Streams

Opinion: The Return of Candidate Clinton?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011 - 06:00 AM

Clinton appears at a New Mexico presidential campaign rally in 2008. (Shutterstock)

She was bested in the last presidential primary for reasons that won't disappear: an entrenched team with a lethargic approach, high negatives in areas of the country, and just too much fatigue around her mystique. She's not angling to push out the president, the op-ed aspirations of a few admirers notwithstanding.

Each new GOP debate brings a fresh round of laughter and new encouragement to President Obama's re-election campaign. When comparing the President to his would-be rivals, Obama looks mature, moderate and presidential.

However, he doesn't look as solid when simply standing on his own, and he's not the bright and shiny symbol of change he was one election cycle ago. As unemployment numbers stay high, his approval rating sinks. The venom of the far right has never lessened, and his compromising efforts have won no new conservatives and alienated liberals.

There's an enthusiasm among his own base - many of whom say they'll vote for him in the end, but aren't eager to work for him. While the strength of his incumbency and the weakness of his opposition give him hope, there is still reason for concern.

Chris Matthews captured that sense in his recent media tour promoting his new biography of JFK (including a stop at the Brian Lehrer show Monday).

"Where is his Peace Corps?" Matthews asked - pointing out there hasn't been any big, inspiring symbols of his Presidency around which his supporters would rally. While Frank Rich would argue that Obama has had more legislative achievements than Kennedy, the point stands: beyond fear of the alternative and appreciation for technocratic tweaks, it's hard to be genuinely excited about the Obama Presidency.

Inevitably, this has led to some rumblings of the need for Obama to step aside and allow Hillary Clinton to claim her rightful place. It should be noted this has not come from Secretary Clinton herself, but from her enthusiasts whose zealotry often lacks the restraint and grace that are among her own strengths.

I don't buy their argument that Hillary Clinton would be a unifying figure. Conservatives have hated her and her husband for decades and the approval rating for her work in the State Department would melt when she returned to the political arena.

She was bested in the last presidential primary for reasons that won't disappear: an entrenched team with a lethargic approach, high negatives in areas of the country, and just too much fatigue around her mystique. She's not angling to push out the president, the op-ed aspirations of a few admirers notwithstanding.

That said, you don't need the return of Hillary to root for a primary. Others have questioned why a primary challenge hasn't risen against an incumbent so weak in his standings and distant from his base.

Whether you want a different candidate or just want to push Obama to be a stronger one, a primary would be a useful vehicle. The fact that he doesn't need to run through 50 states as he did against Clinton means his ground forces won't be as sharp as those who will use the GOP primaries as a dress rehearsal. A primary would have given him the chance to get his fight back.

Realistically, though, we won't see it. Democrats are too scared of fracturing their party, something they've done well in the past. Centrists disregard progressives, knowing they'll stay in line, and ultimately progressives do.

If they're not happy about it, many liberals will volunteer for Senate and Congressional candidates who embody their values more than their president does. And Obama better hope they do - because by knocking on doors for down-ticket races, those volunteers will be helping the president as well. Obama will effectively be riding reverse, hoping they help pull his weight.

And let's not forget, Obama is a great campaigner. While the right-wing derisively calls him a "Campaigner-in-Chief," it's a monicker that might help him succeed. We were wowed by him once, and don't count out his ability to win us over again. It could happen…and it's far more likely than the return of Candidate Clinton.

Justin Krebs is a political organizer and writer based in New York City. He is the founder of Living Liberally, a nationwide network of 250 local clubs that create social events around progressive politics, and author of "538 Ways to Live, Work and Play Like a Liberal."

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Comments [1]

It's a good article. The statement "Democrats are too scared of fracturing their party, something they've done well in the past," is right on the mark. Secretary of State Clinton is a politician. She won't challenge President Obama in a Primary and risk another defeat. If she still has aspirations to be President of the United States, she'll wait until 2016. Same with other Democrats. They will hold off too and wait it out until 2016. Mostly because too many fear the Tea Party. They are missing a very serious non quitting movement our there known as Occupy Wall Street with a silent majority. Perhaps a Democrat who may have thought of challenging President Obama in a Primary would have the army of worker bees and voters to win. Where's Ralph Nader?

Nov. 27 2011 10:55 AM

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