In 1995 Bill Clinton announced to both houses of Congress that the era of big government had ended. In 2009, Obama, speaking from the same rostrum, warned that “the danger of too much government is matched by the perils of too little.” At some deep level, Obama’s entire project has been a reply, not to Republican conservatism but to Democratic neoliberalism. Now, as his presidency nears its close, the wife, heir, and namesake of the leader of the neoliberals has emerged as the overwhelming favorite to lead the Democratic Party in 2016.
Almost as much as a Republican victory, a Clinton succession would punctuate the Obama presidency with a question mark. Obama’s highest priority over the next two years seems to be to convert that question mark into an exclamation point, to force Hillary Clinton to campaign and govern on his terms. Whatever happens after that, he can at least say that it was his kind of Democratic Party—not Bill Clinton’s—that won a third consecutive mandate, after having twice done what Clinton never did: win an outright majority of the presidential ballots cast.
Of course, Hillary Clinton can see all this, too. So can Bill Clinton, perhaps even more acutely. The next fascinating question is: What will they do about it?