Posted on April 14, 2011
Making a mountain out of Hillary
Now that President Obama has formally announced his candidacy for reelection, speculation has begun swirling about a possible primary challenge from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, despite her having told CNN's Wolf Blitzer in no uncertain terms that she would not run.
It's not surprising that people dismiss her statement on the matter, since denials of presidential ambition are among the most frequently broken political promises, and Mrs. Clinton was not exactly renowned for her candor during her years as first lady. What's so curious is that people believe she's capable of winning the nomination over the incumbent president, when in reality she's the one politician in the weakest position from which to challenge him.
As her husband's "co-president," Hillary tried unsuccessfully to establish so-called "universal health care," as Obama has since done. She cannot now appeal to big-government liberals by saying she agrees with Obama, but wasn't competent to produce the same result. Nor could she gain much traction among the Obama plan's critics on the basis of her failure to implement it. Thus, Obama's greatest domestic policy liability would be nullified.
Los Angeles Times columnist John Phillips suggests that Mrs. Clinton could sink Obama with a broadside on the foreign policy front, perhaps reprising her "3AM phone call" ad. That would take a lot of gall, considering that the only 3AM calls that Hillary has answered have been when Bill has forgotten his key.
During a March 27th appearance on Face the Nation, Secretary Clinton defended the difference between the administration's treatment of Libya and Syria by saying, "There's a different leader in Syria now. Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said that they believe he's a reformer." Upon being questioned about that characterization in a press conference two days later, she explained, "I referenced the opinions of others. That was not speaking for myself or for the administration."
Perhaps it depends on what your definition of "for" is. Yes, she did reference the opinions of others, but she did so in order to validate Obama's policy. Maybe those anonymous congressmen didn't literally speak "for" the administration, but the administration did agree with them, and shaped its policy accordingly. Mrs. Clinton is simply evading responsibility by rhetorically substituting others' opinions for her own.
If many Democrats are disturbed by the lack of reason behind Obama's actions toward Libya, they will not receive much clarity from the wife of Bill Clinton, to whom military actions and American national interests were almost mutually exclusive. President Clinton involved the U.S. in the Balkans for the superstitious reason that he feared a recreation of World War One. He also sent American troops to Haiti to "restore democracy," in the person of anti-democratic Marxist brute Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Had "anti-war" liberals ever wanted to demonstrate against Clinton, they'd have had trouble doing it, because in their slogan "No War For --," they'd have had nothing to fill in the blank.
So Hillary cannot capitalize on Obama's domestic or foreign policy. That doesn't leave a whole lot else. One might think, because of Obama's low approval rating, that she has the "winnability" issue going for her, except that she would still be expected to defend the administration, having been a part of it.
If the Democrats seriously want to win in 2012, they would be better off either having Obama defend his own record, or else nominating somebody with no connection to his presidency. If, instead, Hillary tries to separate herself from the administration in a general election campaign, she could become a Democrat version of John McCain, who spent more energy railing against his own party's incumbent than against the opposition.
In 2008, it was Hillary's supporters who first made an issue of Obama's missing birth certificate, but she would never be able to address it directly, as Donald Trump has recently done. Think of the fun Obama could have if she did. "My birth certificate? It's right next to the Rose Law Firm billing records. It's in the middle of those 900 purloined FBI files. It's on top of Vince Fosters x-rays." The possibilities are nearly endless.
Hillary Clinton's supporters are seeing things in her that aren't there, but how could they? She's not a blank slate on which voters may chalk up their own hopes and preferences, like Obama was three years ago. Her political identity has already been permanently chiseled, and nobody could mistake it for Mount Rushmore.
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