By Alan Steinberg
The Internet and print media are replete with comments of Democratic leaders and rank-and-file expressing “buyer’s remorse” over their party’s selection of Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton as the presidential nominee in 2008. Obama’s political ineptitude and pathetic lack of policy insight have been magnified before the national electorate during the debt ceiling wars and the financial markets’ free fall. Unless unemployment drops below eight percent by September, 2012, Obama will not be reelected, regardless of the identity of his Republican opponent.
My normal reaction would be to say, “Far be it from me to comment on Democratic Party internal travails.” As a long time New Jersey GOP stalwart, however, I have the following shameful confession to make. I had a surprisingly good working relationship with the then New York U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton and her staff while I served as Region 2 EPA Regional Administrator during the second term of President George W. Bush. I certainly would never support her for President, but if I had to have a Democratic President, I would far rather have her than a Barack Obama.
I had substantial interaction with Hillary Clinton – direct substantial interaction, because she often would pick up the phone herself to call me. I dealt extensively with her on post- 9-11 matters, and to her credit, she kept these matters out of partisan politics. She had a deep, genuine interest in the environment, and she was always most appreciative when I would brief her on subjects as to which she was unfamiliar, such as the Filtration Avoidance Determination for New York City water.
Unlike Obama, Hillary Clinton was willing to work closely with Republican members of the House of Representatives and the Senate to achieve bipartisan goals. This was confirmed for me in conversations I had with my closest friend in the New York State Republican Congressional delegation, the then Representative Jim Walsh, who represented the Syracuse area.
Jim Walsh and I had similar experiences of bipartisan cooperation with Hillary Clinton. This was in sharp contrast to our working experiences with the disgraced former Governor Eliot Spitzer, a political Sonny Liston, who was a vulgar, offensive and profane cowardly partisan bully, without ethical scruples. Both of us had experienced ugly confrontations with the then New York governor – from which neither Jim nor I backed down. Unlike Hillary, who was gracious and dignified, Eliot Spitzer gave new meaning to the term “political thug”.
Another distinguishing feature of the then Senator Hillary Clinton was her Senate staff. On the Democratic side of the aisle, she had the most competent staff of any Senator, with the exception of the late Senator Ted Kennedy’s Labor Committee staff. Her record of Senate accomplishment stood in sharp contrast to that of the junior Senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, who established a record of substantial nonachievement.
So in late 2007, I was certain that Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic nominee for President of the United States in 2008. I had no doubt that she would have a campaign staff as competent as her Senatorial staff. I felt that with the supreme political skills of both her husband Bill and herself, she would easily defeat Barack Obama.
I was therefore shocked by the incompetency of both her campaign and campaign staff. I was even further surprised when she accepted Obama’s appointment of her as Secretary of State.
Had Hillary Clinton remained in the U.S. Senate, I am convinced that she could have eventually achieved the stature of the late Senator Ted Kennedy or an Orrin Hatch, senators respected on both sides of the political aisle for their ability to achieve bipartisan cooperation in pursuit of the public good.
Instead, she became the spokesperson for a failed foreign policy with which, I believe, she often disagrees.
Rumor in Washington has it that Hillary will be leaving the Obama administration in the spring of 2012 to become the president of the World Bank. This would enable her to independently have influence on the world economy. There is no doubt as to her competency in this new position.
In retrospect, during the 2008 presidential campaign, Hillary positioned herself as a highly qualified and ready future President of the United States. By contrast, Barack Obama was campaigning as a national political rock star and messiah. He was a senator without accomplishments, yet his charisma won over Hillary’s competence and experience.
It seems to me that Democrats throughout the nation now comprehend this all too clearly. For the remainder of this administration, increasing numbers of Democrats will continue to express remorse for voting for Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton in 2008. This is scant comfort to Hillary, whose hopes of becoming President are effectively gone.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush. Region 2 EPA consists of the states of New York and New Jersey, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and eight federally recognized Indian nations. Under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman, he served as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission. He currently serves on the political science faculty of Monmouth University.