Sunday, November 06, 2005

Is Hillary Clinton the First Integral Politician?

During the SDi II sessions in Boulder last month, Jean Houston (who never misses an opportunity to mention her relationship with Hillary and Bill Clinton) suggested that Hillary is a second-tier thinker pretending to be blue-ORANGE. Houston spent a lot of time working with Hillary during the writing of It Takes a Village, so she does know a bit about the Senator from New York.

I might have dismissed Houston's comments if not for an article in The Nation back in May of this year. Greg Sargent wrote a piece called "Brand Hillary" about how she is recreating herself, what is referred to as "branding" in the business world.

From the article:

The political classes tend to offer us two tidy Hillary narratives to choose from. The first (courtesy of Dick Morris and company) is that Clinton has given herself a moderate makeover designed to mask the fact that she's really a haughty left-wing elitist, in order to appeal to moderate Republicans and culturally conservative, blue-collar Democrats who are deserting their party. The opposing narrative line (courtesy of her supporters) is that Clinton, a devout Methodist, has revealed her true self as a senator; she's always been more moderate than is generally thought, and, as Anna Quindlen wrote recently in Newsweek, "people are finally seeing past the stereotypes and fabrications."

Yet if you watch Clinton on one of her upstate swings, as I did earlier this spring, it becomes clear that neither story line gets it right. What's really happening is that Clinton, a surprisingly agile and ideologically complex politician, is slowly crafting a politics that in some ways is new, and above all is uniquely her own.

Clinton's evolving approach--call it Brand Hillary--is sincerely rooted in her not-easily-categorized worldview, but it's also a calculated response to today's political realities. In effect, she's taking her husband's small-issue centrism--its trademark combination of big but often hollow gestures toward the center, pragmatic economic populism and incremental liberal policy gains--and remaking it in her own image, updating it for post-9/11 America with an intense interest in military issues.

This is the political context in which Hillary must work. The Republicans have made her the most targeted Senator up for re-election in 2006, but they could find no one who could give her a real race for her seat. She's that popular in New York.

As the most hated woman in the Republican world, she still must convince liberals that she hasn't sold out her base of support.


For liberals it remains to be seen whether this transaction will prove to be a good deal. Yet for some Democrats the trade is indeed worth it, as you could easily see during one of Clinton's first stops on her upstate swing, a speech to Democrats at a re-election fundraiser north of Albany. The event was closed to the press, and the Senator shed her typically demure, bipartisan approach and launched a sharp attack on the GOP. Yet she knew her audience--these were hardly red-meat-craving Democratic activist types. They were rural, moderate Democrats--small-town schoolteachers, librarians, general-store owners. So Clinton's assault was spirited, but even-tempered and larded with patriotic language.

"We're seeing the slow and steady erosion of what made America great in the twentieth century," Clinton told her audience in an even tone. "When I got to the Senate I asked myself, What's going on here? At first I thought the President just wanted to undo everything my husband had done." Clinton waited a beat, then added, "And I did take that personally."

The audience laughed. "But then I thought, Wait a minute. It's not just about turning the clock back on the 1990s.... They want to turn the clock back on most of the twentieth century. They want to turn the clock all the way back beyond Franklin Roosevelt. Back beyond Teddy Roosevelt. That's why they're trying to undo Social Security. Make no mistake about it.

"What I see happening in Washington," Clinton continued, "is a concerted effort by the Administration and the leadership in Congress to really create absolute power. They want to control the judiciary so they can have all three branches of government. I really don't care what party you are--that's not in the American tradition.... Right now young men and women are putting their lives on the line in Iraq and Afghanistan, fighting for the America we revere. And that is a country where nobody has all the answers--and nobody should have all the power.... We all need to stand up for what made America great--what created a wonderful set of values that we revere, that we exported and tried to really inculcate in people around the world!"

Wild applause rolled over Clinton now, although it was unclear whether the crowd had appreciated the political subtleties of what they'd witnessed. She had offered a critique of the GOP sharp enough for any progressive--even as she'd given an approving nod to American exceptionalism and a paean to US troops defending our "values" abroad. She'd stoked the partisan passions of her audience--even as she'd sounded an above-partisanship note of concern about the state of the Republic. Indeed, she'd managed to pull off what many Democrats struggle to do these days: She'd weaved her criticisms into a larger narrative about America's past and future, criticizing the GOP leadership without sounding as if she wanted America to fail--when she said she was "worried" about America, you believed her.

Let's look at this last paragraph from a Spiral perspective. She feeds the Green vMeme by attacking the GOP, while supporting Orange vMeme economic concerns and Blue vMeme patriotism. She activates Red vMeme passions (the source of all revolutions), but she manages to sound as though she isn't a radical whose mission is the destruction of American values (which is how some heavily Green-based Democrats are often--if unfairly--perceived).

She correctly read the Meme base of her audience and gave them what they wanted to hear--without misrepresenting her positions. So what happens when she must face an audience filled with much more conservative constituents, such as farmers?


Not long after that speech, Clinton appeared at a dramatically different event, a speech to a roomful of around 300 farmers. These were hard-bitten people who were fully prepared to believe that the Senator from Chappaqua is who her caricaturists say she is. When Clinton strode into that room, she was an entirely different Hillary from the one who'd addressed Democrats only hours earlier. Anyone accustomed to seeing Clinton on TV--where she sometimes seems stiff and insincere--would have been flabbergasted by her sudden transformation. She instantly, and effortlessly, became Homespun Hillary. Her vowels grew flatter, more rural-sounding. "Little" became "li'l." "Get" became "git." Entire pronouns vanished, as in: "Heard there are some places in California selling gas for three dollars a gall'n." She poked fun at city folk. Speaking about how farmers could make money supplying the specialty produce that New York restaurants need, she mimicked a demand made to her by city restaurateurs: "We need all those little funny things you don't know what they are when they put 'em on your plate."

The crowd seemed especially impressed with her command of their pocketbook issues. She talked about fuel prices, protecting farmers from foreign competition, the Senate's neglect of New York agriculture in favor of Western agribusiness. She touted an initiative she'd spearheaded making it easier for local businesspeople to sell products via the Internet: "Fella made fly-fishing rods and lures--all of a sudd'n found there were people in Norway who wanted to buy th'm!"

By the end, you could feel it: Her audience had been won over. Her listeners filed out, murmuring approval of what they'd heard. As Robert Madison, a Republican and owner of a small local dairy farm with his three sons, put it: "Real down-to-earth person. Knows what she wants to do for the farmer."

Some may call this manipulation of the audience. So? The measure of any Spiral Wizard is the ability to meet the audience where it lives, to seem as though you are one of them. That is what Hillary has learned to do.

Beck and Cowan talk about the POA factor in building positive relationships. P--politeness; O--openness; and A--autocracy. The autocracy element makes people uncomfortable, but as the authors explain, "Autocracy simply means taking charge, accepting responsibility, knowing where 'the buck stops,' and being willing to put one's self on the line" (SD, 121). The autocracy element is where most Democrats fail (look at how Kerry lost in 2004 to a man who should have been very easy to beat).

Hillary is comfortable with power. She knows how to be polite and open, as the above passages from The Nation article show. As we saw above, she can read the vMemes of her audience and meet them where they are, even changing her speech patterns to make them more comfortable.

Is she integral? I don't know, but we do know that Bill has read a lot of Ken Wilber and has met with Don Beck in the past. She likely has been exposed to the ideas.

Is she a Spiral Wizard? Looks like it, even if she isn't familiar with Spiral Dynamics.

Is she second tier, as Jean Houston claims? Probably not in any whole-self sense, but if she can think politically in second-tier ways--meaning that she can perceive and value each of the vMemes--then she's probably second-tier enough to defeat any politician who doesn't share that skill.

The 2008 presidential election could be very, very interesting.
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