Turn­ing the page on par­ti­san grid­lock

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Ruth Mar­cus

— Even as Pres­i­dent Obama pre­pares to speak on her be­half at the con­ven­tion here and to cam­paign for her this fall, a big el­e­ment of Hil­lary Clin­ton’s elec­toral case hinges on the im­plicit ar­gu­ment that she can some­how suc­ceed where Obama failed: over­com­ing par­ti­san­ship and dis­lodg­ing Wash­ing­ton grid­lock.

This tricky path is made all the more com­pli­cated be­cause some of the very folks mak­ing that pitch on Clin­ton’s be­half are Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion veter­ans who


wit­nessed the pres­i­dent fail — he has ad­mit­ted as much — at his pro­claimed task of bring­ing to­gether red and blue Amer­ica.

Cam­paign­ing for the pres­i­dency in 2008, Obama vowed to “turn the page on the ugly par­ti­san­ship in Wash­ing­ton, so we can bring Democrats and Re­pub­li­cans to­gether to pass an agenda that works for the Amer­i­can peo­ple.”

That proved eas­ier pledged than done. In his fi­nal State of the Union ad­dress, Obama ac­knowl­edged “one of the few re­grets of my pres­i­dency — that the ran­cor and sus­pi­cion be­tween the par­ties has got­ten worse in­stead of bet­ter.”

Now comes the Clin­ton cam­paign with the ar­gu­ment — un­stated but un­mis­tak­able — that she can do bet­ter.

Thus, cam­paign man­ager Robby Mook said at a Bloomberg Pol­i­tics break­fast Mon­day: “The coun­try is divided right now. Par­ti­san grid­lock is pre­vent­ing any­thing from get­ting done in Wash­ing­ton. So the next pres­i­dent needs to be ca­pa­ble of bring­ing peo­ple to­gether.”

When it comes to Don­ald Trump, “on the is­sue of grid­lock and get­ting some­thing done, no one in mod­ern po­lit­i­cal his­tory has been more di­vi­sive, has been more alien­at­ing, than Don­ald Trump,” Mook said. “The idea that he can go to Wash­ing­ton and bring peo­ple to­gether to get things done is just im­pos­si­ble to imag­ine,” whereas Clin­ton “is some­one who’s ac­tu­ally worked across the aisle.”

The next morn­ing, there was the same mes­sage, this time from Clin­ton cam­paign chair­man John Podesta, a veteran of the Obama White House. “She’s demon­strated that she’s the kind of leader that can bring peo­ple to­gether,” Podesta said.

The dif­fi­culty with this ar­gu­ment is that it rests on the no­tion that Repub­li­can law­mak­ers will some­how be more re­cep­tive to a Pres­i­dent Hil­lary Clin­ton than they were to Obama — this af­ter a GOP con­ven­tion that fea­tured chants of “Lock her up” and a pri­mary elec­tion in which her sky-high un­fa­vor­able rat­ings were eclipsed only by Trump’s.

How will things be dif­fer­ent now? “Maybe the Repub­li­can Party will find a way to come back to the cen­ter,” Podesta said, sug­gest­ing that im­mi­gra­tion re­form could have an­other chance. “Maybe one more shel­lack­ing, they won’t be as con­strained.”

We’ve heard this one be­fore. “I be­lieve that if we’re suc­cess­ful in this elec­tion ... that the fever may break, be­cause there’s a tra­di­tion in the Repub­li­can Party of more com­mon sense than that,” Obama said be­fore the 2012 elec­tion. “My hope, my ex­pec­ta­tion, is that af­ter the elec­tion, now that it turns out that the goal of beat­ing Obama doesn’t make much sense be­cause I’m not run­ning again, that we can start get­ting some co­op­er­a­tion again.”

Not ex­actly. That fever turned out to be rather per­sis­tent.

One piece of the Clin­ton­could-do-it-bet­ter ar­gu­ment in­volves her greater will­ing­ness to so­cial­ize with law­mak­ers, to have them over for drinks or movie nights or what­ever it takes. But Obama and aides have been dis­mis­sive of the no­tion that, in this poi­sonous po­lit­i­cal cli­mate, a lit­tle more as­sid­u­ous schmooz­ing would have some­how done the trick.

For­give the cyn­i­cism, but it does not take too much imag­i­na­tion to en­vi­sion Pres­i­dent Clin­ton, run­ning for re­elec­tion in 2020, and ex­press­ing the hope that this time, re­ally, the fever might break.

Ruth Mar­cus is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact her at ruth­mar­cus@wash­post.com.

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