Distancing Her Own Disaster from a Disaster
Even if Obama were at 60% approval ratings, if the economy were booming, if there were no alphabet soup of scandals — AP, IRS, VA, NSA, etc. — Hillary would have some trouble contextualizing her disastrous record as secretary of State during a popular administration.
But now she must distance her own disaster from a disaster. I suppose that it is conventionally wise for her to junk Obama (e.g., “he did it, not me”), but there are pitfalls nonetheless. She must over the next two years cut herself off from everything Obama. She must do so on the premise that she was secretary despite, not because of, Obama and that all the disastrous decisions that she made were really her boss’s — the exact nature of which each month she may reluctantly disclose.
If Obama’s popularity dips below 40% — the point at which a presidency is reduced to irrelevance — with more than two years left on his tenure, Hillary will only speed up the process. She will de facto run against Obama (on the premise that she is promising a continuum of Bill Clinton’s Democratic mainstream successes) in the manner that Adlai Stevenson sort of ran against lame duck Harry Truman in 1952, and in the way in which John McCain often seemed as critical of George W. Bush as was Barack Obama.
Yet trashing your kindred predecessor is a hard thing to pull off (ask Al Gore). Presidents in their last year of office don’t appreciate it, and occasionally have ways to push back. Sometimes the base doesn’t like such ingratitude either. The electorate asks, why elect another Democrat or Republican to follow an unpopular Democrat or Republican? For Hillary to escape Obama’s unpopularity, she must in circular fashion over the next two years only make him more unpopular by her very efforts at distancing herself from him — while avoiding the charge of,”well, then, what were you doing from 2009 to 20013?” Adlai Stevenson and John McCain, of course, were not cabinet officers in the respective Truman and Bush administrations.
None of these hurdles — or questions about both Hillary’s and Bill’s age and health — is insurmountable for a contortionist like Ms. Clinton. Hillary believes that Obama’s great achievement is that he left a permanently divided America, by his various “wars” of race, gender and class. Accordingly, she can reforge that adversarial coalition of young women, gays, greens, minorities, unions, elite liberals and wealthy progressives against “them” by virtue of her gender and politics — and do so is a less grating way. The feminist who hunted down Bill’s interns and who makes $200,000 from cash-strapped universities for brief pep talks will soon lecture us on the evils of a misogynist one-percent nation (e.g., don’t we all hate those who make more in 30 minutes than we do in four years?).
Current polls suggest that she will pull it off. (In the way the early polls had assured that she would in 2008?) What then is likely?
Who knows, although we can be certain of one fact: If the Republican candidate campaigns according to the Marquess of Queensberry rules in the fashion of John McCain or Mitt Romney and politely deflects each hour the insinuation that as a rich, old white guy de facto he is culpable for some –ism or -ology, Hillary will be elected.
But if such charges are either inapplicable to the Republican candidate or are answered in slash-and-burn Lee Atwater style — who was so despised by establishment Republican political operatives — then nothing is certain.