As 2012 rushes toward us, the news emanating from the White House tells us that President Obama is at least as afraid of Hillary Clinton as Mitt Romney is worried about Rick Perry. If Clinton decides to run, she will be a formidable force, posing a serious problem for a sitting president with a rapidly vanishing approval rating.
The primary season is about to open. That’s the time for presidents to harden their political base so as to forestall a party insurrection. For Democratic presidents, internal battles are not that unusual. Teddy Kennedy nearly unseated Jimmy Carter, and Bobby Kennedy probably would have won the Democratic nomination even if Lyndon Johnson had not pulled out of the race in 1968.
Obama’s strategists are surely telling him that reaching out to Republicans and Independents can wait until the growing disturbance within the Democratic Party is pacified.
That is best done by appeasing the left-leaning, interest-group activists within the Democratic Party. Fortunately, the president need not worry much about the economy as that is, for them, of secondary significance. Just promise a potpourri of higher taxes on corporate interests as well as on those who earn over $250,000 a year. Propose more spending, especially for teachers and others in the public sector. Extend the payroll tax cut until just beyond election day. Throw in a cut in military spending, and add a new tax on fossil fuels. Refuse to cut social security and delay any cuts in Medicare until 2017, when you, the president, are no longer in office.
Tell everyone the tax is just on millionaires. Insist on immediately passing a bill you have not even presented.
All this leaves Hillary Clinton hanging in the air. She cannot run until someone else in the party—an up-to-date Howard Deaner—initiates the action. Just as Eugene McCarthy opened the anti-Lyndon Johnson door for Bobby Kennedy’s candidacy, so Hillary needs a scout to survey the dimensions of the president’s political weaknesses. Only if that explorer uncovers a trail to the White House does it make sense for Hillary to even hint she still longs for the top job.
With his recent actions, President Obama has dumped piles of autumn leaves and other camouflage on that trail that winds around the Democratic side of the mountain. If nothing else, the president’s latest moves have complicated the political life of his Secretary of State.
(photo credit: Center for American Progress Action Fund)