SAN DIEGO – Many Democrats are breathing a sigh of relief over Joe Biden’s announcement that he is “out of time” and will not be challenging Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Social media have been peppered with magnanimous postings by liberals praising Biden as “a class act” and “a true statesman.”
The odd part is that those Democrats who are celebrating Biden’s decision seem to think they’re done with drama, dissension and division.
Not a chance. Biden is out, but the friction is still there. That’s because the big tension within the party was never between Biden and Clinton. It’s between Clinton and President Obama.
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The 2008 rivals fought a long, hard and dirty campaign with each side accusing the other of dishonesty, slander and worse.
At one point, Clinton charged that Obama lied about her record when his campaign sent out a mailing that intended to drive down her union support by claiming that she supported the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Now, the tables have turned, with the administration backing another controversial trade deal – the Trans-Pacific Partnership – and Clinton having declared her opposition.
As Clinton runs for president, she is also sprinting away from major elements of Obama’s record. It’s happening on deportations, where Clinton recently told Telemundo that, while Obama removed record numbers of immigrants, she won’t be “breaking up families” or trying to “make immigrants the scapegoat for everything that people are concerned about in the country.” And it’s happening with foreign policy, where she continues to argue that the administration’s failure to back the Syrian rebels created the opening for the emergence of the Islamic State.
Next up, look for Clinton to criticize Obama’s approach to education reform. Teachers unions have protested that the administration’s “Race to the Top” initiative, with its emphasis on national standards and accountability, resembles George W. Bush’s signature education law, “No Child Left Behind.”
It’s no wonder that Biden used his announcement in the Rose Garden to send Clinton some not-so-subtle messages about where Democrats “stand as a party” – and what they should stand for.
Like this: “I believe that President Obama has led this nation from crisis to recovery, and we’re now on the cusp of resurgence. … Democrats should not only defend this record and protect this record, they should run on the record.”
And this: “I believe the huge sums of unlimited and often secret money pouring into our politics is a fundamental threat to our democracy. … Because the middle class will never have a fighting chance in this country as long as just several hundred families, the wealthiest families, control the process.”
And this: “I believe we have to end the divisive partisan politics that is ripping this country apart. … It’s mean-spirited. It’s petty. … I don’t think we should look at Republicans as our enemies. They are our opposition; they’re not our enemies.”
To recap, Biden has little tolerance for Democrats who go out of their way to point out disagreements with Obama, raise obscene amounts of money, are mean-spirited and petty, and treat the opposition as enemies.
Oh my. Who does that sound like? And to think there were those in the media who asked why Biden didn’t conclude his remarks with an endorsement of the Democratic front-runner. Aren’t they paying attention? It’s clear in listening to Biden that he thinks that Clinton is not the solution but more like the problem.
It’s tricky for someone running for president to figure out how much deference to pay to an incumbent administration of the same party. It’s a dilemma that was once faced by a sitting vice president who wanted the top job and, concerned about negative pushback against scandals and failures, made what many political observers consider the fatal mistake of trying to distance himself from a two-term administration to which he had contributed much and of which he was a major part.
The year was 2000. The candidate was Al Gore. And the administration was that of President Bill Clinton. Ask Democrats who they have more respect and affection for now – Al Gore or Bill Clinton. The former president wins.
Now, as she delicately tries to define her relationship to the Obama administration, Hillary Clinton finds herself in much the same position that Gore did back then. Democrats should hope she makes better choices.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.