Her Political Nature Is Just What Washington Needs
Perhaps the most substantive difference between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton involves style, with one shunning politics and the other understanding that nearly all of all America’s most successful presidents embraced, thrived, and enjoyed politics from the top to the bottom as a very necessary evil that empowered them and their agendas and made them more effective leaders.
Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse April 20, 2015
The U.S. is, simply put, not a terribly progressive country today. An out-and-out progressive can’t win a national election for some time yet, though we do seem to be moving in the right direction. Obama was a moderate who presented himself as such. Hillary is selling herself as a moderate but if you look at her long career she is generally very liberal and very willing to fight publicly in ways Obama clearly disdained. Yet since she has held office she has realized that the Elizabeth Warren style of “TAKE ON EVERYONE AND SHOUT IT FROM THE RAFTERS!” does not get you the best results even if you can win a Senate seat in Massachusetts. It works about well as Obama’s “let’s hold hands with the Republicans so they can weaken everything I am doing or stop my efforts in their tracks” dance. Even on Iran, it seems Obama caved in and is maddeningly giving the GOP a chance to wreck this deal. I love Warren but the biggest role she has had is as a liberal spokesperson, as she exists as more of a voice on the margins than either anyone with any power to do something or as a senator able to win over colleagues and pass legislation. Mark my words, Hillary will (likely) win as a perceived moderate but once in there she is a fighter and will win some big fights that will move this country to the left and bring the moderates and independents further left on the spectrum. She will do it not by spewing ideology but by delivering results. The non-liberals will not even realize they will be moving left, they will just think they are being practical. But two terms of Hillary will move this country far in the direction in which it needs to go.
Obama, Warren, Kucinich, they all meant well but ultimately couldn’t work the system. People like Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, Ted Kennedy, FDR, LBJ, Teddy Roosevelt (TR), even Lincoln all knew how to work the system, cut shady deals, get off their high horse, and compromise politically, getting a heck of a lot done as a result. Take Lincoln and slavery. Lincoln was a political animal in the best sense of the Aristotelian phrase, and though he was always against slavery, he made offer after offer to slaveowners, made deal after deal of incremental half-measures against slavery, up to and including the Emancipation Proclamation and leaving slavery alone in loyal border states, which, rather than evidence of Lincoln not really being against slavery, was evidence of someone who knew when to strike a critical hit against an institution that could not be brought down in one blow just yet. In the end, all these half-measures and wheeling-dealing laid the ground for the total eradication of slavery, most importantly by moving the country gradually in the direction of being ready for just that. TR and FDR and LBJ likewise were exemplary political animals, never shying away from a fight and frequently able to compromise to get results. Because of the first, we have national parks and a government able (it not always willing) to fight big-business and special interests and to protect the common man. Because of the second, we have Social Security, won WWII, and made remarkable progress even during the war on racial and gender issues (the racial and gender-related progress also largely due to his remarkable wife and First Lady, Eleanor). Because of the third, we have Medicare and Medicaid and the crowning triumph in civil rights legislation that built on Lincoln’s and FDR’s earlier work. When you sell yourself as an anti-Washington outsider, like Obama and Warren did, you get to Washington and find out, that, SURPRISE, the city and its machinery does not jump to that tune very well and you end up more as a spectator than a leader.
All Hail Hillary, who will sell herself as an experienced Washington hand able to get stuff done not by preaching utopia and revolution but by gleefully wading into the muck of the swamp of DC. Our most accomplished leaders (with the exception of George Washington) all enjoyed the game of politics and were political animals, from Lincoln to FDR and LBJ. Warren and Obama did not want to play the game and look at their relative lack of accomplishments. Obama is hardly a failure, though, and especially early in his presidency, he dug the U.S. out of the giant hole into which Bush Administration had thrown the country and signed the Affordable Care Act into law. But that latter, signature piece of legislation was far weaker than what could have possibly passed had Obama immediately thrown the full weight of his presidential bully-pulpit into the fight instead of handing off and delegating the fight to Congressional Democrats. We will never know, because Obama avoided that fight until Ted Kennedy had died the mood of the country had significantly worsened after the Tea Party’s unseemly gestation. That absence of leadership could also very well have contributed to some of the vulnerabilities and shortcoming of the legislation that have left and continue to leave it open to legal challenges that threaten to undermine the entire legislation. Still, Obama’s presidency is a historic one, albeit more for symbolism and recovering from the previous president than for its own accomplishments or agendas. A politician needs to play politics to really thrive and get results, and perhaps the greatest difference between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is that the former sought to distance himself from politics in a form of idealism that was self-defeating, and the latter understands the urgent need to wade into politics, muck and all, in a form of pragmatism that for her is self-empowering.