The two most popular Democrats in America will soon be, once again, an ex-president and an ex-first lady. Just as Democrats once pined for a third Bill Clinton term, today they wish Barack Obama could have run for a third, and, like the president himself, surely agree he would have beaten Donald Trump. And just as Hillary Clinton left the White House riding a wave of popularity that carried her to the Senate and to two runs for the presidency, Michelle Obama today has the highest national favorable ratings of any other national political figure.
The early signs are that this duo of exes will approach the next phase of their lives very differently from their Democratic predecessors. Yes, they will probably both write books (President Obama’s will likely be worth its price and heft) and will continue that dubious tradition of raising millions of dollars to fund a monument to themselves in the form of yet another presidential library. While the gratification is much delayed and impossible for the honoree to enjoy posthumously, it seems more meaningful when the monuments, like Jefferson’s, Lincoln’s and FDR’s, are built to you, not by you.
Neither Obama has shown much initial interest in being on point politically. The president has said he will help organize and lead a new group to rebuild the Democratic Party at the grassroots level by taking on the hard work of local races, initiatives and redistricting. This is important work, long neglected by Democrats, but hardly flashy. It’s true that in a conversation with his longtime political adviser, David Axelrod, that was released yesterday the president took a little shot at the president-elect when he said his message and coalition would have won again in 2016. But this was probably more the result of two political stars who are about to be retired doing a little trash-talking about their ability to whip anyone. More interesting was a comment the president made about his immediate plans. “I have to be quiet for a while,” he said. “And I don’t mean politically; I mean internally. I have to still myself.”
My guess is the first lady plans to follow this advice, too, since it was probably hers in the first place. It is very smart and typical of the Obamas. I can’t wait to see what emerges from the quiet.