Littwin: Clinton defends Obama to lure black voters from Sanders

The Democratic race made a dramatic turn in Debate VI Thursday night. After weeks and months of trying and failing, Hillary Clinton basically conceded that she couldn’t out-progressive Bernie Sanders, the self-styled socialist.

So if Clinton couldn’t out-progressive him — how could she, Sanders pointed out in the night’s strangest exchange, if she bragged about being pals with, yes, Henry Kissinger? — she decided she would out-Obama him.

And as Sanders was giving his many younger supporters a refresher course in Pol Pot and Cambodia and other various Kissinger outrages, Clinton was saying that her Obama friendship was the one that really mattered and that, she said, is where Sanders falls short.

It was a much easier lift, particularly if shamelessness is a guiding principle, as it is for nearly all politicians. Some of you may be old enough to remember the 2008 triple-overtime contest for the Democratic nomination, back when the race got so ugly that people wondered whether Clinton supporters would actually vote for Barack Obama in the general election.

They did, of course. When it came to it, the Clintons delivered for Obama as if nothing had happened between them, as if each hadn’t accused the other of playing the race card, as if no one had ever mentioned the words “fairy tale,” as if Obama were not seen in Hillaryland as the Great Usurper. And now Obama is delivering for Clinton, even if he’s winkingly neutral in the race.

From the beginning of the primary battle, Clinton has anointed herself the keeper of the Obama flame, but now she has gone further, accusing Sanders of making Republican-style attacks on Obama and then, in Clinton fashion, had all the damaging quotes ready for the audience and for the fact-checkers. Sanders called it a “low blow,” which it was, but, I’m guessing, an effective low blow.

It got even lower. From Clinton: “The kind of criticism that we’ve heard from Senator Sanders about our President I expect from Republicans. I do not expect from someone running for the Democratic nomination to succeed President Obama.”

Sanders was flustered. Or flus-tehed. One of Sanders’ most appealing features is that he’s at once an idealist and an iconoclast. And like many liberals, he has felt, at times, that Obama was too willing to compromise, too flexible when he should have held firm and — like, say, Clinton — not consistently progressive enough. This is not a new thing. Liberals have criticized every Democratic president, just as conservatives routinely feel betrayed by Republican presidents. In my lifetime, LBJ was forced out of office by liberals over Vietnam. Ted Kennedy challenged President Jimmy Carter in a primary. Bill Clinton was the welfare-reform-era-of-big-government-is-over triangulation president.

But this case may be a little different. There’s no mystery here. For Clinton to win the nomination, she needs Obama-like numbers from minority voters, particularly African-Americans who make up about half the voters in the South Carolina primary. While Obama remains extremely popular among most Democrats — you can consult any poll — he is particularly popular among black voters, and particularly when they see Obama being attacked.

And so Clinton referenced a recent MSNBC interview in which Sanders said Obama had failed in bringing Congress closer to the will of the people and then, let’s say, stretched the point, nearly to breaking.

“Senator Sanders said that President Obama failed the Presidential leadership test,’’ Clinton said. “And this is not the first time that he has criticized President Obama. In the past he has called him weak. He has called him a disappointment.

“He wrote a foreword (actually a blurb) for a book that basically argued voters should have buyers’ remorse when it comes to President Obama’s leadership and legacy. And I just couldn’t disagree more with those kinds of comments.”

Clinton probably won the debate on points — she didn’t get loud when Sanders got loud; she used Obama, once again, as a life raft when she was accused, like Obama, she says, of being waist deep in the big money —  but the debate itself probably had little, if any, impact on the race. What Clinton wanted to accomplish after her New Hampshire shellacking was to show, as they say, a way forward. She hopes she’s found it. You’ll be hearing Sanders’ supposed hits on Obama again. And again.

And here’s the other shift in emphasis. Now that the race has left Iowa and New Hampshire for more, uh, diverse parts of the land, Clinton is saying the voters want a more, uh, diverse candidate. As Clinton said in her closing statement — the final words of the night — she’s all for making sure Wall Street would “never be allowed to wreck Main Street again.” But, she said, that’s not all she’s for. It’s not the only problem America faces.

“I’m not a single-issue candidate,” she said, “and I do not believe we live in a single-issue country.”

She then went on to name some other issues. Racism, racial justice, sexism, gay rights, workers’ rights, abortion rights, the right not to have lead in your drinking water. And as if to help out, Sanders went all single message in explaining that he would “absolutely” be better addressing racial issues than Obama — yes, he said this — because he won’t be giving “tax breaks to billionaires.”

OK, Sanders is mostly a single-message candidate. It’s his strength and his weakness. The intersection of Wall Street and income inequality has hit Democratic voters, especially young voters, especially voters in un-diverse Iowa and New Hampshire, exactly where they live. But now the race moves on, and the question is whether Clinton’s polling strengths among minority voters will change the race.

The Congressional Black Caucus PAC just endorsed her. John Lewis, the icon of living civil rights icons, said he knew Hillary and Bill Clinton from civil rights days, but had never met Sanders back then. Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports that Clinton’s Super PAC — I think you remember that Bernie doesn’t have one — is making a big cash buy that will attempt to tie Clinton ever closer to Obama.

So now Clinton seems to have found a message, if not a single message, of her own, for which Sanders has already fashioned his own singular reply: “One of us ran against President Obama. I was not that candidate.”

And this is how you’d expect it to go this year. You knew Obama would be central to the 2016 race. But who knew it’d be on the Democratic primary?


Clarification 2/14/2016: This story originally stated that the Congressional Black Caucus leadership group endorsed Hillary Clinton. To clarify, the Congressional Black Caucus PAC did, not the caucus itself. 

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Flickr. AFGE and Ted Eytan


  1. If, as Mr. Littwin suggests, Mrs. Clinton needs “Obama-like numbers from minority voters” to win the Democrat presidential nomination she is in big trouble. President Obama is the only Democrat capable of achieving those numbers and he isn’t running.

    Neither of the Democrat’s pale geriatric presidential candidates seem like Obama’s natural successor. But from a policy point of view, Senator Sanders seems far more likely to appeal to minorities.

    It all hinges on Mr. Littwin’s definition of “Obama-like numbers”. Does Mrs. Clinton need 90 percent of President Obama’s minority vote numbers? 75 percent? He doesn’t say.

    And if, as Mr. Littwin says, Mrs. Clinton’s current strategy is to “out-Obama” Senator Sanders by claiming a “friendship” with Obama will that self-serving, leech-like attachment be enough to outstrip the appeal of all the free stuff Sanders is promising?

    This from an article written by Ethel C. Fenig in the American Thinker titled: “Surprise: Bernie Sanders’s free stuff will be very expensive for you!”:

    “Avowed socialist, pretend independent, wannabe Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is promising lots of free stuff for Americans – and anyone else in the country, legally or not – if he is elected. Free health care! Free education from pre-pre-school through post-post-college. Free family leave.

    But how will everything be free! freer! freest! if Sanders also believes in a $15-per-hour minimum wage, and people aren’t working for free?

    Because, pssst! big secret! – you’ll be paying a lot for all that free stuff. As a matter of fact, you’ll be paying more than if it weren’t free and you actually had paid for it directly. You’ll be paying higher taxes – indeed, much higher taxes – either directly or indirectly in the form of pass-along higher costs and limited access. (Think about your Obamacare health insurance with its higher premiums, higher deductibles, higher costs, and limited doctor and hospital choices as a model for this brave new world of free stuff.) “

    What’s surprising—or maybe not so surprising—is how little Mr. Littwin questions where the money for all this free stuff will come from.

    This from the Boston Globe:

    “Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has some big plans for America, including ending the reign of money in politics and reshaping the US economy.

    But sweeping changes like single-payer health care, free college tuition, and guaranteed parental leave don’t come cheap. They require an abundance of new tax dollars, not just from the rich but from virtually all classes of society.”
    Democrats have long argued that by simply making the rich pay their fair share Americans will be able to receive all sorts of free stuff. Senator Sanders is simply taking that false belief to a new level.

    Of course, Mrs. Clinton could counter by announcing that there is a limit to what can be provided by making the rich pay their fare share.

    Just kidding!


    “So. Nevada. Clinton’s firewall? That’s what they say. It’s supposed to be the state where Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook will work his magic, as Mother Jones reported Wednesday. Mook ran Clinton’s effort there in 2008. She won then. But times are clearly different now. I don’t think for a minute that Nevada is a Clinton cakewalk, especially not after the shellacking she took Tuesday.” = Michael Tomasky Daily Beast

    “Hillary Clinton has an honesty problem.

    That point is driven home hard in the exit poll following Clinton’s 22-point drubbing at the hands of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. More than one in three (34 percent) of all New Hampshire Democratic primary voters said that honesty was the most important trait in their decision on which candidate to support. Of that bloc, Sanders won 92 percent of their votes as compared to just 6 percent for Clinton.

    Ninety-two to six. That is absolutely unbelievable — even given the size of Sanders’s overall victory in the state. And it should be deeply concerning to a Clinton campaign that has been resistant to acknowledging the idea that the ongoing controversy over Clinton’s private email server while at the State Department is a problem for her.” – Washington Post

    “Yes, the hard truth is that Hillary Clinton is a terrible campaigner who is living in a different era.” – Bill Maher

    “And with her opponent, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, outdrawing her in support among young women, Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy has turned into a generational clash, one that erupted this weekend when two feminist icons, Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinem, called on young women who supported Mr. Sanders to essentially grow up and get with the program.” – New York Times

    “ There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!” – Madeleine Albright

    “Ms. (Gloria) Steinem, 81, one of the most famous spokeswomen of the feminist movement, took the sentiment a step further on Friday in an interview with the talk show host Bill Maher.

    Explaining that women tend to become more active in politics as they become older, she suggested that younger women were backing Mr. Sanders just so they could meet young men.

    “When you’re young, you’re thinking: ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie,’ ” Ms. Steinem said.” – New York Times

    “Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has erased Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s wide lead for the Democratic presidential nomination since the start of year, putting the two in a dead heat nationally, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll.

    Clinton leads Sanders 48 percent to 45 percent among Democratic voters, according to the poll of 512 Americans, conducted Feb. 2-5 following the Iowa caucus. The poll has a credibility interval of 5 percentage points.” – Reuters

    “In the Democratic race nationwide, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has 44 percent, with Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont at 42 percent, and 11 percent undecided. This compares to a 61 – 30 percent Clinton lead in a December 22 survey by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University Poll.” – Quinnipiac University

    “’Cause I don’t have no use
    For what you loosely call the truth” – Tina Turner

    Greenlight a Vet
    Folds of Honor
    Memorial Day – May 30, 2016

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