Post-Campaign Bitterness

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

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.