Clinton, Obama Renew Their Primary Fight

White House Photo / Pete Souza
White House Photo / Pete Souza

Two recent, seemingly unrelated, events foreshadow an existential dilemma for the Democrat party. Last week, Hillary Clinton sparked an awkward response from the White House after noting the lack of real growth in the economy. Not long before that, Obama’s nominee for U.S. Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, had pointedly demurred from defending Clinton’s use of private email while serving as Secretary of State.

The long detente between President Obama and the Clintons is coming to an end.

At the beginning of April, Louisiana Sen. David Vitter sent a letter to Lynch, asking whether she would commit to investigating Clinton’s use of her own private email during her tenure as Secretary of State. In his letter, Vitter also asked whether Lynch would commit to appointing an independent counsel if federal law was broken.

Surprisingly, Lynch responded to Vitter’s letter two weeks later. The text of Lynch’s letter included the expected dodge that she didn’t “have enough information” to determine whether an investigation was warranted. She did state that she would appoint an independent counsel if it was deemed appropriate in this case.

The curious part of Lynch’s response wasn’t the text of her letter, but that the letter existed at all.

Vitter was one of the first Senators to announce his opposition to Lynch’s nomination. His letter to Lynch would be considered politically “hostile,” since there was no answer possible that would be likely to convince him to switch his position on her nomination. His opposition was built on disagreements with President Obama’s policies, rather than with Lynch herself.

Senators often send letters like Vitter’s to nominees, exploring issues that may have arisen after a nomination hearing. Just as often, nominees ignore these letters. At the time Lynch received the request from Vitter, the Senate Republicans were negotiating their own surrender on her nomination.

Moreover, only a handful of people were likely even aware of Vitter’s request, as the media has no interest in continuing coverage of Clinton’s email scandal. Lynch had every political reason to ignore Vitter’s request, yet she didn’t. She also didn’t rule out an investigation of Clinton. It’s as if the dog did bark in the night.

Earlier this week, while campaigning in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton said that small business growth had “stalled out.” On the one hand, Clinton’s remarks were the clearest indication of how out of touch the political class is with everyday America. Hillary said she had heard talk of the weak economy from voters and had been “surprised” when she looked into the data and found that the claims were true.

Individuals who get paid $300,000 to give a speech really are different than the rest of us.

Clinton’s remarks, though, also present a serious challenge for the Democrat party. Outside the echo chamber of the “Acela Corridor” linking Manhattan with Washington, DC, the economy is clearly weak, if not broken. Wage growth is nonexistent and the new jobs that are created are confined to lower-wage, part-time positions. A Democrat not named Obama cannot win the Presidency without acknowledging the true state of the economy.

Democrats have tried to square this knot by harping on the perceived problem of “income inequality,” as if it is some alien phenomenon completely separate from the underlying economy that warrants some kind of special government response.

To the extent that “income inequality” exists or is a problem, it is mostly the result of express government policy to flood the markets and banking system with unprecedented monetary stimulus. This excess capital can’t seep into the underlying economy because it is frozen, causing trillions to slosh around above the surface.

Robust tax and regulatory reform would allow this liquidity to nourish the economy. That policy, however, doesn’t exist in the modern Democrat party.

The existential challenge for Democrats is that voters know the economy is, at best, weak. The party must acknowledge this if it is to have any hope of winning the White House next year. It will have to do this against the backdrop of a thin-skinned President fighting to defend his legacy.

Obama’s policies are far more unpopular than he is. A recent Pew Poll found that two-thirds of Americans want the next President to reverse Obama’s agenda. Any Democrat even tacitly acknowledging this fact will spark sniping responses from the Obama world. This is perhaps even more true for Clinton.

Obama’s nominee Lynch had no reason to reply to Vitter’s letter on Clinton’s email scandal. Even choosing to respond, she could have offered a more convincing defense of Clinton, saying that she hasn’t seen any evidence of wrongdoing. Instead, she demurred, saying she didn’t have enough information to render any judgement. It was the political equivalent of telling Clinton, “you’re on your own here.”

Few things in politics are unrelated. This is especially true at the level of a presidential campaign. After almost two terms of an Obama Presidency, it is hard to remember the deep wounds inflicted on the party by the Obama-Clinton primary fight.

It is scabbed over, but the wound remains raw beneath the surface. It will likely be exposed again as the 2016 election heats up.