Con­fronting the Obama ques­tion

Clin­ton main­tains some dis­tance from her fel­low Demo­crat as she dis­cusses the econ­omy with Iowans.

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Seema Mehta seema.mehta@la­times.com Twit­ter: @latseema

DES MOINES — Once Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton’s charis­matic ri­val, then her un­pop­u­lar boss, Pres­i­dent Obama was bound to pose a bit of a quandary for Clin­ton as she once again pur­sued the pres­i­dency.

The con­flict be­tween re­main­ing loyal to a Demo­cratic pres­i­dent and stak­ing out her own turf was front and cen­ter this week as Clin­ton opened her cam­paign in Iowa — and par­tic­u­larly when she spoke about the econ­omy.

Clin­ton never di­rectly crit­i­cized Obama, whom she served as sec­re­tary of State for four years. But she also didn’t give him much credit for the na­tion’s eco­nomic re­cov­ery. In­stead, dur­ing her two-day swing through the state, Clin­ton re­peat­edly struck pop­ulist notes about in­come in­equal­ity, stag­nat­ing wages and the drag on small busi­nesses from tight­ened credit.

The theme — a foun­da­tion of her cam­paign — was that hard­work­ing Amer­i­cans are re­spon­si­ble for what re­cov­ery has oc­curred and that much more needs to be done for those who con­tinue to strug­gle.

“As good as it is that we’ve kind of dug our­selves out of the hole of the Great Re­ces­sion, we’re not up and run­ning yet,” Clin­ton said Wed­nes­day at a small-busi­ness round­table at a fruit­pack­ing ware­house in Nor­walk, Iowa. “And, un­for­tu­nately, the deck is still stacked in fa­vor of those at the top, and we need to reshuf­fle the cards and begin to play a dif­fer­ent hand — a hand that in­cludes every­body who’s will­ing to work hard and do their part.”

The pre­vi­ous day, Clin­ton cited the wage dis­par­ity be­tween big-cor­po­ra­tion ex­ec­u­tives and av­er­age work­ers, and the tax rate in­equal­ity be­tween hedge fund man­agers and nurses.

“We’ve got to fig­ure out in our coun­try how to get back on the right track,” she said dur­ing an ap­pear­ance in Mon­ti­cello.

All in all, it was a no­table dis­tanc­ing from a Demo­cratic pres­i­dent she served. (The for­mer se­na­tor and first lady did praise Obama’s sig­na­ture health­care over­haul, his pro­posal to make com­mu­nity col­lege free and the first law he signed upon tak­ing of­fice — the Lily Led­bet­ter Act, which ben­e­fited fe­male em­ploy­ees.)

Clin­ton’s care­ful dance was driven by com­pet­ing needs. As she em­barks on her sec­ond White House run, it’s crit­i­cal for her to cap­ture the pas­sion of the Obama sup­port­ers — no­tably the young vot­ers — who helped him de­feat her in 2008. But she must also win over the swing-state, Rust Belt and white vot­ers who have soured on him.

She’s also up against the sen­ti­ments of vot­ers who seek a change in party af­ter ei­ther a Demo­crat or Repub­li­can has served two terms. (A party win­ning a third suc­ces­sive term has hap­pened only once since Harry Tru­man’s 1948 victory — in 1988, when Ge­orge H.W. Bush suc­ceeded two-term Repub­li­can Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan.)

Clin­ton’s chal­lenge, run­ning to suc­ceed a two-term pres­i­dent she served, has faced can­di­dates twice in re­cent elec­tions. In 2000, Vice Pres­i­dent Al Gore backed away from Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton and their shared eco­nomic record, fear­ful of be­ing tar­nished by Clin­ton’s sex scan­dal and im­peach­ment. Gore lost a close elec­tion when the Supreme Court stopped a re­count in Florida, and was widely crit­i­cized for fail­ing to use Clin­ton to his ad­van­tage.

In 1988, how­ever, Bush won a third suc­ces­sive Repub­li­can term with this logic: If the coun­try was switch­ing horses af­ter Ron­ald Rea­gan’s two terms, the least it could do was pick one go­ing in the same di­rec­tion.

Both Rea­gan and Clin­ton were popular when they left of­fice. Obama, at this point, is less so. Can­di­dates avoided him dur­ing the 2014 midterm elec­tions, giv­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton an­other rea­son to dis­tance her­self.

Even be­fore open­ing her cam­paign in Iowa, a state Obama twice won but where his fa­vor­a­bil­ity rat­ings have been un­der­wa­ter for two years, Clin­ton started to dis­tin­guish her­self from Obama. In her mem­oir “Hard Choices,” she wrote that they dis­agreed on whether to arm Syr­ian rebels. In an Au­gust in­ter­view, she went fur­ther, call­ing Obama’s in­ac­tion on Syria a fail­ure and di­rectly crit­i­ciz­ing his ap­proach to for­eign pol­icy.

In Iowa, Clin­ton did not men­tion Obama by name as she dis­cussed the econ­omy. But she struck at the lim­its of the eco­nomic re­cov­ery, and seemed to re­pu­di­ate his ap­proach.

Obama, in a con­tro­ver­sial 2012 com­ment, said that en­trepreneurs’ suc­cess re­lied on help from gov­ern­ment and oth­ers, a sen­ti­ment seized on by Repub­li­cans.

“If you’ve got a busi­ness, you didn’t build that. Some­body else made that hap­pen,” he said in a speech in Roanoke, Va.

Clin­ton, talk­ing with the founder of a dig­i­tal ad agency about her plans to re­form the tax code and the dis­crep­ancy be­tween the cred­its avail­able for large and small busi­nesses, reversed the em­pha­sis.

“You’ve built this com­pany. It’s your la­bor and your in­tel­li­gence that made it what it is and you’ve got big plans for it, but you’re be­ing squeezed,” she said.

Her riff about dif­fi­cul­ties fac­ing en­trepreneurs and sober­ing statis­tics about the plight of small-busi­ness start-ups in the U.S. seemed akin to what is rou­tinely heard at Repub­li­can ral­lies.

“It’s be­come more dif­fi­cult, more ex­pen­sive, more red tape, un­nec­es­sary reg­u­la­tions that has re­ally put a damper and that was un­for­tu­nately ex­ac­er­bated greatly by the ef­fects of the Great Re­ces­sion, where a lot of banks stopped lend­ing,” Clin­ton said. “I want to make ‘mid­dle class’ mean some­thing again.”

John Raoux As­so­ci­ated Press

HIL­LARY ROD­HAM CLIN­TON speaks at an Or­lando, Fla., rally in sup­port of Barack Obama in Oc­to­ber 2008, af­ter her fel­low Demo­cratic se­na­tor had se­cured the pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion she’d fought for.

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