Certainly the issue of lessons learned applies to presidential campaigns and none more so than the next presidential election in 2016. Republicans are already portraying a Hillary Clinton presidency as a "third term of Obama". The question for Hilary, as well as, to a degree, the other democrat candidates, is whether she will allow herself to be baited into distancing herself from the Obama Administration and, in her case, the Clinton Administration, or will she, rather, embrace them both and, if so, to what degree?
The 2014 mid-term elections were the epitome of candidates distancing themselves from the incumbent president to disastrous results. One such example was the Kentucky senate race. During that race, democrat Allison Lundergrin-Grimes, you may recall, was asked the simple question of whether she voted for President Obama. Rather than risk being linked to him and his policies, she chose to evade the question altogether as was her right. How well did this strategy work for her politically? Not very! How much more credible would she have come off if she had chosen a response more like this: "Of course I voted for President Obama! Who else could I have voted for? Romney? I may not agree with every position of the president, but certainly he is much more in line with me politically than Romney and his disregard for '47%' of Americans." Now, this response may have unwillingly tied her too closely to the president for her liking but at least she would have come off as more credible. Besides, is there anyone who really believes she didn't vote for the president and may have actually voted for Romney? I think not. Lesson learned: credibility should be at the top of the list for any candidate of any race. Standing up for what you believe in and not trying to mislead voters should also be at the top of that list.
Any candidate for president, democrat or republican, must decide how wise it will be to distance themselves from previous administrations. That strategy certainly did not work very well for either John McCain or Mitt Romney. Neither was very successful at distancing himself from the previous republican administration under George W. Bush and the failed policies of that administration. With regard to Hillary, specifically, will she learn from Al Gore's 2000 campaign and, rather than distance herself from the administration that she served in, will she embrace at least some of its achievements?
As you will likely recall, Vice President Gore distanced himself from President Bill Clinton during the 2000 presidential campaign so as not to be "soiled" by the Monica Lewinski scandal. As things turned out, it certainly would have been more strategically prudent for him to have tied himself to the economic successes of the administration without being tied directly to Clinton's personal improprieties. True, Gore did still receive a majority of the popular vote and, yes, Ralph Nader took a chunk out of his total number of votes and, yes, no one really believes that Pat Buchanan is so well liked in Florida. However, if candidate Gore did a better job of linking himself to the successes of the Clinton administration, it is likely that these other factors would have had less of an impact on the election.
Accordingly, my recommendation to any democrat candidate for president is, rather than running away from the name Obama, embrace at least some of the achievements of his administration. Not everything, but at least some, and there are several. To begin with, while republicans claim to be the party of fiscal responsibility, the reality is quite different. President Obama inherited an annual deficit of approximately $1.3 trillion from President Bush and has brought it down to about $470 billion. Likewise, President Clinton inherited an annual deficit of about $290 billion from President George H.W. Bush and left office with a surplus of in excess of $125 billion for the next President Bush to squander on a ten year war paid for on a credit card and tax breaks for the wealthy that did nothing to help the economy or the middle class but, rather, contributed mightily to our current income inequality.
Certainly, there are other positives such as consumer protection for credit card holders, expansion of college aid for needy students, repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" which had prohibited gays from serving openly in the military, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act which strengthened the ability of women to fight for equal pay, preventing the American auto industry from going under, providing health insurance for millions of previously uninsured Americans, phasing down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, getting the unemployment rate to below 6%, and the take out of Osama bin Laden.
However, this is not to say that any democratic candidate should embrace the entire Obama record without question. Being judicious should be a presidential requirement. I, for one, question why the banking industry did not have any of its leaders see jail time for putting greed before country and causing the Great Recession of 2008. Dealing with the banking industry also applies to the Clinton Administration since it was President Clinton who supported the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act which had been enacted after the stock market crash of 1929 to construct a wall between commercial banks and investment banks. The repeal of Glass-Steagall tore down that wall and opened the door for the risky investments by commercial banks that had ordinarily been reserved for investment banks and which contributed so greatly to the recession. The next president must take a strong stand to replace the regulatory protections lost over the last several years.
I also wonder about the Trans-Pacific Partnership and any agreement that is supported by Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner whose actions have never demonstrated any concern for working class America. The G-7 conferences envisioned, through globalization, wealthy nations helping the economies of third world countries through investment. It was anticipated that globalization would see these economies grow and create markets for our goods. It was never intended that the sole result of globalization for America would be to provide U.S. companies with cheap labor abroad at the expense of jobs at home. Based on my experience with the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement back in the 1990's, I question whether any agreement that is so vehemently supported by big business would actually be beneficial for working America. The question that the presidential candidates must grapple with is the same one that the president is grappling with which is whether we are better off being part of the deal, as good or bad as it is, or being left out altogether and shed more influence to China. Not an easy question, but one that must be answered regardless of who the candidate is.
So, yes, there may not be total agreement on all issues, but history has shown that running away from the previous administration has not proven to be a successful strategy and one that places the candidate on the defensive rather than the offensive.
In an upcoming column, we will attempt to provide some lessons learned for the republican candidates.