Why Hillary Attacked Bernie on Obama

Clinton sure is taking advantage of Sanders’ slights against the first black president.

Democratic Debate
Who likes Obama more? Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton participate in Thursday night’s debate in Milwaukee.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Thursday’s debate ended appropriately with Hillary Clinton making the subtext of her strategy against Sen. Bernie Sanders text: Bernie Sanders hates President Obama and everything he stands for.

Speaking of making subtext text: May we talk about why Hillary Clinton either hugged Obama, or tried to pummel Sanders with Obama, so much Thursday night? As the South Carolina primary looms? This was the most she’s invoked Obama since, well, the Jan. 17 debate in South Carolina itself.

It’s really something. I am right now listening to the CNN post-debate commentary, and analyst Gloria Borger is describing this tactic as one the Clinton campaign considers “helpful for South Carolina.” Oh? What she’s trying to say is: The Clinton campaign is talking so much about how great Obama is, and how mean Sanders is to Obama, because there are a lot of black voters in South Carolina. It is the most amusingly obvious campaign tactic since, say, Wednesday morning, when Sanders for whatever reason decided to meet with Al Sharpton in Harlem the day after the New Hampshire primary.

Clinton wrapped herself in Obama’s glory Thursday night at nearly the same pace that Bernie Sanders mentions Wall Street on any night.

What do you have to say about your super PAC with flashy billionaire donors, Secretary Clinton? So did President Obama, and he’s the best.

On the unfeasibility of Bernie Sanders’ health care plan: Why I am a staunch supporter of President Obama’s principal accomplishment, namely the Affordable Care Act, is because I know how hard it was to get that done.”

On how she would improve race relations in a way that Obama was unable to: “Well, I am just not sure I agree completely with that assessment. I think under President Obama, we have seen a lot of advances. The Affordable Care Act has helped more African-Americans than any other group to get insurance, to be taken care of.”  

On her call to send back unaccompanied migrant children detained at the border: “The fact is that there was a great effort made by the Obama administration and others to really send a clear message because we knew that so many of these children were being abused, being treated terribly while they tried to get to our border.”

On her foreign policy decision-making ability: “Sen. Obama, when he ran against me, was against the war in Iraq. And yet when he won, he turned to me, trusting my judgment, my experience to become secretary of state.”

Which brings us to the grand finale near the end of the debate, right after Hillary chose Nelson Mandela as the leader who would most influence her foreign policy:

Today, Sen. Sanders said that President Obama failed the presidential leadership test. This is not the first time that he has criticized President Obama. In the past he’s called him weak, he’s called him a disappointment. He wrote a foreword for a book that basically argued voters should have buyer’s remorse when it comes to President Obama’s leadership and legacy, and I just couldn’t disagree more with those kinds of comments. …

I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves for being a president who dug us out of that ditch, put us on firm ground, and sent us into the future. And it is the kind of criticism that we’ve heard from Sen. Sanders about our president that I expect from Republicans. I do not expect them from someone running for the Democratic nomination to succeed president Obama.

Sanders referred to this as a “low blow” and went on to say a number of nice things himself about how Obama saved us from a depression and campaigned for him in Vermont way back when. “I have been a strong ally with him on virtually every issue. Do senators have the right to disagree with the president? Have you ever disagreed with a president?”

And so she continued. “Senator, what I am concerned about is not disagreement on issues—saying ‘this is what I’d rather do, I don’t agree with the president on that,’ ” she began. “Calling the president weak, calling him a disappointment, calling several times that he should have a primary opponent when he ran for re-election in 2012, you know, I think that goes further than saying we have our disagreements.”

Read more Slate coverage of the Democratic primary.