The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Hillary Clinton’s shockingly blunt critique of President Obama

President Obama and Hillary Clinton. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Buried deep within a 73-minute editorial board meeting on Monday with the Des Moines Register, Hillary Clinton offered a rare -- and blunt -- critique of President Obama, and a window into what she believes will allow her to be a more successful president than the man she once worked for.

Here's Clinton's answer to a question as to how -- and why -- she would be more successful than Obama in bringing bipartisanship to Washington.

Because I have much more experience doing it. When I went to the Senate, I cooperated with every Republican. ... I had much more of a running start of actually dealing with Republicans in Congress. ... I believe you have to do it. You have to build those relationships and constantly be looking for common ground no matter how small a sliver it may be. There’s a lot of room if you are actually trying to legislate and solve problems to find common ground. ... You have to be constantly preparing a story, preparing a path for members of Congress. ... This is the kind of constant care and feeding and working that you have to do if you are going to get any part of your agenda through. And I am prepared to do that.

(The ellipses are mine; Clinton used several examples to illustrate her bipartisan credentials. You can watch the full hour-plus interview here.)

Fascinating, no? What Clinton is saying is that she could succeed in wooing Republicans (and Democrats) in Congress where Obama has failed because, well, she's done it before.  That line of reasoning echoes the case Clinton unsuccessfully prosecuted against then-senator Obama in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary fight -- that he might talk a good game but that, ultimately, he lacked the know-how and temperament to work with an unfriendly Congress to get things done.

Inherent in Clinton's critique is the idea that at least some of the blame for Obama's subsequent inability to bend Congress to his will lies with him and, in particular, his lack of experience with or commitment to the "care and feeding" of members of the House and Senate.

That's a view that Republicans have long held -- that for all of his talk about being willing to hear good ideas from anyone regardless of party, Obama has never really been at all interested in playing ball with Congress on anything close to a level playing field. It's not an opinion you hear voiced -- at least publicly and with their names attached to it -- by Democrats, especially one like Clinton who remains, despite the rising seriousness of the challenge from Bernie Sanders, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nod.

Elsewhere in the interview, Clinton praises Obama -- particularly on his decision to take executive action on guns. But it's clear from listening to the entire interview that she believes Obama was fundamentally ill-equipped to deal with a resistant Congress and that many of his political problems grew from that fact. At one point, Clinton brings up Obama's work to help the economy recover in the early days of his presidency and his administration's struggles to convince the public of the rightness of the course he took. "Maybe he needed to try to explain more what he was doing as he went along," Clinton offered. "I’m not sure explaining would have assuaged everyone’s concerns, but there would have been a counter-narrative out there."

There's never been any doubt that while Obama and Clinton patched up their relationship admirably after the 2008 primaries, differences remained. Clinton quite clearly still sees herself as better prepared and equipped to deal effectively with Congress than Obama ever was -- or is. The question for Clinton is whether she'll get the chance to prove herself right from the big chair in the Oval Office.