Ned Barnett

The trouble with Hillary


Hillary Clinton is set to announce her second run for the presidency Sunday through social media. With no major challengers, she seems a cinch to win the Democratic nomination, and the former first lady is favored to return to the White House as the first woman to become president.

Given the breadth of her support and the historic status of her candidacy, there should be more excitement about the prospect of President Hillary Clinton. But the Democratic base seems to regard her as a candidate who is both inevitable and unavoidable. A Wall Street Journal story on Friday reported on how in a time of rising income inequity many liberals would prefer a fiery populist such as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. But so far Warren has stayed out, and those who’ve jumped in – former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee – or plan to – former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb – probably are too low profile to win.

That leaves Clinton. She may be all but nominated, but she enters the race with problems. Here are several:

Her name. Americans of all political persuasions are uneasy with the idea of a Clinton dynasty. What kind of democracy is led by the same couple for potentially 16 years? And should Jeb Bush be the Republican nominee, the Bush-Clinton campaign would double the sense of a democracy ruled by families and the rich and the big business interests who fund their races.

Hillary and money. Bill and Hillary Clinton always seemed a bit financially pressed while Bill was in office. After they left the White House, they built up wealth by trading on their brand – and the prospect that they might return to the White House. Bill has made a fortune off books and speeches, but Hillary has been especially hungry, speaking for as much as $300,000 a speech. She would talk anywhere. When a woman tossed a shoe at her during a speech in Las Vegas, Clinton was speaking to a meeting of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries.

Clinton donates her speaking fees to the Clinton Global Foundation, but that’s another problem as the former president and perhaps the future president take in large donations from business leaders and foreign countries. Her opponents will focus on those connections and potential conflicts as Clinton works to raise money for a campaign expected to cost $2.5 billion.

Why is she running? Hillary Clinton was once the liberal pulling her centrist husband leftward. Now it’s unclear why she is running. She may be drawn by the chance to make history as the first female president, but it’s not clear what else drives her. She is, with an eye on Warren, shaping a message built around income equality and helping workers losing ground because of stagnant wages, but so far the conviction isn’t there. Her husband’s policies helped set the stage for the financial crisis. As a senator, she voted for tougher restrictions on bankruptcy pushed by the banking industry. As a New York senator, she supported Wall Street interests. She has a ways to go to become a populist.

Error prone. Hillary Clinton has a knack for getting into tough spots of her own making. It started when she was clumsy in promoting universal health care as first lady. She hung an albatross around her neck by voting for the Iraq war. She was an awkward candidate in 2008 and blew a big lead. She reignited the almost dormant Benghazi investigation by running her email through a private server as secretary of state. She criticized President Obama’s foreign policy last year when he needed support and then apologized.

Hawkish Hillary. While Obama pushed a foreign policy of cooperation and negotiation, Secretary of State Clinton is said to have often taken the hawkish position. Perhaps she is more comfortable with using the nation’s military might, but there’s a concern that she’s too eager to show her toughness. That might have led to her Iraq war vote, and it would be a worrisome trait in a president.

Chafee said last week that the Iraq vote that cost Clinton significant support in 2008 disqualifies her in 2016. “I don’t think anybody should be president of the United States that made that mistake,” he told The Washington Post.

Finally, Billary. Bill Clinton has a great intellect and is a gifted politician. The nation fared well under his leadership. But he also disgraced himself in a sex scandal, handicapped the candidacy of Al Gore and opened the way for two terms of George W. Bush. The prospect of Bill back roaming the halls of the White House as First Gentleman somehow doesn’t seem right. He had his turn, his triumphs, his fall and his post-presidential recovery. It feels like he and the nation should move on.

Hillary Clinton certainly isn’t alone in starting a campaign with many in her party either worried or inspired by what she represents. Her challenge now will be to quiet those worries by showing a commitment to issues that inspire the Democratic base. That will require refining an already well-known image, a process in which a significant challenge from the left would help. But so far it looks like her race for the White House will be between Hillary and herself.

Editorial page editor Ned Barnett can be reached at 919-829-4512 or