Memo to Hillary: Let Obama Have The Heat
Clinton has tried to distinguish herself from Obama by pointing to her experience, both in the Senate and from her time as First Lady. When Obama claimed that he had a better perspective to handle foreign affairs because he lived overseas as a child, Clinton rightly countered that she saw things up close while First Lady that gave her more relevant experience. Unfortunately, she went too far and also claimed that she was a public face overseas for the country, which allowed Obama to counterpunch that such a claim would come as news to Clinton supporter and former Secretary of State Madeline Albright.
When Clinton tried to claim more experience in handling world economics from her time as First Lady, Obama hit back by asking if Clinton was also claiming to have been Secretary of the Treasury. Every time she raises the experience question, he counters with an effective put-down that aims to eliminate any claim of responsibility on her part for any part of her husband’s time in office – with one exception. The one area Obama wants to give Hillary full responsibility, and blame, is for the failure of the 1993-1994 health care reform initiative. There is nothing “new politics” about Obama trying to have it both ways, and Hillary should point this out. How can other people get the lion’s share of the credit during her husband’s administration while she is expected under Obama’s reasoning to take all the blame for the 1993-1994 failure, as if the GOP and their allies in industry weren’t involved at all?
The truth is that Obama enjoys counterpunching more with a little bit of sarcasm than he likes to attack. He likes to talk a good game about his “new politics” and tempt Hillary into direct attacks or claims of superior experience, and then he almost talks down to her in responding. And he gets a two-fer because as long as she attacks him and he gets to respond to her somewhat dismissively, his friends and worshippers throughout the media can stoke their narrative that it is a two-person race, with Obama gaining on her.
What should Hillary do about this? As I have said before, she can’t change who she is. She is running on experience and being a steady hand in an uncertain world, against foes both here at home and overseas. Obama has benefited because he gets to criticize her without being held accountable for how he would similarly handle those challenges and opponents here at home and abroad. But he gets away with it because his friends in the media view him simply as the new, well-spoken, fresh-faced anti-Clinton challenger; in other words, this year’s shooting star.
But how well would he hold up if he suddenly became the front-runner? What would happen if Hillary exploited today’s questionable Zogby polls, and shifted the race by putting the pressure (and expectations) onto him by suddenly making him the leader, with her in pursuit? Why not openly talk about his fast rise to the top, how his relative inexperience appeals to people, and how she admittedly can’t talk it up like he can? But once she shifts it onto him, she should put forward some questions for voters to consider:
Who’s more likely to protect Social Security from the GOP, and who is more likely to cave in to the “crisis” talk?
Who has the most seasoning and a stable of experienced hands to deal face-to-face with Iran, China, and Russia?
Who do you think has the requisite experience to get universal health care done, and deal with the usual obstructionists?
Who do you trust to hold the GOP accountable and shine a light on their violations of the public trust, and who is more likely to let them off the hook in a naive Liebermanesque bipartisanship?
Who do you think is ready to wage an effective campaign against the GOP onslaught next year, and who is more likely to get sandbagged?
Hillary should be ready to tell voters that if they think Obama is better able to do these things, then they should vote for him, and make the voters confront their leap into the unknown with Obama as the front runner. Do it with humor, and not bitterness, but do it as a sign of being comfortable in your own skin. And portray yourself as being ready to earn their vote, not because you are a Clinton but because even though you may not be this year’s new model car, you know the road well and can get home.