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Candidate Clinton is clinging to Obama, but they differ on key policies

REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Hillary Clinton visiting a polling place in Manchester, N.H., on Tuesday.

Is Bernie Sanders really more pro-gun than Hillary Clinton or are the votes that he cast over the years that make him look that way merely votes that any Vermont politician would have to cast to preserve his “political viability”? I don’t claim to know, but I am pretty sure that few politicians can have a long, successful career if they always say exactly what they think and believe.

Certainly Sanders has a reputation as a “conviction politician” in ways that Clinton does not, and this is a big part of his appeal, especially to idealistic young people. I believe that Sanders is about as close to a straight talker as we get in the current state of things. And Clinton — however fairly or un- — often gives the opposite impression. But what does she really believe, in the area of public policy?

Nicholas Lemann, writing for the New Yorker, put that question under the microscope and made some progress not by comparing Clinton to Sanders but to President Barack Obama. True, she’s not running against Obama, although she did in 2008. Also true, she is basing part of her appeal in the current contest against Sanders on her recent stint as Obama’s secretary of state. She is hugging Obama close and appealing to those Dem voters who seek to continue and build on the achievements of Obamaism. But, Lemann argues, if you look closely …

[P]oliticians do usually turn out to have had at least some beliefs that are non-generic and that are different from the bull’s-eye center of public opinion at the moment. It’s probably not useful to think of Clinton as someone who would simply continue Obama’s policies, convenient as it is for her to indicate that while Sanders is still in the race.

Not too surprisingly, Lemann suggests that Clinton is more hawkish than Obama. Of course, if you know one thing on that subject, you know that Clinton voted to authorize the Iraq War while Obama opposed it — as did Sanders. But there’s much more on the Hawkish Hillary theme:

Clinton has said that she argued for a more aggressive early campaign of arming rebels in Syria, and favors establishing a no-fly zone there now. She seems to have been quicker than Obama to support American military intervention in Libya, and she was for a less swift exit of American troops from Afghanistan. She has made tougher remarks about Vladimir Putin than Obama has, and has specifically said that she would have done more to counter Putin’s assertion of power in Ukraine. Although she hasn’t opposed the nuclear deal with Iran, her rhetoric about Iran has been far harsher than Obama’s, and she opposes Obama’s absolute insistence that Israel stop building settlements in the occupied territories. … All in all, Clinton seems more willing to use American power assertively abroad, and more inclined to see the world in terms of friends and enemies of the United States.

More surprisingly, Lemann argues that Clinton is generally to the left of Obama on domestic policy (although he acknowledges that a lot of us probably think the opposite). Here’s some that case:

Clinton came out against the Keystone pipeline weeks before Obama did, and publicly broke with him over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which he supports and she now opposes. She also opposes drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean, which Obama has permitted. She has taken verbal shots at charter schools and the “gig economy,” toward which Obama has been friendlier. Clinton and Obama have both tried to get technology companies to be more supportive of the government’s efforts to identify potential terrorist activity online, but Clinton’s statements about this were earlier, more public, and more threatening toward the companies.

I’m not sure that gets to the essence of the issues that define domestic policies in current U.S. politics, but I found it interesting. And I thought Lemann’s list helpfully brought up a bunch of issues that generally aren’t being discussed because, for whatever reasons, it doesn’t suit the needs of either the Clinton or the Sanders campaign to talk about them.

At the very least, for voters who basically want to vote for a third Obama term, Lemann’s introduces new complexity to the analysis.

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Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 02/09/2016 - 09:40 am.

    What I’ve been Wondering

    Is Obama all that popular among Democrats? It seems to me a lot of them have been disappointed by his naive attempts to work with the GOP and his failure to get us out of Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s possible that Dems who vote in primaries love Obama. But I’m not so sure it’s such a great idea for HRC to hitch her wagon to Obama’s star. I don’t know he’s wildly popular, but she may be trying to solidify support among minority voters.

  2. Submitted by Brian Simon on 02/09/2016 - 10:03 am.

    Swing and a miss

    I’m not sure that Clinton really understands the electorate. Many Obama supporters are disappointed that he didn’t do more. Meanwhile, Obama opponents [say they] disagree with everything he’s done. So just which voters is Clinton targeting by running for Obama’s third term?

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/09/2016 - 10:14 am.


    Frankly, I think its a little disingenuous for Clinton to portray such a close affiliation with Obama. At the NAACP hosted debate it came across (to me) as a rather transparent gambit. I for the life of me can’t think of anything concrete or substantial Hillary has actually done for black people in America, they’re circumstances have certainly not improved over that last three decades as a result of Third Way democratic initiatives.

    As for being “left” of Obama on the other issues, with the exception of Arctic drilling it seems to me Clinton and flipped or flopped on most of those. She certainly wasn’t apposed to big trade agreements when NAFTA or CAFTA were up for debate. Third Way democrats like H. Clinton have a history of tacking left during campaigns and then being AWOL or worse when it comes time to actually do something.

  4. Submitted by Roy Everson on 02/09/2016 - 12:09 pm.

    Isabel or Maggie?

    In the past few generations there are many examples of national leaders who happened to be women. India, Britain, Norway, FInland, Argentina, and many others. One might note two categories here — some were political heirs of spouses or fathers (i.e. men), while others, albeit well-connected politically, rose on their superior merits. Count Isabel Peron in the first category, Margaret Thatcher in the latter.

    Is Clinton in the first or second? Republicans want to paint her clearly in the first, a Mrs.Juan (Isabel) Peron. Clinton’s success may hinge on persuading voters she is in the second group, a well connected woman who rose on her merits by virtue of her career in the Senate and at State. Indeed, she has the potential to be a greater president than Bill or Barack.

    Voters are making decisions that will inform us how we think about this question. Identifying with Obama may help voters to conclude she is more of a Thatcher than a Peron.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 02/09/2016 - 01:48 pm.

      But would she

      have had careers in the Senate and in the State Department if she had not first spent eight years in the White House as First Spouse?
      This of course does not diminish her capabilities, nor her suitability to be President. It’s just a statement about how she got into a position to be considered for the nomination.

  5. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 02/09/2016 - 02:41 pm.

    Mrs. Clinton

    achieved power the old fashioned way. She married it.

    Without her marriage to the impeached, disbarred, sexual predator, she’d be a county attorney in Illinois somewhere.

    She’s clinging to Obama in hopes he’ll call off the dogs when the FBI comes out with their recommendations on her multiple violations of the espionage act.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 02/09/2016 - 03:17 pm.

      Good example

      of creative writing (if not thinking).
      You’ve said the same things before; they’ve been rebutted before.
      Who was it that said if you repeat a lie often enough people will believe it.

      • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 02/09/2016 - 07:09 pm.

        He’s got a point, though: where WOULD she be without Bill?

        Of course, it’s also natural to wonder: where would Bill be without her?

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 02/10/2016 - 10:53 am.

      Some facts

      The Clinton’s met when they were both grad students (Yale Law).
      They were married two years before he was elected Attorney General of Arkansas; his first elected office.
      If anything, she ‘married down’, since she came from a substantially wealthier family than he did.

  6. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 02/10/2016 - 08:24 pm.


    Will anyone please substantiate a statement that Clinton “has the potential to be a greater president than Bill or Barack?”

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