Political Animal


January 28, 2013 3:09 PM Post-Campaign Bitterness

By Ed Kilgore

After complaining about me “wasting space” by writing about Sarah Palin (I plead innocence of any big obsession with La Pasionaria of the Permafrost, but writing twelve posts a day means there aren’t too many political topics I can deliberately skip) commenter sgetti suggested I weigh in on the Obama/HRC interview that aired on 60 Minutes yesterday. Since I rarely watch “political TV,” particularly on weekends, I found the transcript and plowed through it.

I’m not sure if this is what sgetti wanted to read, but the only really interesting thing I found in the interview was this answer from the president on how he and HRC got over their often-tense primary competition:

President Obama: You know, the— it didn’t take as long as I think people would perceive it. As I said, once the primary was over, Hillary worked very hard for me. Bill worked very hard for me. So we were interacting on a fairly regular basis. I think it was harder for the staffs, which is understandable. Because, you know, they get invested in this stuff in ways that I think the candidates maybe don’t. You know, Hillary mentioned, you know, part of our bond is we’ve been through a lot of the same stuff. And part of being through the same stuff is getting whacked around in political campaigns, being criticized in the press. You know, we’ve both built some pretty thick skins. And you know, sometimes our staffs don’t go through that so they are taking umbrage and offense. And, they’re reading every blog and every tweet. And, you know, and most of the time, you know, Hillary, I suspect, you know, handles this the same way I do, you know? We kind of have a block— a screen from a lot of the silliness that happens during presidential campaigns. And so for me at least, you know, by the time Hillary joined the administration, I felt very confident and comfortable in our working relationship.


Anyone who has worked for a politician is at least dimly aware that The Boss (or at least most of them) doesn’t necessarily hold his or her staff in the highest esteem. (I once asked a U.S. Senator what he and his colleagues usually talked about in Members-Only meetings, and he said “We complain about our staffs.”) But this public condescension by the president still kind of surprises me. He’s saying staff in a political campaign read too much of that silly stuff on the Internet and lose perspective, taking it more seriously than the candidate.

It some respects, this is probably true, particularly in a high-stakes campaign like a White House run. For all but the very top staff, winning and losing represents the difference between a very good chance at one of the most high-prestige gigs in the country, and a probable bout of unemployment. The kind of people who get to run for president of the United States are not, by and large, going to have a whole lot to worry about in paying for the groceries. And perhaps most candidates, being a bit older than most staff, can remain under the impression that anything that doesn’t appear in the Washington Post or New York Times doesn’t really matter (I once worked for a governor who could not get it through his head that most voters don’t read newspaper editorials).

But one of the reasons people don’t generally trust politicians is the phenomenon of watching them accuse each other of being the scum of the earth one minute and then palling around like it was all a joke the minute the votes are in. This obviously happens a lot after primaries, when candidates are pretty much forced to bury the hatchet in order to close ranks against the Hated Partisan Foe (and in many cases, to close ranks in order to pay off the loser’s campaign debts). In the case of Obama and HRC, it was very difficult to identify significant differences between them on policy matters; yet their rivalry was ferocious because it lasted so long.

In the interview HRC didn’t comment on the staff bitterness issue (in the case of her 2008 staff, a lot of them seemed to save their recriminations for each other), but did observe, from her unique perspective of experiencing it both ways, that candidate spouses can get very emotional:

Yeah, we noticed The Big He getting kinda tense now and then in 2008. And if Michelle Obama ever runs for a major office, we may see No Drama Obama flip out a bit more, too.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • punaise on January 28, 2013 3:19 PM:

    his multiple "you know"s don't transcribe well, do they?

  • jjm on January 28, 2013 3:22 PM:

    What I saw was Hillary's amazement at Obama's skill as a leader within the government as well as without. She was dazzled by the fact that he got people to work together so well inside the government, excluding the Congress, of course. Tells a story about him, doesn't it?

    I'm not entirely certain this was an endorsement of Hillary '16; since he's leaning so heavily on Biden, I doubt that he was trying to do this.

    Was anyone else irritated by the host's remark that Obama's foreign policy is weak because he didn't come up with some militarized 'doctrine'?

  • c u n d gulag on January 28, 2013 3:25 PM:

    They looked pretty chummy on TV.

    And I think he had a good point about the two of them having to go through the same Conservative BS.
    He's the KenyanSocialistFascistCommunistIslamistAtheistMuslim Userper, and Hillary was the LesbianMaleLoverKillerAndGonnifWhoMadeTonsOfMoneyInALandDeal she actually lost money on.

    I think last night, hia appearance with her, was his benediction.
    He's saying, 'She's ok with me, if she decides to run.'

    I'd love to hear Biden's reaction after he saw that segment.

  • troglodyte on January 28, 2013 3:33 PM:

    Give the horse race a rest! If the Dem party cant field viable candidates younger than both Hillary and Biden, much as I respect both of them, then the Repubs will likely win in 2016.

    On the other hand, I would LOVE to see Michelle Obama run for something in 2016 or beyond. She has the cred to be a Congresscritter from illinois.

  • David in NY on January 28, 2013 3:49 PM:

    I have been amazed at the ability of both Bill Clinton and Obama to shrug off the most scurrilous attacks in the so-called "press" and elsewhere. Of course, it's not the President's role to respond tit for tat -- indeed, just the opposite, he's got to stay "Presidential" -- but it's sort of surprising they don't lose it once in a while.

    The only real break in this was in fact by Hillary -- the "vast right wing conspiracy" line -- that seemed like overkill at the time. Of course, now, it's just obviously the case. And she wasn't the President.

  • Gandalf on January 28, 2013 3:52 PM:

    Boy you sure are trying to dredge up something, anything interesting here aren't you Ed? Did it ever cross your mind that Obama was actually being forthright there? Or is it that in your head all politicians have ulterior motives for everything they do and as we all know Obama is a master of twelve level chess.

  • aimai on January 28, 2013 3:52 PM:

    I think that's a serious misreading of what he is saying. He basically said what should be obvious, even to a former staffer--the staff looks at the candidate like they are a sports team and totemic object. The staff passionately sees the entire process of the campaign as a war waged between good and evil and they are on the side of good. The candidate knows for a fact that he/she is probably not the be all and end all of public life and also knows and makes a bargain with reality that at the end of the primary, certainly, they will be asked to renounce animosity and pull together for the sake of the party. Its easy for the candidate (as opposed to the staff) to be instrumental in their praise/condemnation of their opponent and to recognize that their opponent is doing the same--and easier, as the President explicitly said--to choose the things that bind you together (having been president, having lived in the white house, having run for the office) than the ideological points which may have divided you. In the case of Obama and HIllary, for example, ideologically they were never very far apart--even the mandate/no mandate thing were issus of practical politics not moral issues for them.

  • Greg on January 28, 2013 3:55 PM:

    The bit about the staff taking things more personally reminds me of a line from The West Wing: "The President doesn't hold grudges. That's what he pays me for."

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on January 28, 2013 4:02 PM:

    Well, I guess it's a one-up for the Romster's not winning the election. I doubt any of the Pugs from the GOP primary, much less Romney himself, would have the stomach to pretend to be all buddy-buddy after the fae. THEY had a pretty ugly primary campaign. It was a parade of hateful and despicable souls.

  • Celui on January 28, 2013 4:22 PM:

    Saw the interview and then saw last night's costume drama 'Downtown Abbey'; except for the costumes, there wasn't much substance in either. "60 (More) Minutes" should move away from the nonsense interviews and launch some actual, substantive reporting. 'Upstairs or downstairs,' it's all pretty much a soap opera. Except, if Rmoney had won, the sniping among staff and supporters would be daily front-page stuff. Then, what would Faux Noise do for content?

  • karen on January 28, 2013 4:25 PM:

    Seriously? Condescension? Have you been secretly replaced by Maureen Dowd? I think you might need to adjust your lenses.

  • Yabba on January 28, 2013 5:07 PM:

    I don't think it's condescending at all. The candidate can't afford to hold grudges and take everything horrible said about them personally or else they'll turn into John McCain. They HAVE to develop a thick skin. They know they have to keep an even keel. Plus, if they win, they're getting the big prize. And if they lose, they'll probably have to pick up the pieces and make things right with the faction that won if they want a future.

  • sgetti on January 28, 2013 6:06 PM:

    Nice, Ed. You could've slammed Ryan's cryin' a lot easier or definitely singled out Kroft's attempt at a 'gotcha' question on the perceived lack (false equivalence) of no significant Obama diplomacy front. Anyhoo, maybe tomorrow you can point out what the great bipartisan moment of today's immigration reform announcement was a shoddy piece of mutual ass-kissing. (My opinion.) Expanded government oversight on borders, employment checks, etc - Republicans now want more 'bloated' departments? Immigrants must be proficient in English and US civics? Democrats should seen this as an attack on an individual's rights. A lot of Americans can't even name one Supreme Court justice let alone write comments without misspelling. But, thanks for responding to my earlier post - I read you everyday and find your blog on the high end in serious commentary quality.

  • Crissa on January 28, 2013 7:28 PM:

    How is admitting that staffs and followers get far more invested looking down upon them If anything, it's saying they take their jobs far more seriously.

    I don't get that, Ed.

  • Joy on January 29, 2013 10:38 AM:

    I didn't read it that way either. I don't think he was condescending to his staff. I thought he meant that they read everything and pick over everything (maybe that's their job). They are loyal to their candidate and take umbrage with negative comments.