Susan Estrich: The Politics of 'The List'

The list.

A politician keeping track of those who stand with them, and those who don’t... It’s almost as shocking as gambling in Casablanca. I’ve never met a politician who doesn’t have one.

So why was it big news this week that Doug Band, who travels with former President Clinton and quite literally controls access to him, would be keeping track of who had stood with the Clintons in this last campaign — and who had not?

Will it be easier for the loyalists to get through or, as someone put it, get a job reference for their son-in-law, than it will be for those who deserted Hillary for Barack? I should hope so. And I don’t have a son-in-law.

What would surprise me is if they didn’t have a list. What would be news is who is on Obama’s.

Shades of Richard Nixon? Hardly.

For those too young to remember, the former president was demonized for his "enemies’ list," although many of those who were on it ultimately claimed the status as a red badge of courage. The difference, of course, was that Nixon was willing, and did, use the powers of the presidency and the executive branch to punish his enemies.

Every president rewards his friends; when they don’t, there are complaints. What made Nixon different was the lengths he was willing to go to punish his enemies. There’s a difference between not recommending someone’s kid for a job or not appearing on their television show and getting the IRS to audit their taxes. The Clintons are in no position to do the latter, nor has anyone suggested that they would.

Loyalty is the most valuable currency in politics. Your word, and your support, are what you have to give.

There’s an old saying in Boston, where everyone remembers where they — and you — were in campaigns two and three decades ago.

Loyalty is not about standing by someone when they’re right: that’s called good judgment. Loyalty is about standing by them when they’re wrong. Or when they’re losing.

In politics, everyone loves winners. It’s not who is willing to walk in the door with you, but who walks out, not who is willing to be there for the champagne, but who is there when the corks stay in the bottles.

To be sure, politics imposes its own set of limits. Rep. Rahm Emmanuel, who headed the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2006, worked for Bill Clinton in the White House. But he shares a hometown with Barack Obama, Chicago’s favorite son. So he stayed neutral in the race until it was over. Fair enough. If you can’t say yes, you don’t say no.

Ted Kennedy’s decision to throw his support to Barack Obama was a major triumph for the Illinois senator and a major disappointment for the Clintons.

But Ted Kennedy doesn’t owe his political prominence to Bill and Hillary Clinton. Under the rules, he had every right to support whomever he wanted. I never heard Kennedy denounced by the Clinton-ites. His decision to endorse Obama was a loss, not a betrayal.

The only list of Doug Band’s that would have Ted’s name on it would be the "get well soon" list.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is another matter. Richardson was a little-known congressman when Bill Clinton became president.

Thanks to the patronage of the former president, he became a major player on the national and international stage, which gave him the credibility to go home and run for governor, and then president.

Richardson is a very ambitious man. Nothing wrong with that. He wanted to be president; he ran and got nowhere. The way I heard it, once he was out of the race, he gave his word that if he endorsed anyone, it would be Hillary. Instead, he threw his support to Obama.


Did Barack Obama suddenly become the better candidate, or could it have had something to do with the fact that by the time Richardson endorsed, Obama was the frontrunner, the very likely winner?

And to the victor and his supporters go the spoils. Secretary of State Richardson? Will this year’s poster boy for disloyalty be rewarded for it by his new BFF?

Bill Richardson had to know that he was writing off his relationship with the Clintons forever when he decided to endorse Obama. Doug Band doesn’t need to keep a list for that. That was the price. The question is, what the reward will be? Will Barack Obama consider him to be a friend, indeed?

My girlfriends and I used to joke that when a guy admitted to you that he cheated on his first wife, you better watch out; if he cheated on her, he’ll cheat on you.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...

The list that matters now is not the ones the Clintons are keeping but the one that the next president will have. Maybe he’ll be ready to reward those who were willing to desert their former friends to come to his aid. Or maybe not.

The trouble with the Bill Richardsons of the world is that if they would turn on their last best friend forever, why not their newest one? The people who stayed loyal to Hillary, or stayed out of it, along with the media types who treated her fairly, are a much surer bet to do the same to Obama.

Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the first female president of the Harvard Law Review. She is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.

Estrich's books include the just published "Soulless," "The Case for Hillary Clinton," "How to Get Into Law School," "Sex & Power," "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System" and "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women."

She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel, in addition to writing the "Blue Streak" column for