Hillary Clinton has an Obama problem. It does not take a rocket sciencist to figure out why. Hillary is a Democrat. Obama is a Democrat. Hillary served under Obama and is responsible for key parts of the foreign policy issues Obama is failing to implement. The President has poll ratings in the 40’s and they could get even lower.
In a recent interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic Hillary went off on the President. Among her most colorful comments was this gem, “The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad—there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle—the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled,” and this bomb ““Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”
Since that interview Clinton has understandably walked back her criticism of the President. She does not want to pile onto the President too much before his party faces a midterm electorate already unfriendly to their kind. Hillary will need the support of Democrats of all stripes to win in 2016 and coalesce the party around her candidacy. But the early onslaught is not by accident either. Clinton is ever so slightly showing she has policy differences from the President and she is not the liberal on foreign policy Obama is.
Clinton needs to show these policy differences matter and bridge partisan and ideological divisions. This is why during the Goldberg interview Clinton claimed that her views were minimized in the administration and ideas such as a no fly zone in Ukraine or arming Syrian rebels were ignored. In an obvious effort to appeal to the muscular Jewish lobby in the state she also spoke kind words about Israel and its assault on Hamas. ““I think Israel did what it had to do to respond to the rockets and there is the surprising number and complexity of the tunnels, and Hamas has consistently, not just in this conflict, but in the past, been less than protective of their civilians.” Hillary further elaborated, “I don’t know a nation, no matter what its values are — and I think that democratic nations have demonstrably better values in a conflict position — that hasn’t made errors.” Both John Kerry and the President have yet to utter similar sentiments.
Hillary would be no less human than the rest of us if she had personal motives for undermining the President. Obama’s defeat of the former First Lady in 2008 (where racial accusations were thrown around) was bad enough but Obama’s refusal to name her as his VP added salt to the wound. Giving Clinton the Secretary of State slot might have turned out to be better politically for Clinton but it also made her subservient to Joe “This is a big f***ing deal” Biden. Clinton’s are not used to being under anybody.
But, to be fair, the personal motives of Hillary’s attacks against Obama are purely guesswork. Maybe they are best buds by now. Hillary, in an effort to reach out to Obama, met with the President at Martha’s Vineyard recently. Maybe they became best buds. Okay, hell will probably freeze over before that happens.
Hillary will not get very far by embracing a President with a 40% approval rating. But she has to do it to a degree to keep progressives and the party’s black base happy. This highlights Hillary’s conundrum. The 2008 primary made clear that Hillary is an unexciting candidate to the party’s base of young women, minorities and urban core. Thus, Hillary needs to make up for this by appealing to some segment of her husband’s 92 and 96 political coalition based partly in deeply red Appalachia. Criticizing the President on foreign policy is one way she believes this can be done. She might have missed the memo on Republicans becoming more libertarian though.
Sharing the same partisan label as Obama makes it impossible for Clinton to separate herself completely from him. She certainly certainly cannot run as a new kind of Democrat. So she is setting herself up to run not as Obama’s successor but his sadder but wiser replacement. Hammering Obama is a key part of this strategy.