Why Hillary is now belittling Obama
THE other night, a prominent Democrat I know made the craziest statement.
"I don't think Hillary's going to run," he proclaimed, silencing the room.
"She seems tired," he said, and that's when all of us cracked up. Oh, yeah, she seems positively exhausted. That explains the juggernaut of a book tour, the CNN town hall and all the other interviews, including the doozy with The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, which I'll turn to in a bit.
Without yet becoming president, she has ascended to some level of saturation exposure that's above and beyond omnipresent.
She is walking a tightrope, and the challenge and peril of it become clearer all the time. The question isn't whether she's running. Of course, she is.
The question is whether she can belittle President Barack Obama as much as she must in order to win, but not so much that it plays as an act of sheer betrayal.
She needs the voters who elected him, twice, and who maintain affection for him. She also needs the voters in the throes of buyer's remorse. Many of them jilted her for their romance with him and now see it as a heady but heedless affair.
Can she exploit that, but in a high-minded, diplomatic fashion?
Not on the evidence of her blunt and condescending remarks to Mr Goldberg, which were published over the weekend.
With Mr Obama's approval ratings sinking lower, especially in the realm of foreign policy, she reiterated that he'd made the wrong call in not arming Syrian rebels. This time around, she also suggested that the jihadists of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria wouldn't be so potent if we'd gone a different route.
But that wasn't the surprise. Nor, really, were the words that she summoned - stronger than the President's - to defend Israel's military actions in Gaza.
The clincher was this withering assessment of Mr Obama's approach to the world: "Great nations need organising principles, and 'Don't do stupid stuff' is not an organising principle."
It wasn't her only admonishment. "When you are hunkering down and pulling back, you're not going to make any better decisions than when you were aggressively, belligerently putting yourself forward," she said. "One issue is that we don't even tell our own story very well these days."
Her welling dissent leaves her exposed on several fronts. If decisions made while she was still the secretary of state were flawed, is she blameless? Sure, her job, like any appointee's, was to implement the chief executive's vision, to follow his lead. But it was also to lobby and leave an imprint. Is she conceding that she didn't do that effectively enough?
Her dissent also subjects her to the charge that has long dogged her: Everything is calculation and calibration. Mr Obama's down, so she's suddenly and gratuitously blunt, dismissing his doctrine as more of a ditty.
Mrs Clinton is in a bind, because the President is indeed ripe for second-guessing, and because she is and has to be her own person, with differences of opinion that are surely genuine.
She must marvel at the strange turn of events. In the 2008 presidential campaign, she suffered for seeming too truculent in comparison with him, and he held her vote to authorise force in Iraq over her. Now she feels forced to make clear that she's more truculent than he is, and his authorisation of force in Iraq could have reverberations for his successor.
And she's compelled to pledge a departure from the last 61/2 years, because polls reveal a profound, stubborn discontent and pessimism in Americans.
The soft bromides of "Hard Choices" aren't going to do the trick. Is her barbed commentary in the Goldberg interview a better bet? Or can she find a bittersweet spot in between?
Although she's always been a stickler for loyalty, her inevitability could hinge on how well she finesses disloyalty. It's not going to be easy. But if you think it'll dissuade her, have I got a Broadway play for you.