Bill-and-Hill vs. Obama

Freud once asked, “What do women want?” And he found it a difficult question to answer.
Let’s narrow the question down to a particular woman, and we’ll find the question somewhat easier: “What does Hillary want?” And while we’re at it, we may as well add: “What does Bill want?” — for of course they want the same thing. They want Hillary to become president of the United States. Barring some very strange and unlikely development, this won’t happen in 2008. So they want it to happen in 2012.
But can’t they wait till 2016, after Obama finishes two terms in the White House? No, for three reasons:
  1. By 2016, Hillary will be 68 years old, and by then she may have crossed the “too old to be president” line (just as John McCain may have crossed it).
  1. By 2016, Obama (assuming he gets elected in 2008 and re-elected in 2012) will have been the dominant figure in the Democratic Party for many years, and Hillary will be old news.
  1. By 2016, the Democrats will have held the White House for eight years, and, given the pendulum-swing nature of American politics, voters may well be reluctant to elect another Democrat.
So Hillary (and Bill) must be aiming at the presidency in 2012. This means Obama will have to lose in 2008. It further means that the Clintons will have to “help” him lose. Of course, their undermining him will have to be done in such a way that they’ll be able to deny — with some plausibility — that they did it.
This will be quite a trick. Some of this work of Obama-undermining they can do behind the scenes by talking in confidence with their thousands of well-connected political friends. They won’t have to say to the friends, “Please work against Obama.” No, they can simply say, “I like Obama, I really do. But he’s the wrong candidate. Too inexperienced. Too elitist. Too unattractive to working-class whites.”
But it won’t be enough to work behind the scenes. They’ll be making public speeches on behalf of Obama. So somehow they’ll have to tell the crowds “Vote for Obama” while at the same time conveying the message, “Don’t vote for Obama.” Only a master of equivocation and ambiguity would be able to pull this off — but Bill Clinton, of course, is a master of equivocation and ambiguity. (Remember “It all depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is”?) Hillary, while she’s not as good at this as Bill (nobody’s that good), is good enough. After all, she’s been living with the master for the better part of 40 years; how could she not have picked up some of his marvelous skills?
Bill has already given us a sample of his Obama-undermining when he was asked recently by an ABC reporter if he thinks Obama is ready to be president, and he replied that “it can be argued” nobody is ever ready to be president — and he said this despite the fact that one of Hillary’s main primary campaign themes was that she’d be “ready from day one.”
Keep in mind, too, that Bill has a secondary motive for undermining Obama: During the primaries, the Obama camp deeply offended Bill by suggesting he’s something of a racist. He will have a very hard time, I believe, forgiving Obama and his team for making that horrid suggestion. Barring some public apology from Obama, I doubt Bill will find it in his heart to forgive prior to November.
I can already hear somebody objecting: “I grant that the Clintons are ambitious, but they’re good Democrats, and in such an important matter they’ll put party loyalty above personal ambition. Surely they won’t want to cause their party, which has been very good to them over the years, to lose a presidential election.”
Of course, the main reason politicians talk so much about party loyalty is because there’s precious little of it. I’ve been active in politics at the local and state level for about 40 years now; perhaps my memory is failing with age, but I can’t remember a single case in which somebody placed party loyalty above personal ambition. Maybe it’s different in Washington. Maybe in Washington people are less driven by ambition than at state capitals. Maybe in Washington party loyalty trumps all. And maybe the moon is made of green cheese.
Poor Barack Obama! He had no choice but to invite both Hillary and Bill to speak at the Democratic Convention in Denver. Hillary speaks Tuesday, Bill Wednesday. And then Obama caved in to the Clintons by agreeing that Hillary’s name will be placed in nomination and a roll-call vote held. Here are three occasions for the anti-Obama offensive: the two speeches and the roll call. Up until the moment Obama gives his acceptance speech Thursday, the Convention will look more like a Clinton rally than an Obama victory celebration. Obama will have to make a truly stupendous speech to leave the nation with the impression that it was his convention, not Hill-and-Bill’s. What great entertainment that will be — I can hardly wait.
And then, if things go according to plan and Obama loses in November, the day after the election the Clintons will once again be the dominant figures in the Democratic Party, and Hillary’s march toward 2012 will have begun. Friends of the Clintons will say to the press, “See, we told you so. Obama’s a great guy in many ways, but he was definitely the wrong candidate for president. Hillary would have won.” And when 2012 comes around, Hillary very probably will win. By 2012, the Republicans will have held the White House for twelve years, and since 1900, with only one exception (the FDR-Truman years), no party has ever held the White House for longer than that.
Philosophically, I have real problems with the Clintons — but they certainly are fun to watch.


David R. Carlin Jr. is a politician and sociologist who served as a Democratic majority leader of the Rhode Island Senate. His books include "Can a Catholic Be a Democrat?: How the Party I Loved Became the Enemy of My Religion" and "The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America." Carlin is a current professor of sociology and philosophy at the Community College of Rhode Island at Newport.

  • Richard

    How I wish it were so! Truly, truly I do. But … I doubt it will happen. For several reasons:
    1. It’s wishful thinking/too good to be true.
    2. I don’t recall the Clinton’s ever exhibiting the required degree of self control and patience.
    3.a It seems to me that between Russia, Iran and the Taliban, et al, the next few years are very likely to see the Mother of all military showdowns – after which all bets are off everywhere.
    3.b At the 2012 election, if there is one, we may all be too busy pumping the fans in our shelters to go out and vote.

    These are not very strong arguments, but there are lots more where they came from. I make the same suggestion to you that I made to Mr, Shea the other day: take an aspirin and go to bed.

  • Deal W. Hudson

    David puts his finger on, perhaps, the make-or-break factor in Obama’s chances to win the White House. Just as McCain has to deal with the tepid attitude of religious conservatives, Obama has to assuage the bruised feelings of Hillary supporters. He’s right to point out that party loyalty stops at the boundary of personal ambition.

  • RK

    This article reminds us that there are no presidential candidates left who place honor and principle above ambition. Rare is the politician who will refuse special interests or vote his conscience. And those few that do tend to not get very far. Every candidate pays lip service to moral principles but few really believe in them. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m kind of amused by the fact that every four years when each party trots out their nominated candidate, voters become impassioned by the great transcendent values their chosen candidate possesses. Doesn’t the light EVER go on for them that these candidates could care less about what we believe since they themselves don’t believe in anything? Well, except themselves.

  • William

    Obama would do well to carry a St. Christopher medal. How many close calls has he had in airplanes?

  • John

    How’s this for a scenario?:

    Obama chooses Hillary as his running mate – if Obama/Hillary is the winning ticket, after the election, the Clintons, by proxy, go full press on the fact that Obama is not a natural citizen (the Hawaiian birth cert. posted on his website was shown to be a phony), and, VIOLA! – Hillary is pronounced president by default!

  • Chet

    John, do you have a Plan B?