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Unlike Obama, the Clintons know how to show rich donors the love

REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
Hillary Clinton at a rally for Terry McAuliffe: "The Clintons have a way of making people feel like they’re part of something and important to what’s going on."

According to a piece in Wednesday’s New York Times, one of the political shortcomings of President Obama is that he “does not expend much personal energy when it comes to stroking donors: More than a dozen Obama supporters interviewed for this article described the president as an introvert who views big-dollar fund-raising as an unappealing, if necessary, chore. If the situation were a movie, one donor said, it would be titled: ‘He’s Just Not That Into You.'”

By contrast, Bill and Hillary Clinton have perfected a style of relating to big donors and potential donors as what the Times piece called a “full embrace.”

From the story, which starts out with an event at which Bill and Hillary Clinton were raising funds for their buddy Terry McAuliffe’s campaign for governor of Virginia:

Now, with political givers viewing the McAuliffe campaign as a way to curry favor should Hillary Rodham Clinton decide to run for president in 2016, the chatter among the donor class is about the striking contrast between the Obama and Clinton approaches.

“It’s a whole different shtick,” said Arthur L. Schechter, a Houston-based lawyer whose support for Mr. Clinton led to an ambassadorship in the Bahamas and who has also raised money for Mr. Obama. “The Clintons have a way of making people feel like they’re part of something and important to what’s going on, and I found that lacking in the Obama team,” he added. 

Allow me to be willfully naive for a moment and confess that everything about this double portrayal makes me respect Obama a little more and the Clintons a little less.

As I said, willfully naive. I know full well that you can’t get anywhere in politics without a gift for fundraising, and the most efficient way to raise it is in large donations from the kind of people that can make large donations and are willing to exploit all the disgusting loopholes that have opened up in what we laughingly call the regulation of campaign finance.

We get very accustomed — perhaps too accustomed and too comfortable — to seeing the celebration of attributes that help candidates politically, but which have less to do with the skills — boring things like brains, good values, good judgment, good character — that should matter once in office. Instead, we wonder how much weight Chris Christie needs to lose to contend.

And, having been around political players for a few decades now, I know that the sucessful ones are relentless fundraisers who are willing to spend hours every day on the phone dialing for dollars, flattering and charming rich people, and then begging for contributions.

But while realism requires us to acknowledge how this figures into the big picture, and you can’t accomplish any of the good things you want to accomplish if you lose the election, and blah blah blah. But the idea that something inside Obama that prevents him from being really as good as he should be at sucking up to rich people — and that he somehow managed to get elected and reelected despite this shortcoming — makes me smile in a willfully naive way.

Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/24/2013 - 09:31 am.

    A slightly different take

    Bill Clinton is unique among modern politicians in that he takes both politics and governance very seriously, as is very good at both of them.
    Obama has the political skills, but once he was elected they became very secondary to governance. He resurrects them only when absolutely necessary, and then acts as though he can’t wait to get done with it and back to serious work.
    Idealistically this may be admirable, but practically it limits his effectiveness as chief executive.

    Hilary is a policy wonk who is smart enough to accept the advice of the political expert.

  2. Submitted by mark wallek on 10/24/2013 - 09:32 am.


    The gladhanding that goes on is disgusting. The pay to play scenario is not a testament to democratic strength, rather a solid first and second step back to the sort of aristocratic elitism that our nation rejected in favor of genuine equality (at least in theory). Clinton was so famous for his pay to play lunches that he virtually institutionalized them as a program for all presidents to use with pride. What we have here are not “public servants” but “public players” playing at acquiring power and money at the citizens’ expense. The solution? Well, given our inability to attain an enlightened perspective and rise above our more base hungers, any solution will be very ugly, and unfortunately very violent.

  3. Submitted by Lora Jones on 10/24/2013 - 11:05 am.

    The Clintons have always been republican lite

    the currying favor of big donors is just another example of it. Obama, when he has been given a chance to govern at all, governs as republican lite. Personally, I also find it comforting that he less willingly to emulates them when it comes to fundraising.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/24/2013 - 03:01 pm.

      Given the choice

      I’d rather have Republican lite
      rather than the current batch of Republican heavies.
      Republican Lite sounds like the classic Eisenhower/Nixon/Rockefeller Republicans; what Republicans used to be when they believed in governing effectively.

  4. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 10/24/2013 - 12:05 pm.

    Don’t hate the player, hate the game

    The Clintons didn’t create this system – they just mastered it. And I would rather have a more effective president than a pure one.

  5. Submitted by David Frenkel on 10/24/2013 - 02:52 pm.

    This is the political problem

    Special interests, i.e. big lobbying dollars does have a dramatic effect on governance which is a big reason there is so much polarization in Washington.

  6. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 10/24/2013 - 08:31 pm.

    The Clintons Are the Same Way with Everyone

    They share people’s pain. They share joy, that of others, and their own.

    Bill and Hillary are extroverts in the Meyer’s-Briggs sense of the term. Spending public time with lots of people, even people who are making demands on them charges their batteries. It energizes them. Being alone in quiet places drains them of energy.

    President Obama, and I suspect the First Lady, as well, are introverts. Being alone in quiet places energizes them. Spending public time with lots of people, especially when those people are making demands on them, drains their energy.

    Both personality types can make very effective leaders, but they work in very different ways. The press, of course, idolizes effusive extroverts and dislikes quiet introverts (because they don’t often do big, exciting, press-worthy things).

    I suspect that President Obama is the right person for dealing with the Tea Party types, however, because if he had done, big, loud, exciting things to oppose them, they would have been even more and even more loudly intransigent in opposing him. In fighting fire with fire, he would have made the public see him as equivalent to the Tea Party folks.

    Because he was quiet and tried to work with them for so long (which I found frustrating, by the way) when he finally stood up to them, and when he does so again (as he will be forced to do) he will have the vast majority of the American middle solidly behind him.

    I’m still disturbed that President Obama takes so much of his economic and financial advice from Wall Street and financial CEOs, but, that too, may be necessary considering the way the Supreme Court has stacked the political game against everyone who is not in the top 1%.

  7. Submitted by Mike Schumann on 10/24/2013 - 11:07 pm.

    Obama’s Problem

    Obama has a much bigger problem than just not gladhanding rich donors. He doesn’t want to spend time with anyone who is not part of his inner circle.

    He is completely disconnected from dealing with the republican leadership in the house and senate. How can you expect to get anything done or make any deals with someone, who you only meet once a year, if that?

    Bill Clinton loved to talk to people. This was not a political act, but genuine interest. That created an environment where he was able to get things done and get people from across the spectrum to find common ground.

    Having voted for Obama twice, I am flabbergasted by the incompetence in his governing style, not to mention the betrayal of the core values he was promoting, given the ongoing NSA scandals, the failure to close Guantanamo Bay, the arbitrary drone assassination policies with a completely secret process for target selection, etc…..

  8. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 10/25/2013 - 06:08 am.

    Emphasis On The “Republican”

    Clinton is as much to blame for Wall Street deregulation as anyone else. Obama’s financial industry reforms have been tepid at best. They’ve both pushed hard for job-killing free trade deals. Clinton joined the R’s for welfare DE-form. Neither is afraid to send bombs flying anywhere in the world. You can’t send a text that the NSA won’t read.

    Oh yeah, keep voting for these corporate Democrats, it’s working out so well.

  9. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/25/2013 - 07:27 am.


    It’s a terrible system, one that reinforces and unjustifiably strokes the egos of people who often don’t deserve the strokes, but it’s the system, nonetheless. In a way, I have to agree with Frank Phelan’s implied message that “corporate Democrats” are probably not the best that the society can produce as government leaders. Of course, corporate Democrats still seem quite a bit more knowledgeable and humane than the Republican equivalent.

    That said, however, Eric’s statement that “…the idea that something inside Obama that prevents him from being really as good as he should be at sucking up to rich people — and that he somehow managed to get elected and reelected despite this shortcoming — makes me smile in a willfully naive way” resonates. I’m not even sure it makes me smile, but I like the notion that the President finds sucking up to the wealthy distasteful, at best.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/25/2013 - 07:01 pm.

      Adlai Stevenson

      Brings to mind Adlai Stevenson’s observation that no one fit to govern could possibly win an election.

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