraeus; and himself behind a common position, it would be hard for Obama to say no. “How could you ignore these Four Horsemen of national security?” says Geoff Morrell, who served as the Pentagon press secretary at the time.

Just as Clinton benefited from her alliance with the military commanders, she gave them political cover. “Here’s the dirty little secret,” says Tom Nides, her former deputy secretary of state for management and resources. “They all knew they wanted her on their side. They knew that if they walked into the Situation Room and they had her, it made a huge difference in the dynamics. When she opened her mouth, she could change the momentum in the room.”

David Axelrod recalls one meeting where Clinton “kicked the thing off and pretty much articulated their opinion; I’m sure that’s one that they remember. There’s no doubt that she wanted to give them every troop that McChrystal was asking for.” Still, Clinton didn’t prevail on every argument. After agreeing to send the troops, Obama added a condition of his own: that the soldiers be deployed as quickly as possible and pulled out again, starting in the summer of 2011 — a deadline that proved more fateful in the long run than a difference of 10,000 troops. Clinton opposed setting a public deadline for withdrawal, arguing that it would tip America’s hand to the Taliban and encourage them to wait out the United States — which, in fact, was exactly what happened.

In the final days of the debate, Clinton also found herself at odds with her own ambassador in Kabul, Karl Eikenberry. He, too, held different views than she did on the wisdom of a surge, which he put into writing. On November 6, 2009, in a long cable addressed to Clinton — and later leaked to The New York Times — he made a trenchant, convincing case for why the McChrystal proposal, which she endorsed two weeks earlier in a meeting with Obama, would saddle the United States with “vastly increased costs and an indefinite, large-scale military role in Afghanistan.”

Much of Eikenberry’s analysis proved prescient, particularly his warnings about the threadbare American partnership with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. It carried an extra sting because he was a retired three-star Army general who was the commander in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007. Clinton, who had not asked for the cable, was furious, fearing it could upset a debate in which she and the Pentagon were about to prevail.

What the cable made clear was the degree to which the Afghanistan debate was dominated by military considerations. While Clinton did raise the need to deal with Afghanistan’s neighbor, Pakistan, her reflexive support of Gates, Petraeus and McChrystal meant she was not a powerful voice for diplomatic alternatives. “She contributed to the overmilitarizing of the analysis of the problem,” says Sarah Chayes, who was an adviser to McChrystal and later to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen.

In October 2015, the persistent violence in Afghanistan and the legacy of Karzai’s misrule forced Obama to reverse his plan to withdraw the last American soldiers by the end of his presi­dency. A few thousand troops will stay there indefinitely. And for all of Clinton’s talk about a civilian surge, it never really materialized.

For Clinton, the Afghanistan episode laid bare a vexed relationship between her and Eikenberry, one of the few generals with whom she didn’t hit it off. A soldier-scholar with graduate degrees from Harvard and Stanford, Eikenberry was brilliant but had a reputation among his colleagues for being imperious. Clinton had a similarly chilly relationship with Douglas Lute, another Army lieutenant general with a graduate degree from Harvard, who also fought with Holbrooke. “She likes the nail-eaters — McChrystal, Petraeus, Keane,” one of her aides observes. “Real military guys, not these retired three-stars who go into civilian jobs.”

“There’s no doubt that Hillary Clinton’s more muscular brand of American foreign policy is better matched to 2016 than it was to 2008,” said Jake Sullivan, her top policy adviser at the State Department, who plays the same role in her campaign.

It was De­cem­ber 2015, 53 days before the Iowa caucuses, and Sullivan was sitting down with me in Clinton’s sprawling Brooklyn headquarters to explain how she was shaping her message for a campaign suddenly dominated by concerns about national security. Clinton’s strategy, he said, was twofold: Explain to voters that she had a clear plan for confronting the threat posed by Islamic terrorism, and expose her Republican opponents as utterly lacking in experience or credibility on national security.

There were good reasons for Clinton to let her inner hawk fly. After the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., Americans’ concern about a major attack on the nation spiked. A CNN/ORC poll taken after Paris showed that a majority, 53 percent, favored sending ground troops to Iraq or Syria, a remarkable shift from the war-weary sentiment that prevailed during most of Obama’s presidency. The Republican candidates were reaching for apocalyptic metaphors to demonstrate their resolve. Ted Cruz threatened to carpet-bomb the Islamic State to test whether desert sand can glow; Donald Trump called for the United States to ban all Muslims from entering the country “until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses.”

Yet such spikes in the public appetite for mili­tary action tend to be transitory. Three weeks later, the same poll showed an even split, at 49 percent, on whether to deploy troops. Neither Trump nor Cruz favors major new deployments of American soldiers to Iraq and Syria (nor, for that matter, does Clinton). If anything, both are more skeptical than Clinton about intervention and more circumspect than she about maintaining the nation’s post-World War II military commitments. Trump loudly proclaims his opposition to the Iraq War. He wants the United States to spend less to underwrite NATO and has talked about withdrawing the American security umbrella from Asia, even if that means Japan and South Korea would acquire nuclear weapons to defend themselves. Cruz, unlike Clinton, opposed aiding the Syrian rebels in 2014. He once supported Pentagon budget constraints advocated by his isolationist colleague, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. Thus might the gen­eral election present voters with an unfamiliar choice: a Democratic hawk versus a Republican reluctant warrior.

To thwart the progressive insurgency of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Clinton carefully calibrated her message during the Democratic primaries to align herself closely with Barack Obama and his racially diverse coalition. But as she pivots to the general election, that balancing act with Obama will become trickier. “There’s going to be a huge amount of interest in the press to score-keep,” Sullivan says. “It just so easily can become a sport that distracts from her ability to make an affirmative case.”

In showing her stripes as a prospective commander in chief, Clinton will no doubt draw heavily upon her State Department experience — filtering the lessons she learned in Libya, Syria and Iraq into the sinewy worldview she has held since childhood. Last fall, in a series of policy speeches, Clinton began limning distinctions with the president on national security. She said the United States should consider sending more special-operations troops to Iraq than Obama had committed, to help the Iraqis and Kurds fight the Islamic State. She came out in favor of a partial no-fly zone over Syria. And she described the threat posed by ISIS to Americans in starker terms than he did. As is often the case with Clinton and Obama, the differences were less about direction than degree. She wasn’t calling for ground troops in the Middle East, any more than he was. Clinton insisted her plan was not a break with his, merely an “intensification and acceleration” of it.

It’s an open question how well Clinton’s hawkish instincts match the country’s mood. Americans are weary of war and remain suspicious of foreign entanglements. And yet, after the retrenchment of the Obama years, there is polling evidence that they are equally dissatisfied with a portrait of their country as a spent force, managing its decline amid a world of rising powers like China, resurgent empires like Vladimir Putin’s Russia and lethal new forces like the Islamic State. If Obama’s minimalist approach was a necessary reaction to the maximalist style of his predecessor, then perhaps what Americans yearn for is something in between — the kind of steel-belted pragmatism that Clinton has spent a lifetime honing.

“The president has made some tough decisions,” says Leon Panetta, who served as Obama’s defense secretary after Bob Gates, and as director of the C.I.A. before David Petraeus. “But it’s been a mixed record, and the concern is, the president defining what America’s role in the world is in the 21st century hasn’t happened.

“Hopefully, he’ll do it,” he added, acknowledging the time Obama has left. “Certainly, she would.” Ω

[Mark Landler is a White House correspondent for The New York Times and writes a weekly foreign affairs column. This essay was adapted from Landler's recent book, Alter Egos: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and the Twilight Struggle Over American Power (2016). He received a BS (international affairs) from Georgetown University where he also served as the editor-in-chief of The Hoya (campus newspaper).]

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