Some people wondered why Hillary Clinton failed to inspire voters in the 2008 presidential campaign with an explicitly cynical message. Mocking then-Sen. Barack Obama, Clinton said, "I could stand up here and say: let’s just get everybody together, let’s get unified… The sky will open, the light will come down, celestial choirs will be singing, and everyone will know that we should do the right thing, and the world would be perfect." Get real, she said. She'd lived through the 90s. "Maybe I’ve just lived a little long, but I have no illusions about how hard this will be. You are not going to wave a magic wand…" She did not win the Democratic nomination. But, Politico's Glenn Thrush points out, history has proved her right. Even Obama admits his speeches don't work like magic on House Republicans.
Obama himself has explicitly endorsed the no-magic-wands view. "I wish I had a magic wand and could make this all happen on my own," Obama said of congressional inaction on the DREAM Act in 2011. Earlier this year, he complained, "Even though most people agree that I'm being reasonable; that most people agree I'm presenting a fair deal; the fact they don't take it means I should somehow do a Jedi mind meld with these folks and convince them to do what's right."
I told you so, Clinton adviser James Carville says. "His message was 'I can transcend Washington' — her message was 'I can bend it, I can cut through it,'" Carville told Politico. "Guess which one turned out to be right?" Many commentators have urged Obama to show leadership by somehow transcending partisan politics. The New York Times' Maureen Dowd, for example, has pointed to the leadership shown in the movie The American President. But she's also suggested Obama could learn from the Clintons' experience in the '90s. "The Clintons have emerged stronger on the back end of their scandals," Dowd said. "America’s ultimate survivors are now truly potent or dangerous, depending on how you look at it, because Americans love them Bridget Jones-style, just the way they are, warts and all." In fact, Clinton learned so much as first lady that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid thinks she'd be able to top Bill Clinton's performance. "I think that they’re a pretty good team, but she’ll handle things probably even better than he did," Reid told PBS.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.