Alex Massie

Has Obama Already Failed?

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Bartle Bull thinks he has! Already! His article in Prospect is a curious thing indeed. Part of it, perfectly reasonably, is deeply concerned by Obama's economic agenda. When the numbers are mentioned in trillions, not billions it's sensible to be sceptical of some of the more grandiose and sweeping promises the new administration is making. But some of the piece is also a mash-note to the Clintons, accusing Obama of "dismantling President Clinton's economic legacy" as though nothing at all had happened in the last eight years.

Then there's this:

Thus the big question in Democratic circles today: “What does Hillary do about this?” Her supporters still feel that the election was stolen from her. With capital on strike, states rebelling against the president’s dependency agenda, the treasury secretary probably soon to be replaced, many top jobs still unfilled, the liberal press anxious and poll numbers plummeting, Hillary Clinton’s departure could sink an administration that already feels like a listing ship, leaving her a clear path to the Democratic nomination for 2012.

Her relationship with the president, inherently unstable personally, erodes every day that he takes his swinging axe to the remarkable bipartisan achievements of the Clinton presidency, especially welfare reform and fiscal discipline. While the biggest shocks of this presidency to date have been at home, in the foreign sphere Hillary’s job as secretary of state is made more difficult by a distracted and inexperienced president. Bull concludes by arguing that " the president’s real threat is from within his own increasingly restive party." Sadly he declines to provide any evidence of this unrest let alone of the scale of its threat to the Obama presidency. And no, Kent Conrad and a handful of Democratic Senators aren't enough to substantiate this argument. Revisions to the budget are normal, not the exception.

Nor does he provide any evidence to support his notion that Clinton is desperately unhappy (and the election was only "stolen" from her if you find the notion that the Democratic party's nomination goes to the candidate supported by the most delegates at the nominating convention an intolerable, unfair process that "cheated" Hillary out of a victory that was her due).

Still, let's play this out: suppose Hillary really does still harbour presidential ambitions (not necessarily a stretch) and suppose too that she thinks Obama is making a catalogue of serious errors that risk handing Washington back to the GOP in 2012 (something of a stretch). How does she advance her position? Yes, her "departure" could well "sink" the administration but at what cost to her own prospects and reputation?

Bull's theory depends upon Hillary being seen as a saviour who can rescue the party from the predicament it put itself into when it spurned her "experience" for the feel-good promise of the young black guy from Chicago. But how likely is this? Isn't it much more likely that Democrats will blame her for torpedoing the administration? Half the party doesn't like her anyway, it's difficult to see how she could become more popular amongst Democrats by helping, say, kill health care reform for a second time, this time through malice, not incompetence. (The merits of Obama's health care proposals are a different matter.)

Here's an alternative hypothetical: suppose Colin Powell could have prevented the Iraq War by resigning his position as Secretary of State? Would that have opened the door for him to win (had he sought it) the Republican nomination in 2004 or 2008? Hardly! Republicans would have blamed him for toppling the President. As the old line has it, he who wields the knife shall not wear the crown.

Bull's thesis is all very entertaining but it doesn't add up. In any case, if the Obama presidency does fail, how likely is it that the electorate will want to replace him with another Democrat in 2012? In any case, Hillary is parked at State. If Obama succeeds then so be it, but if he fails then she is much worse placed to run in 2012 than if she had remained in the Senate. Sending her to Foggy Bottom was a way of neutering the Clintonian threat to Obama's administration. Perhaps that's why Bull seems to think it would be a good idea for her to leave it as soon as possible. But it's too late for that. His argument doesn't add up.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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