Obama on Sanders, Clinton, an emotional reflection in Iowa 2008.

Obama on Hillary, Bernie, and an emotional reflection on Iowa 2008.
photo: In the midst of the snowstorm, President Barack Obama works at his desk in the Oval Office, Jan. 22, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

And he gently suggested that his own ’08 message might be a pretty good mantle for his would-be successors to don. “My bet is that the candidate who can project hope still is the candidate who the American people, over the long term, will gravitate towards,” he said. – Glenn Thrush [Politico]

LISTENING TO OR READING the exclusive interview by Glenn Thrush for Politico with President Obama I couldn’t help feeling gratified that what he said broadly confirmed the details of what I wrote in my book The Hillary Effect about the 2008 campaign. That it came from President Obama is something I never expected.

At the time the book was published, let’s just say no one wanted to go through a recounting of the sexism, the media bias, and what the Obama campaign did to win. Naming names, utilizing verbatim quotes, as well as outlining the tactics of David Plouffe and David Axelrod and their crew. It did remind of the panicked reactions the book got behind closed doors. Just one example is a very prominent MSNBC host asked for two copies to be rushed to his studio. My publicist (at the time) and I knew we’d never hear back because seeing his sexism and vitriol in print had to be a shock.

So sometimes as a writer, you have to wait for it.

But what makes President Obama’s words today jump off the page is the reflective, walls down candor, and the obvious affection he has for Clinton, whom he clearly hopes prevails.

The Sanders campaign didn’t take his comments well which is understandable given that much of what the President said equates to what Bernie is doing. If you haven’t seen this video of Sanders in Iowa from today, you must. It also presented a moment for the campaign which they didn’t waste.

“And I would say to him, with all due respect, Mr. President, the same kind of change that you had hoped to work for, Bernie is trying to continue on that path, not go back to the 1990s of President Clinton.” – Larry Cohen, senior campaign adviser, and former labor leader, told CNN.

Glenn Thrush’s podcast is remarkable.

President Obama’s words have been 8 long years in coming.

A short excerpt from the transcript

GLENN THRUSH: The events I was at in Iowa, the candidate who seems to be delivering that now is Bernie Sanders.

GLENN THRUSH: I mean, when you watch this, what do you — do you see any elements of what you were able to accomplish in what Sanders is doing?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, there’s no doubt that Bernie has tapped into a running thread in Democratic politics that says: Why are we still constrained by the terms of the debate that were set by Ronald Reagan 30 years ago? You know, why is it that we should be scared to challenge conventional wisdom and talk bluntly about inequality and, you know, be full-throated in our progressivism? And, you know, that has an appeal and I understand that.

I think that what Hillary presents is a recognition that translating values into governance and delivering the goods is ultimately the job of politics, making a real-life difference to people in their day-to-day lives. I don’t want to exaggerate those differences, though, because Hillary is really idealistic and progressive. You’d have to be to be in, you know, the position she’s in now, having fought all the battles she’s fought and, you know, taken so many, you know, slings and arrows from the other side. And Bernie, you know, is somebody who was a senator and served on the Veterans’ Committee and got bills done. And so the—

GLENN THRUSH: But it sounds like you’re not buying the — you’re not buying the sort of, the easy popular dichotomy people are talking about, where he’s an analog for you and she is herself?


GLENN THRUSH: You don’t buy that, right?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: No, I don’t think — I don’t think that’s true. I think that what is — you know, if you look at both of them, I think they’re both passionate about giving everybody a shot. I think they’re both passionate about kids having a great education. I think they want to make sure everybody has health care. I think that they both believe in a tax system that is fair and not tilted towards, you know, the folks at the very top. But, you know, they — I think Bernie came in with the luxury of being a complete longshot and just letting loose.

I think Hillary came in with the — both privilege and burden of being perceived as the frontrunner. And, as a consequence, you know, where they stood at the beginning probably helps to explain why the language sometimes is different.

[…] […]

GLENN THRUSH: …was — and I was with her for 18 months in 2007 and 2008.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Right, right.

GLENN THRUSH: It was the Bataan Death March.


GLENN THRUSH: So, being with her, the same pointed tone in terms of the criticism is emerging on Sanders — it’s practically the same language. It’s really interesting.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Right, right.

GLENN THRUSH: Did that work? Do you think it will work, in terms of drawing contrasts?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, here’s my view: that whoever the nominee is is going to need the other person’s supporters. And I think it is entirely legitimate to draw sharp contrasts where there are contrasts and it is important, however, to maintain a tone in which people feel as if you’re playing fair.

And I think Hillary has done that so far, and I think that the truth is in 2007 and 2008, sometimes my supporters and my staff, I think, got too huffy about what were legitimate questions she was raising. And, you know, there were times where I think the media probably was a little unfair to her and tilted a little my way in the — in calling her out when she was tough and not calling some of our folks out as much when we were tough in ads. So—


PRESIDENT OBAMA: Look at my first debate in 2012, right? If you haven’t been doing it, you know, you lose some of those muscles. But the other thing that I’ll always remember is the sheer strength, determination, endurance, stick-to-it-ness, never-give-up attitude that Hillary had during those primaries. I mean, we had as competitive and lengthy and expensive and tough primary fight as there has been in modern American politics, and she had to do everything that I had to do, except, like Ginger Rogers, backwards in heels. She had to wake up earlier than I did because she had to get her hair done. She had to, you know, handle all the expectations that were placed on her. She had a tougher job throughout that primary than I did and, you know, she was right there the entire time and, had things gone a little bit different in some states or if the sequence of primaries and caucuses been a little different, she could have easily won.