In recent stump speeches and policy remarks, Bill and Hillary Clinton have offered sharp criticisms of the partisan gridlock paralysing Washington, signalling a potential 2016 campaign theme if Ms Clinton chooses to run for president.
The Clintons’ critiques in recent days have been explicitly aimed at congressional Republicans, who helped spur a 16-day government shutdown and potential debt default in October. But their remarks also seem to contain an implicit rebuke of Barack Obama’s failure to change Washington, as he pledged to do when first running for the White House.
The arguments suggest a way that Ms Clinton could attempt to run in 2016 as an agent of change – potentially putting her at odds with the two-term Democrat she would be seeking to replace.
At campaign rallies and other recent appearances, both Clintons have called for soothing partisan tensions and have espoused a vision of governing by compromise. Barnstorming Virginia this week with the Democratic candidate for governor, Terry McAuliffe, Bill Clinton repeatedly assailed ideological politics on both sides. “When people sneeringly say, ‘McAuliffe is a dealmaker,’ I say, ‘Oh, if we only had one in Washington during that shutdown’,” the former President said at a rally in Norfolk on Monday. “It’s exhausting seeing politicians waste time with all these arguments. It is exhausting. People deserve somebody who will get this show on the road.”
Such themes of change and comity are particularly ironic for the Clintons, considering that one or other of them has held public office in Washington for the past two decades. Mr Clinton’s tenure in office was also marked by fierce partisan battles that roiled the nation, including impeachment proceedings and two government shutdowns.
In the 2008 Democratic primaries, Ms Clinton dismissed Mr Obama’s message of post-partisanship as woefully naïve. But since stepping down as Secretary of State earlier this year, she has adopted a similar theme, repeatedly berating lawmakers for choosing “scorched earth over common ground”.
“We are careening from crisis to crisis instead of having a plan, bringing people to that plan, focusing on common-sense solutions and being relentless in driving toward them,” Ms Clinton said last week.
Neither Clinton has brought up Mr Obama directly in their remarks, or explicitly criticised his leadership. Still, the Clintons’ general critiques carry echoes of the charges that Republicans have frequently levelled against him: that he doesn’t respect their ideas and resists any compromise with them.
Mr Obama has been making his own pleas for bipartisanship, even if they fall on deaf ears on Capitol Hill. “Now more than ever, America needs public servants who are willing to place problem solving ahead of politics,” he said at Wednesday’s memorial service for the former House speaker Thomas Foley.
The Clintons have been careful to distinguish between promoting bipartisanship and ceding ground on core values. Ms Clinton, for example, has been busy advocating for traditionally liberal issues such as minority voting rights, gay-marriage equality and women’s rights.
This appears to be an effort by Ms Clinton, following a four-year hiatus from domestic politics, to cement ties with the Democratic Party’s progressive wing. If she runs, Ms Clinton would want to avoid a repeat of the 2008 campaign, when Mr Obama built support among liberal activists by running to her left on the Iraq war.
The Clintons’ message is one that Democrats across the country could carry into the 2014 mid-term elections, where the battle for control of the Senate could come down to a handful of hotly contested races in Republican-leaning states.
The Democrat Congressman Gerald Connolly, who represents a northern Virginia swing district, said after a recent McAuliffe rally that the message laid out by Mr Clinton would be “a really powerful theme into the next cycle”.
In Kentucky, where Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes is challenging the Republican Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, Mr Clinton recorded a video endorsing Ms Grimes in which he says the nation needs more political leaders “willing to work together across the lines of party, geography and philosophy”.
He said: “We have simply got to have more people who are willing to reach across the aisle and say, ‘I’m ready to work with you to build a better future’.”
In his Virginia speeches, Mr Clinton said he had learned through eight years as president and 12 years as Arkansas governor that it was important to advocate for your own philosophy but a mistake to not consider your opponent’s.
Mr Clinton’s presidency, however, was marred by partisan battles. Republicans torpedoed his healthcare reform proposal and won control of the House half-way through his first term. In 1995, a budget stalemate with the Republican-controlled House led to two separate government shutdowns. Three years later, the House voted to impeach Mr Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
Nevertheless, Mr Clinton credited his work across the aisle with balancing budgets and creating 22 million new jobs – and lamented the state of the country today.
Many voters attending the rallies said they longed for a return to the Clinton era.
“He’s the voice of reason,” said Sally Mullikin, 52, a self-described women’s rights advocate.
“We’re tired of the fighting,” said Eileen Slade, 63, who was wearing a “Ready for Hillary” badge. “We want compromise – whatever it takes to get things done.”
This is the sentiment that both Clintons have been channelling. “Read the Constitution of the United States of America,” Mr Clinton said on Sunday.
“It might as well have been subtitled, ‘Let’s Make a Deal’.”
Obama’s campaign team mulled replacing Biden with Clinton
Steve Holland (Reuters)in Washington
President Barack Obama’s top aides considered replacing Joe Biden with Hillary Clinton as the vice-presidential candidate for Mr Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign but decided it would not significantly help, The New York Times has reported, citing a new book about the campaign.
It was frequently rumoured but always denied by White House officials that the Obama team was thinking of replacing Mr Biden with Ms Clinton, who was then Secretary of State.
According to the account of the book, Double Down by the journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, Mr Obama’s top aides secretly organised extensive focus-group sessions and polling to consider such a move, but ultimately decided it would not materially improve Mr Obama’s odds.
William Daley, the White House chief of staff at the time, told the paper: “I was vocal about looking into a whole bunch of things, and this was one of them.
“You have to remember, at that point the President was in awful shape, so we were like: ‘Holy Christ, what do we do?’”
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