Hillary Clinton’s high wire act

I’d like to thank David Axelrod for his not so subtle reminder that Hillary Clinton voted for the war in Iraq. As Scott noted, Axelrod responded to Clinton’s statement that “‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ [President Obama’s foreign policy slogan] is not an organizing principle,” by tweeting: “Just to clarify: ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ means stuff like occupying Iraq in the first place, which was a tragically bad decision.”

Bad decision or not, it was a decision Hillary Clinton supported, and a decision the American public now considers a mistake.

It was also a decision that Clinton’s 2016 Republican opponent (assuming she is a candidate in the general election) will almost certainly not have voted for. For example, neither Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, nor Rand Paul voted to go to war in Iraq. Paul probably would have voted not to. The others might have voted “yes,” but they were unknown figures at the time, and it’s unlikely that they even opined on the record about the matter.

Even Jeb Bush didn’t vote in favor of the Iraq war. But, of course, his brother started it, which is one of several reasons why it probably wouldn’t be wise to nominate the former Florida governor for president.

The fact that most of Clinton’s plausible 2016 opponents were obscure in 2003 highlights another of her problems. Clinton is part of a generation of politicians that’s widely viewed as responsible for lots of “stupid stuff” — not just the Iraq war but also enormous debt, “gridlock,” a stalled economy, Obamacare, and so on.

Clinton has an ace-in-the-hole in her husband, though. He is the one politician of her generation who is considered a success. It’s generally (albeit mistakenly) thought that the only “stupid stuff” that happened on his watch pertained to sex, with Hillary arguably a victim.

Hillary, then, will want this election to be a referendum on the 1990s. Because that was years ago, and Hillary’s substantive public service occurred more recently, this won’t be easy for her to accomplish.

To maximize her chances for success, she will need to distance herself from the Obama administration in which she played so prominent a part, but without stirring up the likes of David Axelrod.

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