Obama should rue the day he appointed Clinton

The revival of the Clinton psychodrama is blocking Obama's attempt to transcend the old divisions

Hillary Clinton's humourless response to a Congolese student who asked what her husband thought of China's economic relations with the Congo should remind President Obama of the hazards of having the Clinton family drama back at the centre of US politics.

The student, who in fact asked for Obama's thoughts on the subject and had his question mangled by a hapless translator, was dealt a stinging reply by Clinton.

"You want me to tell you what my husband thinks?" she asked incredulously. "My husband is not the secretary of state, I am. You ask my opinion, I will tell you my opinion; I'm not going to channel my husband."

The incident confirms that self-deprecation remains an art foreign to Clinton and that her status as secretary of state has done little to assuage her resentment at not landing the top job.

In today's Independent, Helen Wilkinson (while failing to note the erroneous translation) apparently defends Clinton on the basis that she is a female politician and that some of her critics are misogynists. She refers her readers to the almost "pathological" attacks on Clinton during the presidential campaign.

Well, in fact there was something rather vulgar and sinister about the sexist attacks on Clinton.

The Fox News correspondent Tucker Carlson, for instance, crudely remarked that Clinton: "feels castrating, overbearing and scary . . . When she comes on television, I involuntarily cross my legs." While right-wing goons, whose idea of a fun day out is to chant "iron my shirt" at female politicians, were painfully conspicuous throughout the campaign.

But what will not do is to rewrite history, as Wilkinson does, and portray Clinton as a political innocent who has always steered clear of smear tactics.

It was Clinton who during the scurrilous campaign to 'out' Obama as a 'secret Muslim' pandered to such paranoia by declaring that Obama was not a Muslim "as far as I know ". And it was the Clinton camp that appealed to the US electorate's basest instincts by circulating images of Obama dressed in traditional Somali garb across the media.

Moreover, Clinton's mendacious claim to have come "under sniper fire" at the Tuzla Air Force Base during her trip to Bosnia (a subsequent video revealed her peaceful arrival) should have disqualified her from holding any political office.

Obama's decision to welcome Clinton into his administration after her disgraceful campaign may have appeared magnanimous to some but to me it seemed almost masochistic.

As Maureen Dowd has cogently argued in the New York Times, the presence of Clinton in Obama's team has stymied his attempt to transcend the old political divisions.

"The postpartisan, postracial, post-Clinton-dysfunction world that Barack Obama was supposed to usher in when he hit town on his white charger, with turtle doves tweeting, has vanished."

At a time when the Obama administration desparately needs to mount a rearguard action against the conservative assaults on its health-care policy it can ill afford the revival of the Clinton psychodrama.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The Liberal Democrats are back - and the Tories should be worried

A Liberal revival could do Theresa May real damage in the south.

There's life in the Liberal Democrats yet. The Conservative majority in Witney has been slashed, with lawyer and nominative determinism case study Robert Courts elected, but with a much reduced majority.

It's down in both absolute terms, from 25,155 to 5,702, but it's never wise to worry too much about raw numbers in by-elections. The percentages tell us a lot more, and there's considerable cause for alarm in the Tory camp as far as they are concerned: the Conservative vote down from 60 per cent to 45 per cent.

(On a side note, I wouldn’t read much of anything into the fact that Labour slipped to third. It has never been a happy hunting ground for them and their vote was squeezed less by the Liberal Democrats than you’d perhaps expect.)

And what about those Liberal Democrats, eh? They've surged from fourth place to second, a 23.5 per cent increase in their vote, a 19.3 swing from Conservative to Liberal, the biggest towards that party in two decades.

One thing is clear: the "Liberal Democrat fightback" is not just a hashtag. The party has been doing particularly well in affluent Conservative areas that voted to stay in the European Union. (It's worth noting that one seat that very much fits that profile is Theresa May's own stomping ground of Maidenhead.)

It means that if, as looks likely, Zac Goldsmith triggers a by-election over Heathrow, the Liberal Democrats will consider themselves favourites if they can find a top-tier candidate with decent local connections. They also start with their by-election machine having done very well indeed out of what you might call its “open beta” in Witney. The county council elections next year, too, should be low hanging fruit for 

As Sam Coates reports in the Times this morning, there are growing calls from MPs and ministers that May should go to the country while the going's good, calls that will only be intensified by the going-over that the PM got in Brussels last night. And now, for marginal Conservatives in the south-west especially, it's just just the pressure points of the Brexit talks that should worry them - it's that with every day between now and the next election, the Liberal Democrats may have another day to get their feet back under the table.

This originally appeared in Morning Call, my daily guide to what's going on in politics and the papers. It's free, and you can subscribe here. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.