A Fine Line Between Stupid And Clever

Now With Electrolytes!

A Guest Post From A Former Staffer Of A Former President

Posted by bmac on June 25, 2008

Justine California (not her real name) was a Clinton staffer during his first term. I have no way to prove this, but based on email correspondence with her, I happen to believe this is true. You can decide for yourselves. She does not want to Hillary bash, or dish dirt, (sorry) but she has some good observations, as she has personal experience with the Clintons, something I think is pretty damn interesting. Instead of just having a Q&A, I suggested she write a post as a jumping off point, and let her pick the topic and roll with it. I think she did a pretty good job.

Small Cap CEO meets the Feudal Lord.


Justine California


Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will campaign together this week.

Yes, this event has everything to do with the title line above.  I don’t need to tell you who is whom. You already know.


Management style is something I do every day. I founded a tech startup last year, and it’s not my first. As an entrepreneurial, libertarian leaning Californian, my management style has a lot to do with everyone carrying their own bag, and taking responsibility for outcomes.


Before my tech startup life?  I was a young, underpaid Washington staffer. My pathway in the communications, event planning and fundraising realms did bring me into support roles for the Clinton administration for a time.  


Why me? Because,  even though I was not at all a Democrat, I was young and for some reason willing to get paid almost nothing to get kicked around by glammed out feudal lords. I mean, the Clinton people. But the cool part is that this stunning medieval movie was seen up close and unrehearsed.


While the happenings, victories and defeats of both the Republican and Democratic primaries of 2008 have been thoroughly overanalyzed, I’ve seen less examination of the candidate’s internal management styles, financial policies and “corporate” choices than I perhaps wanted. Media analysis tends to favor a focus on each candidate’s outward presentation of issues, personality, persuasion, empathy, or fashion choices – rather than the essential internal building processes by which they are created. 


But what about the gap between internal (campaign) and external (public) management styles? What about  that basic goal: running the company? I can design a great gadget, but if I cannot build, mobilize or sell that gadget, it doesn’t go anywhere.


If the gap is wide enough, an extraordinary amount of energy must be spent hiding – or at least compensating for – what’s going on inside, lest it contradict the outer brand and vision. Enough obsessive focus on the compensating, and you won’t see your own vision anymore.


That Hillary’s campaign suffered from such a huge gap is obvious.


But how much of this gap came from “learned and earned” behavior – from the ways of her husband’s presidency?


I offer my own viewpoint to this one. Hillary, in the eyes of many, and perhaps in her own eyes – was Bill Clinton’s Vice President. She ran from this long past – and secret -position, and from its learning. The strengths and weakness she exhibited on the trail are consistent with this viewpoint. She interestingly enough, did not run as a Senator, though she clearly is one.


I am not opening a Hillary bashing session . I am, as a female business owner and CEO, desirous of an eventual female presidency – ideally a more conservative candidate who shows Hillary’s level of grit and intellect.


But right now I’m looking at this from an MBA’s point of view.


Why does Obama clearly appear to be the better CEO of the two, the small cap, exponential growth pick? Why does Hillary appear as the walled-in, moated feudal lord, more about vassal loyalty than colleague merit? How did this happen internally? What is the Clinton business style defined by, and why is it so different from the Clinton public persona (I speak of both Clintons here.) What comparisons can you make to the corporate world to illustrate your view?


Due to my briefly Clintonic past, I may cite actual observations within this discussion. These observations are not metaphysical truths – they are merely the subjective viewpoints of a fly on the wall. But sometimes the fly on the wall sees more angles of the room than the invited guests at the dinner table.

* *


21 Responses to “A Guest Post From A Former Staffer Of A Former President”

  1. bmac said

    BTW, Justine will answer any questions she is able to, that you may have about the Clintons.

    Obviously, she can’t talk about certain things.

  2. Vmaximus said

    Good Stuff Bmac, good stuff!
    I do not have a specific question, but it seemed to me that there was much you left unsaid that you wanted to say. Answer questions from others, but I am left hanging wanting to here you finish what you obviously had in mind.



  3. S. Weasel said

    Interesting. I look forward to more.

    I’m not much of a one on female solidarity, and I’m certainly no Democrat, but I caught myself admiring Hillary’s grit by the end. I could only wish Fred or Mitt or Rudy had half as much testicularity going for them.

    There. I did it. I said something nice about Hillary.

  4. baxtrice said

    S. Weasel —

    Watch it girl, your head might explode after saying something like that. 🙂

    All jokes aside, I have to say, Hillz certainly has some guts to do what she did. (I didn’t say she was smart.. haha)

  5. bmac said

    I’m not sure what happenend to Justine, I haven’t heard from her in two days, but I think she’s busy with her job.

    I’d say keep checking back if you liked her post, I’m pretty sure she’ll respond at some point.

    Pretty sure….

  6. justine C said

    S Weasel,

    I have another post in the works, having been left a bit uninspired by today’s show of “unity”. However,

    I am intrigued by your comment. Do you think Hillary’s grit has anything to do with female solidarity? Or with women at all? Who was her grit meant to speak to, really?

    Is it a build up or top down management situation? If the latter, solidarity is more about one woman than all of them.

    Which of course contradicts her message to women. Or does it?

  7. justine C said


    You shall have to wait for my novel.

    If you ask me a specific question I shall answer. Let me guide by saying the following.

    The White House was like living in a bunch of grapes. I was in my own grape. Each grape relates to the top stem and not to any other grape. Each grape competes with the other grapes for attention, sunlight, food, press, etc. However, you are told early on that your goodness and progress as a grape relates to killing the grapes ahead of you on the stalk.

    Basically, each of us came in with a dream of hypersmart, diverse, open-minded, college educated collegiality.

    Instead, it was – there’s you. There’s Him. (that’s what we called the POTUS – Him or The Him.) and there are your competition. I had a few other names for him too.

    The idea that you’d be loyal to a coworker was just unheard of. If their grape got picked off, they were gone. unperson. Scott Mclellan.

    Hillary has been a senator – which Bill never was. I was hoping to see some senatesque collegiality in her campaign management, if only for reasons of academic interest. This would have allowed her to break from Bill’s influence early on, with a legitimate basis of experience to do so.

    While the consensus and dilution that dumbs good ideas (or bad ones) in the Senate can be annoying to ideologues, its can be a good way to run a company/campaign. It spreads responsibility across levels and keeps things thematically on track. It also, when well managed, is less cash centric.

    However, Hillary ran from her husband’s White House ways, but still called herself a senator. Mind you, this had to have been deliberate. She needed to ask herself, what will the public react to best? She chose her role as shadow VP, and ran a campaign in the grape mode.

    What happened?

    Money got spent by people competing to be the one placing the most money. Money placement = power. Help your own grape, screw the bunch.

    Grapes died off. It’s always the outlying grapes first… those were the ground troops. The ones you did not see in Iowa.

    Result? Disconnection and no fiscal management. Which, in the White House? Is all fine and wonderful.

    If you’re already there, that is.

    More later.

  8. S. Weasel said

    Oh, no. I think her grit is genuine grit. Rather, I think her desire for that office is an all-consuming, monumental thing. She has bent her considerable will to winning this office for essentially her whole life, only to see it slapped away at the last moment by a callow puppy. That she is able to control her rage as well as she has — however lame today’s get-together was — is impressive. This is the ruin of her life’s work.

    The remark about female solidarity was just an aside. I meant I don’t like her any better because we share a gender. In fact, the influence of women on both business and politics has been pretty uniformly bad, in my opinion. Women in the workplace embarrass daily.

    I was 27 when I watched Pat Schroeder give her weepy press conference. I would happily have broken her nose.

  9. justine C said

    I would have broken Pat’s nose with you.

    I have to say that there are a few women in the workplace I actually recall with respect. But I look around me now and see my company, and its wider circle. I really work in a male environment – ratio 40 to 1 – but I don’t even notice it.

    Interestingly, I think (this is my own surmising!) that Hills would have broken Pat’s nose too.

    There were three genders in the Clinton world. Men, women, and women-for-recreation. The last group had an unfamily friendly name. Women in the nonrecreation group did not even acknowledge the wfr’s.

    I always laugh when people say that Monica Lewinsky bothered Hills. No, Monica was another irrelevant wfr. She was inconsequential and nameless.

    Me? After about three days in the scene, I started wearing a headband and glasses (rather than lenses) every day. And boxy blazers, even though I am a petite person and probably looked like I was wearing someone else’s clothes. I was, due to the influence of the Hillary people, obsessively terrified of being mistaken for bang trash. I literally walked into work in my enormo running shoes plus a full business suit (oversized.) Thanks to Hillary, I was a fashion disaster 🙂

  10. justine C said

    PS The callow puppy metaphor is clever.

  11. vmaximus said

    Justine C,
    Thank you, again that was very informative and insightful. I have no love for the Clintons and most of the campaign she was so wooden. However the 2 times I saw her on Fox (Bill O and F&F) I thought she was a fantastic likable person. If she could have been like that the other times I saw / heard her, she would have trounced Obama

  12. justine C said


    As you can tell from my posts my feelings are mixed about Hillary’s platform. Certainly my view of the role of government and hers don’t match.

    But I had frustration with those tv news guys that tried to play her off as Bill’s wife.

    It wasn’t like that. She was there running the country. Not in control (Bill was), but “with control.”

    I am sorry that she didn’t realize, though, that the official records did not read this way. Spousal communications are not included. There were meetings she attended and decisions she influenced that did not have her name in the minutes.

    If you remember back to the time, the reasons for that were obvious. The role she had was considered unacceptable by many. Even by Gore, in my own observation.

    Would a president tell the world his wife helped him decide issues x, y and z? No.

    Would he say that in front of his top advisors, who were perhaps getting surprised by a new point of view? Yes, and that really went over wonderfully – not.

    I wish Hillary had run outside of that, as a senator and private citizen. I wish she had been herself – win or lose. But once Penn got her into that experience thing, it all became about experience. Not only the wrong message for the dems – but an unprovable claim to those who weren’t in or near the building.

    But ultimately it’s not Penn, it’s her who made that decision.

  13. vmaximus said

    Justine C,
    She was really in a difficult spot. She was not in charge, however, I know my parents discussed EVERYTHING! H, has experience but no experience, I will give her much more than Obama.

    J. I wish you well and hope you go far in your life, perhaps farther than Hil. Thank you and Bmac for having you post here.

    What did you think / know about Gore?
    From the outside he came across as wooden too, then just plain NUTS!

  14. justine C said


    While I don’t know Gore personally, he and I are in the same room sometimes lately. At conferences and such for Solar energy, etc. He’s got an important place and a role in Silicon Valley VC land. So my view of Gore has a chance to be updated at any time.

    That said, here’s the view from back then.

    It was appearent from early moments that Gore was not getting the face time with POTUS that he expected. He seemed like the perfect stand in guy – but not the guy at the Center. I remember lots of meetings where Hillary was there instead. It took me a few meetings to realize what was going on, but it was very obvious. Hillary’s office space in the WWing for example could be construed as more VP definitive by some. It did come up in the after work conversations at the gym. Or in the latte runs to starbucks (after it opened in June 1993 in Dupont Circle.)

    That said – there was this big announcement that Gore was doing environmental stuff. Then he sort of went to figurative Siberia. Being a Californian, I asked one of the senior staff I knew if I could meet EPA secretary Browner (who was a Gore-ite). He chuckled and looked at me in this funny way. He said, J, you have more face time with “the Him” than Browner right now. I thought he was kidding. But maybe not.

    This is not to say that the Gore-ites were not busy and smart and important. They were. Gore grabbed NAFTA and took that to success. Other things too. He paid a lot of attention to a lot of key issues; he had a good reputation on the Hill which is a big deal for close votes. From my observation, great integrity and brains.

    Where I did spend a little time with Gore, in person was on the fundraising circuit. He was out there a lot on the major donor trail – BLF, Major Associations, etc. He was wooden but a nice man, well prepared, and ready to do multiple dinners in a night and do his best to smile for the camera.

    He was so different from POTUS at these dinners (many of which were 25 persons or less.) One, Gore ate. I mean he picked up a shovel and inhaled food. When people would ask him questions, he used the moment to eat. He sometimes chewed with his mouth open. Not becuase he always did, but because he’d have to answer and he’d still have some food in his mouth.

    Clinton would have a couple diet Cokes in the holding room pre-event then proceed to mesmerize a dining group with his words and memory. He was in superfocus on each person so he didn’t really eat much. I always pictured him in the White House kitchen at 2am tearing into a pizza. I don’t know if this happened, but the man had to eat at some point and he had to be hungry after not eating all evening.

    Another thing is Gore showed emotions more naturally – to Tipper when they were together (they seem to genuinely care for each other) and when there was something big going on. If there had been a stressful night – calling Congresspersons for votes on the budget or responding to a press attack, he’d seem really tired and would have bloodshot eyes. Sort of how a normal human being would react.

    POTUS (and Hillary) would just sail in like weebles and fight on, like a state of war was totally normal and sleep was unnecessary.

    Enough for now, until later.

  15. justine C said

    While this is worth a new post in itself, I’ll add a fun fact.

    You’ve gathered that I was born and raised in California. But part of my family came from ranching. I mean horses, cowboy boots, guns and whiskey and fishing. Sierra foothills.

    Then I went to a liberal city high school, and a liberal Ivy for college. So I saw both sides.

    One way I had fun with Clinton people was getting into debates with people about Reagan’s legacy, the influence Mike Deaver (bless his soul) had on our department, the way POTUS took guidance from the entrepreneurial GOP/libertarian tradition. I did this in a friendly way, not wishing to pull rank I did not have – or sever my grape from the bunch. Being a Californian, I never argued about social issues. Just about personal responsibility and small government.

    Questions welcome on this. Yes, I still wear cowboy boots.

  16. Vmaximus said

    Lucchese, Justin, or Tony Lama?

  17. justine C said

    Tony Lama

  18. Vmaximus said

    My observations (from a east coast biker perspective) Working and rodeo cowboys were Justin. (and for church weddings and funerals break out the Tony Lama’s) Poseurs (lawyers and such) wear the Lucchese.

  19. MCPO Airdale said

    Justine C – I was stationed in Washington, DC during the Clinton administration and heard many rumors of disrespectful treatment of military personnel working in the White House.
    Did you witness or hear about any incidence by senior staff, the President or Mrs. Clinton that would qualify?

  20. justine C said

    MCPO Airdale,

    First, and most importantly, I thank you deeply for your service.

    I did not hear or witness any blatant incident of such disrespect, and would certainly have recalled such.

    However there was a pervasive discomfort with the “idea” of the military. Some don’t see the value of, or power of military decisionmaking, or relate this to their own ability to succeed as they have. But of course they are related.

    I think the problem was unfamiliarity and ignorance of the extraordinary depth of the commitment of military personnel to our country, and the direct correlation of the service of those before to the prosperity we enjoy now.

    This unfamiliarity is different and more benign than disrespect, but perhaps came across negatively anyway.

    Recalling very well the late June 1993 missile attack on Iraq, and the Battle of Mogadishu later that year in early October, I saw the same thing – there was a preference to see things academically first and militarily second. There was great attention to the press coverage. The Bosnia situation later also got worse – due to an apparent distaste for the topic. My surmising here. Some senior staff were very focused upon it, though. But who knows – for the polls – or for doing the right thing?

    My great uncle fought in WWII in Europe. When the staff flew to Europe with POTUS for the DDay anniversary, I felt very emotional at the thought of his service. I thought of all the stories he had told me, of why he served, and what he learned about freedom and values, and family and himself. Having not served myself, I probably can’t quite understand that in the same way.

    Neither perhaps could the Clintons. Again, my surmising.

    There were members of the senior staff who took the trip quite seriously, though. That’s a good sign.

    I’m sorry to hear that you heard of disrespect to your colleagues. That is of course unacceptable.

  21. MCPO Airdale said

    Justine C – Thank you for your response. God Bless your great uncle.

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