Alternate headline: Hopenchange Endorses Status Quo Ante. Remember when Barack Obama decided to run for president as the Democratic Party prepared itself for a coronation and the Clinton Restoration in 2007, Obama’s message was that the country needed change and his party had to look to the future. Well, Obama’s seen the future, and in this interview with Politico’s Glenn Thrush, he apparently prefers the past. While the president didn’t criticize Bernie Sanders, he made his preference known — and provided all sorts of irony along the way:
Obama didn’t utter an unkind word about Sanders, who has been respectfully critical of his administration’s reluctance to prosecute Wall Street executives and his decision to abandon a single-payer health care system as politically impractical. But he was kinder to Clinton. When I asked Obama whether he thought Sanders needed to expand his horizons, if the Vermont senator was too much a one-issue candidate too narrowly focused on income inequality, the presidente didn’t dispute the assertion.
Gesturing toward the Resolute Desk, with its spread-winged eagle seal, first brought into the Oval Office by John F. Kennedy, Obama said of Sanders: “Well, I don’t want to play political consultant, because obviously what he’s doing is working. I will say that the longer you go in the process, the more you’re going to have to pass a series of hurdles that the voters are going to put in front of you.”
Then he added: “As you’ll recall, I was sitting at my desk there just a little over a week ago … writing my State of the Union speech, and somebody walks in and says, ‘A couple of our sailors wandered into Iranian waters’” — and here he stopped to chuckle in disbelief — “that’s maybe a dramatic example, but not an unusual example of the job.”
Ahem. That example might be even more dramatic if there was any evidence that it changed Obama’s approach to the State of the Union speech. Obama only mentioned Iran once, and then it was to brag about the success of his diplomatic efforts. The lack of mention of the ten captured American sailors raised eyebrows across the board:
That’s why we built a global coalition, with sanctions and principled diplomacy, to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. As we speak, Iran has rolled back its nuclear program, shipped out its uranium stockpile, and the world has avoided another war.
If Obama is arguing that Sanders might not be qualified to answer a 3 AM call because of his focus on the economy, that’s yet another level of irony. In the most glaring example of a 3 AM call, the Obama administration at best let it ring off the hook while four Americans died in Benghazi in a series of attacks that lasted for hours. Who else dropped the ball on Benghazi, at the very least? Hillary Clinton. Even more amusingly, this was actually the same argument that Hillary used against Obama in a sharp attack ad almost exactly eight years ago.
But more broadly, this is a curious endorsement of the status quo ante against which Obama won in 2007-8. It doesn’t even make sense in a defending-his-administration perspective, since the only diplomatic efforts Obama brags about are those which came under John Kerry — TPP and the Iranian nuclear deal. Hillary represents exactly what she did in 2007-8 — a return to Clintonism, a look backward rather than forward, only this time with the baggage of the Clinton Foundation weighing much more heavily on Democrats. This time around, Democrats have to deal with an FBI probe into potential corruption, a wrinkle that didn’t exist eight years ago, in large part because Hillary wasn’t in position to manipulate communications and executive power for the benefit of her cronies and her own pocketbook.
This might be the most blatant signal yet that Obama had no real interest in hope and change — he just wanted power for himself. And now that he’s had it, he has no problem serving the interest of the Democrats’ longtime power brokers rather than championing change of any other sort.