The Hill headline asks: “Is Obama done with Washington?” The better question however is whether Washington and the country are done with him — and with those associated with his imperious, incompetent and insular presidency.
President Obama and Hillary Clinton seem genuinely flummoxed that Americans don’t appreciate their wonderfulness. He certainly must regard Americans as ingrates. Didn’t he spring a U.S. soldier from captivity? (Hence the Rose Garden PR show). He got ripped to shreds by both parties. Didn’t he deliver “historic” health-care legislation? And now the country wants it changed or dumped. Didn’t he follow the polls showing voters wanted to disentangle the United States from the world? He withdrew the United States from Afghanistan and Iraq and refused to do anything in Syria and only slightly more in Ukraine. And now the public overwhelmingly disapproves of his handling of foreign policy. Harrumph.
Both Obama and Clinton attribute criticism to unhinged forces not amenable to reason. For Obama’s defenders, racism, the 24/7 news cycle and Washington itself are to blame. Bad ideas, bad execution and bad people skills don’t factor into the explanation for gridlock at home and international chaos abroad. In Hillaryland, criticism is taken as evidence that “people have always been out to get her”; yes, the vast right-wing conspiracy lives on. But now that conspiracy must be so large as to include NPR, the BBC, book reviewers, Democratic foreign policy experts, human rights advocates and late-night comedians. Both Obama and Clinton fake the common touch (the g’s disappear when they address the common folk), but in rare moments of honesty, they display their elitism (decrying gun-and Bible-carrying Americans, pleading poverty despite million-dollar book contracts and a Chappaqua home). If Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) gets grief about dinners at a local steakhouse, Clinton’s speaking fees from hedge funds and hobnobbing with Hollywood and New York glitterati are not likely to endear her to the voters.
The president’s favorability ratings may not have bottomed out, just as the fallout from 5 1/2 years of the Obama/Clinton/John Kerry foreign policy is not yet known. But the hopes for a glorious presidency filled with shining accomplishments is gone (except for the editorial page of the New York Times). Obama’s embrace of Clinton and her presidential aspirations is turning out to be a death grip. Their fates are tied to a record of mutual failure, while their infatuation with other liberal elites and their pet projects (e.g. climate control) set them apart from average Americans to whom they are supposed to appeal. They seem destined to sink or swim together. If Iraq returns to the peaceful status in which President George W. Bush turned it over, Obamacare keeps premiums low and wins over voters, Iran’s nuclear weapons program is peacefully dismantled and the U.S. economy takes off, Obama’s successes will be attributed in part to Clinton, who championed the winning Obama policies. Is any of that likely? Not at all.
Clinton does best when she is a candidate in the abstract, or when she is simply a stand-in for other leaders. She won’t be able to run for the third Obama term unless Obama makes a stunning recovery. And a good chunk of the electorate has only a fuzzy memory of the Clinton presidency. Here then is her big test: Can she generate something purely of her own making, an agenda that is unique to her and does not rely on political nostalgia?
In her ham-handed way, Clinton insists she’s unleashed and speaking her mind. Unfortunately, Clinton last week showed that she has little charm and even less vision to offer voters. She better come up with something soon; otherwise it will dawn on fellow Democrats that Obama beat her in 2008 not because he is a historic figure (although as the first African America president, he will always be one) but because she’s not personally or politically compelling in the way other modern presidents have been. The baggage of a disastrous foreign policy that Clinton helped craft will make it even less compelling in 2012. Anyone talk to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo lately?