Hillary Clinton's interview with Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic — in which she dinged Obama for "the failure to help build up a credible fighting force" of moderates in Syria, leading to "a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled" — is leading to a lot of headlines about the former secretary of State sprinting from the failing foreign policy of her former boss.
This political knifing of Obama is surely not the friendliest thing the Clintons have ever done. And it's obviously hypocritical — Clinton was secretary of State for four years! Nonetheless, this rhetoric is music to the ears of of both GOP and Democratic hawks, friends of Israel, and many Americans of all political stripes watching in horror as ISIS commits crimes against humanity in Iraq.
It's called triangulation. It's a method perfected by Bill Clinton and Dick Morris. And it's brilliant.
This excerpt in particular struck me as the work of a master:
At one point, I mentioned the slogan President Obama recently coined to describe his foreign-policy doctrine: "Don't do stupid shit" (an expression often rendered as "Don't do stupid stuff" in less-than-private encounters).
This is what Clinton said about Obama's slogan: "Great nations need organizing principles, and 'Don't do stupid stuff' is not an organizing principle." [The Atlantic]
Pundits love to say that people vote their pocketbooks, not foreign policy. Well, what Clinton is doing here transcends foreign policy. It's about restoring America's swagger. And I think there's a real hunger for this.
So many people today have the sense that America is floundering at home, and being pushed around abroad by thugs and dictators and autocrats. It's not just about national security — this takes a toll on our national psyche. Americans don't want to get bogged down in a foreign land, and most are sick of military adventurism. But they sure as hell don't like malaise or looking like weaklings, either.
Obviously, Clinton's gambit isn't fool proof. There will be some on the left who will resent her out-hawking of Obama. Presumably, this makes Clinton more vulnerable to a primary challenge from the left. Still, this was very smart.
As a female candidate, Clinton probably still feels she has to demonstrate that she's tough. Elbowing Obama helps a lot in this regard. But perhaps most importantly, she might be depriving the GOP of its best arguments for winning over Obama-weary independent and Democratic voters in the 2016 general election.
What if moderates believe they can restore American greatness without taking a chance on someone who might have a "scary" social issues policy? If one believes America has moved leftward on social issues — and that ObamaCare isn't likely to be the defining issue of the 2016 presidential election — then Clinton may be co-opting the strongest argument the GOP has: A return to American toughness and exceptionalism.
As Dave Wiegel pointed out, a recent CNN poll shows Clinton doing better with white voters than any Democrat since 1976. And that was before the triangulation began in earnest. It's not hard to imagine Clinton absolutely cleaning up with non-evangelical whites who never really liked Obama — and who are sick of America being pushed around.
And Clinton's move doesn't just make sense if she's matched up against a non-interventionist like Rand Paul. Let's suppose she goes up against Marco Rubio — someone thought of as more hawkish. Rubio has the ability to inspire Americans to be a force for good in the world, and boasts a unique biography that taps into hope for the future and the American Dream. That isn't all that different than what Clinton is selling.
Ironically, she might even be able to cast him (or Ted Cruz) as some sort of inexperienced show horse — someone, who (she won't say it, but... like Barack Obama) spent just a few years in the Senate before running for president. She might bring up that 3 a.m. call again. And this time (ironically, because Obama was elected president) it might resonate. That message will appeal to middle-of-the-road Republican voters in the general election.
The GOP had better watch its back.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How academia's liberal bias is killing social science
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 10 things you need to know today: December 18, 2014
- Hey, bosses: Stop giving bonuses to your employees
- Why torture doesn't work: A definitive guide
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Dick Cheney's America is an ugly place
- The Hobbit: A disappointing set of movies, but a worthy set of prequels
- Could better U.S.-Cuban relations thwart baseball's human smuggling problem?
- Diagnosing the Home Alone burglars' injuries: A professional weighs in
Subscribe to the Week