Turning the page on partisan gridlock
— 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 email@example.com.