TPP to KXL to WTF! Heads Explode as Hillary Goes Progressive

By Peter Daou

When I first had the opportunity to work for Hillary Clinton in 2006, many of my progressive friends asked if I was comfortable with her Iraq War Resolution vote.

My answer then was the same as it is today: I won’t let the perfect be the enemy of the exceptional.

No one ever, anywhere agrees with every single thing a politician stands for or does. For that matter, no one ever, anywhere agrees with every single thing any person stands for or does.

We make judgments about people based on complex criteria and always with imperfect information. We balance the good with the not so good. We condemn and we forgive, we attack and we praise, we try to distinguish the forest from the trees. We can never truly know another person’s thoughts, so we attempt to divine the person’s core by interpreting their words and deeds, which can often be contradictory. That is the case with family, with friends, with colleagues, and no less with public figures.

It’s a process that describes my journey from Iraq war protester and progressive activist to Hillary adviser and staunch Hillary advocate.

A bit of personal history: after a long career in the music business, I got my first taste of national politics after the (s)election of George W. Bush in 2000. I plunged into web forums like Democratic Underground and developed friendships with a young crop of online activists who had embraced the new medium of blogging. Those cohorts included Josh Marshall, Glenn Greenwald, Ezra Klein, Digby (when she was still thought to be a man), Oliver Willis, Jane Hamsher, John Aravosis, Duncan Black, Tom Watson, Lindsay Beyerstein, Steve Gilliard, Natasha Chart, Susie Madrak, Lance Mannion, Cenk Uyger, John Amato, Markos Moulitsas, Jessica and Vanessa Valenti and countless others.

I worked with Truthout, Salon and other left-leaning publications. I marched and protested against the Iraq war, participated in die-ins in the middle of 5th avenue and proudly held anti-war placards in the shadow of the Washington Monument. 

When John Kerry hired me to do online outreach for his presidential campaign in 2003, it was because of my work as a liberal activist. I was the outsider in D.C., the netroots guy, the liaison between the Beltway and the blogs.

I continued to play that role for the next decade, advising Arlen Specter when he became a Democrat and joining Hillary Clinton’s team in 2006. My job was to be the link to the progressive community. I took that responsibility very seriously, striving to maintain the principles of the community I came from while enhancing the connection between the netroots and the Democratic establishment.

The New York Times described my task when I joined Hillary’s team:

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign has hired Peter Daou, one of the most prominent political bloggers in the nation, to help disseminate her message in a forum that has not always been that hospitable to her. 

The move underscores the degree to which bloggers — the authors of Web logs, or blogs — have begun to transform American politics. In many cases, candidates have even set up their own blogs, with staffers answering questions, presenting policy proposals and posting campaign literature and videos. 

Mrs. Clinton, who is up for re-election this year and is a possible presidential candidate for 2008, has been a frequent target of bloggers, particularly liberals who are angry over her refusal to disavow her vote in 2002 to authorize President Bush to use force in Iraq.

It was no small challenge and one I was honored to undertake: build a bridge between Hillary and the netroots. I had always admired Hillary’s dignity in the face of vicious assaults from the right, her indomitable spirit and her obvious brilliance. Yes, I disagreed, forcefully, with her Iraq vote, but there were so many other things I liked about her that I felt privileged to become part of her team.

My first meeting with Hillary took place in a small Manhattan office with the Secret Service and several aides waiting outside. The conversation covered a range of topics, but the one that left a lasting impression was her commitment to building a progressive infrastructure to combat the FOX-talk radio-rightwing blog triumvirate. She spoke with authority and knowledge about Media Matters, CAP and the liberal blogosphere, emphasizing their critical role as a counter-balance to what David Brock had dubbed the “Republican Noise Machine.”

Having worked with Brock and Media Matters in 2005, I was a strong proponent of precisely what Hillary was advocating: building a solid progressive system that could combine research, activism and media criticism to tip the political balance away from Bush-Cheney and back to the values my peers and I cared about.

In the years I worked for her and in the time since, nothing I saw or heard dissuaded me from my first impression: Hillary is a progressive at heart. I’m perfectly aware that anything she does and any position she takes will get savaged by her detractors, but as a lifelong progressive, I know I’m supporting the candidate who is the most capable of anyone in America to advance the things I care most deeply about. Not Bernie Sanders, who I admire greatly; not Joe Biden, who I also like and respect. Certainly none of the out-of-touch and dangerously narrow-minded Republicans. For that matter, not Barack Obama or Bill Clinton. 

Hillary will make an exceptional president. On women’s rights alone, her impact will be history-changing. As the father of a young girl (born during the 2008 campaign), nothing matters more to me.

I’ll conclude with a pithy observation from Lane Hudson, another blogger friend from the early days:

The same people criticizing Hillary for taking a position opposing Keystone XL pipeline and the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal are the same people who wanted a Warren or Sanders challenge to pull her to the Left. 


Peter Daou and Tom Watson founded #HillaryMen to provide actionable analysis of the 2016 campaign focusing on the gender barrier in U.S. politics. Peter is a former senior digital adviser to Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Global Initiative. He is a veteran of two presidential campaigns (Kerry '04 and Clinton '08). Tom is an author and Columbia University lecturer who advises companies and non-profits on social activism.