Hillary Clinton's strategic mistake (and Barack Obama's brilliant chess move)

Hillary Clinton's strategic mistake (and Barack Obama's brilliant chess move)

Summary: Barack Obama's a tough read. It's honestly hard to tell whether he's been good at his job or horrific.

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TOPICS: CXO, IT Employment
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This week in ZDNet Government, we begin our in-depth political coverage of the upcoming 2012 election cycle.

Poor Hillary Clinton. Had she opted out of the Obama administration's early reality distortion effect, she might have been a front-running challenger for the 2012 Democratic presidential nomination.

Instead, she's probably retiring from public office at the end of President Obama's current term.

So what went so wrong for Hillary?

As we all know, Mrs. Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign team was -- essentially -- surprised by Barack Obama's early strength. They all assumed it was "her turn," and that she'd get the 2008 nomination almost by default.

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By the time her team stopped their infighting and figured out they had a credible threat from Team Obama, Mr. Obama had taken a commanding lead. Hillary's team came from behind and almost caught up. But they'd waited just a little too long to get their game faces on, and lost to the "Yes we can" bandwagon.

So there she was, out of the running. At this point, both she and Mr. Obama had some chess moves to think through. Did Mr. Obama want to consider her for his VP choice? History says, "No." Did she want to stay in the national limelight? History says, "Oh, yeah, baby, oh yeah."

And so, rather than trying for another Senate run or teaching at some prestigious university for the duration (or picking up bajillion dollar consulting gigs, like Bill's been doing), she became Secretary of State.

It's quite an accomplishment. She went from First Lady of the United States, to Senator from the Great State of New York, to Secretary of State of the United States of America. It's one of the strongest political careers for any politician, and is probably the single strongest political career for any American woman in the history of the country.

If Barack Obama governed like he campaigned, all rousing speeches and great inspiration, Hillary's decision to jump on board his administration might have been a rock solid one.

But Mr. Obama hasn't governed like he campaigned.

Mr. Obama has had a decidely uninspiring presidency, from a health care reform victory where the cure is probably worse than the disease, to a new third war, to a jobs situation still in the crapper, to issues of privacy, security, and TSA indignities.

Only history will be able to tell whether President Obama's moves after the 2009 financial crisis turned things around that would have otherwise led to another Great Depression. But we all have experienced the Great Recession and Obama-the-President is far more universally disappointing than Obama-the-Campaigner.

When Barack Obama took the office on January 20, 2009, he seemed politically invulnerable. Strategically, it made sense from Hillary's point of view to become part of that team. After all, it was likely he'd run again in 2012, handily get re-elected, and there would really be no room for Mrs. Clinton if she wasn't part of the Obama administration.

But Barack Obama is politically vulnerable. Very, very vulnerable.

In today's political environment, there would have been room for the old Hillary (the one untarnished by being part of the Obama administration) to have ridden in to save the day. She could have claimed ownership of finally doing health care right. She could have claimed ownership of the economy. She could have claimed ownership in international affairs, unmarred by the actual sausage-making that is international affairs, unmarred by the revelations of the Wikileaks documents (there's your ZDNet tech angle!), and unmarred by the new war in Libya.

Mrs. Clinton could have made the case that we gave Obama a chance, but now it's time for the grown-ups to do the job right. Heck, given that her campaign was one of the original sources of the nutty birther controversy, she could have even questioned the President's right to be President.

Now, of course, she doesn't have that opportunity. She made the wrong chess move. Mr. Obama, in retrospect, made the absolutely perfect political move. By keeping friends close and enemies closer, he brought Hillary into the fold and -- very effectively -- took her out of play for 2012.

Sure, Hillary could still run, but she'd now be battling her own record as well as Mr. Obama's. Given that Presidents who want the nomination generally get the nomination, Hillary's chances -- now -- are almost nonexistent.

So that was her strategic mistake and Mr. Obama's brilliant chess move. How could she have known that Mr. Obama wouldn't be as popular now as he was then?

Hmm...perhaps we have to give President Obama more credit for strategic thinking than we may have in the past. He certainly played the Hillary game of thrones to his advantage.

Barack Obama's a tough read. It's honestly hard to tell whether he's been good at his job or horrific. That's his fault. Because while it's very difficult to tangibly determine whether we'd have been better off with Mr. McCain than Mr. Obama these last few years, it's absolutely clear that Barack Obama has dropped the ball when it comes to inspiring the world.

And that, more than anything else, may well be Barack Obama's most serious strategic mistake.

By the way, some of the very coolest chess-related photos I've seen come from a simple Flickr search. The chess image used above was courtesy Flickr user orangelimey.

Topics: CXO, IT Employment

About

David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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212 comments
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  • Hillary's problem was that Obama was shameless in

    rigging the caucuses. Of course, the Democrats made that bed for themselves in the first place, gradually eroding the democratic process in their primaries until it became possible for candidates to be essentially selected by just a few hundred power brokers.
    fr_gough
    • RE: Hillary Clinton's strategic mistake (and Barack Obama's brilliant chess move)

      @frgough@... I don't think you know what you're talking about. Rigging a caucus? Do you even know how the caucus works? That's a saucy accusation to make without a shred of evidence.
      ChadR114
    • And the Republican Party didn't do exactly the same thing?

      @frgough@... In any population, only a few (maybe 20%) are willing to demonstrate any leadership at all. Even fewer (~5%) can sway people. In the end, any political process leaves the few (who WILL lead) leading the masses (who much prefer to follow). The power brokers always make the decision, rightly or wrongly.
      M Wagner
    • Obama will win second term!

      I want make an unpopular prediction. Obama will win 2012 general election my narrow margin.
      sokan33
      • RE: Hillary Clinton's strategic mistake (and Barack Obama's brilliant chess move)

        @sokan33: I love "fearless predictions" like this one. Like a coin toss, you have about a 50% chance of being correct. By the time the issue is decided, no one will remember...brilliant! lol
        MikeyrInFL
      • RE: Hillary Clinton's strategic mistake (and Barack Obama's brilliant chess move)

        @sokan33 Unpopular to whom? I'm definitely voting for him over any other candidate.
        chrystinp@...
  • RE: Hillary Clinton's strategic mistake (and Barack Obama's brilliant chess move)

    Except for the historical observation that the Clintons have continuously surprised their nay-sayers with remarkable political comebacks, I'd have to agree with your political analysis on this one.
    kenosha77a
  • RE: Hillary Clinton's strategic mistake (and Barack Obama's brilliant chess move)

    @jasmith4
    Yes of course if it's on one of the Wiki sites IT MUST BE TRUE. Bush, Cheney .... did they say he wasn't a citizen? I guess I missed that one. As a state senator he didn't have to born in the US. As far as I'm concerned he was born here. I lump the birthers in with the same folks I heard saying the because Palin didn't disclose some medical records she MUST have something to hide.
    Joe Dufflebag
    • A "Born Citizen" does not have to be born on US soil ...

      @Joe Dufflebag ... they just have to be born to an America Citizen. He mother was from kansas for goodness sake. Seems pretty clear to me!
      M Wagner
      • Re: @Joe Dufflebag's view of the President's U.S. citizenship

        @mwagner@... @ Joe Dufflebag specifically wrote, "As far as I'm concerned he was born here." Unless I'm misreading your comment, his comment, or both, it appears to me you two are agreeing -- fully -- regarding the President American citizenship.
        MekhongKurt
  • RE: Hillary Clinton's strategic mistake (and Barack Obama's brilliant chess move)

    You guys are so far over your head. Stick to the things you know something about.
    timtowner
    • RE: Hillary Clinton's strategic mistake (and Barack Obama's brilliant chess move)

      @timtowner Word.
      ChadR114
    • RE: Hillary Clinton's strategic mistake (and Barack Obama's brilliant chess move)

      @timtowner

      Amen, brother.
      PMC-CON
      • RE: Hillary Clinton's strategic mistake (and Barack Obama's brilliant chess move)

        @PMC-CON
        Amen, to who? Do you even believe in God? Well, Parker ?
        partman1969@...
      • ZDNET, fix your damned comment system

        @partman1969

        Um, what does the Hebrew word "amen" have to do with a belief in God?
        DeusXMachina
      • RE: Hillary Clinton's strategic mistake (and Barack Obama's brilliant chess move)

        @DeusXMachina
        For a belief in Deity, Christianity, and therefore a God. As per the first paragraph from Wikipedia:
        The word amen ( /????m?n/ or /?e??m?n/; Hebrew: ?????, Modern Amen Tiberian ??m?n; Greek: ???? ; Arabic: ?????, ??m?n ; "So be it; truly") is a declaration of affirmation[1][2] found in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament. Its use in Judaism dates back to its earliest texts.[3] It has been generally adopted in Christian worship as a concluding word for prayers and hymns.[2] In Islam, it is the standard ending to Dua (supplication). Common English translations of the word amen include: "Verily," and "Truly." It can also be used colloquially to express strong agreement,[2] as in, for instance, amen to that.[4]
        Of course Amen has just been used as to express agreement. No harm implied.
        partman1969@...
    • RE: Hillary Clinton's strategic mistake (and Barack Obama's brilliant chess move)

      @timtowner: You first! lol
      MikeyrInFL
  • What?

    There's a question in your mind that Obama is a good President? We did everything he suggested, gave him a spending carte blanche, and things haven't improved at all ... and he continues on the same road with no adjustments ... what are you talking about?
    timbrady1124@...
    • I agree.

      @timbrady1124@...

      He show that he is cool and sh*t

      but facts show that he is just a continuity of Bush Jr.
      magallanes
      • Actually

        @magallanes

        This is more like Carter's second term, than Pres. GWB.
        jgonell