Obama Speech Sure Sounds Like A Tacit Endorsement Of Clinton

"Trying to find common ground doesn't make me less of a Democrat."

02/10/2016 05:46 pm ET

President Barack Obama on Wednesday gave a rousing speech on America's political culture, decrying the influence of big money, encouraging compromise and warning people against believing in absolutes from either party. 

"Trying to find common ground [with Republicans] doesn't make me less of a Democrat or less of a progressive," Obama told an audience in Springfield, Illinois. "It means I'm trying to get stuff done."

The speech was delivered the day after two ideologues, billionaire Donald Trump and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I), won the New Hampshire primaries by harnessing voter anger at the perceived "establishment" in politics. But Obama's words on Wednesday sounded like a tacit endorsement of his former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. 

Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, is mounting an insurgent campaign against the more experienced Clinton, promising voters he will deliver universal health care and free college tuition. Clinton, meanwhile, has argued that Sanders' playbook of attacking Wall Street banks and wealthy individuals is unrealistic. Clinton and Sanders have sparred in Democratic debates over who is the true "progressive," with Clinton arguing that progressivism is about results, and Sanders arguing that it's about principle.

Obama, who appointed Clinton his first secretary of state after defeating her in the 2008 Democratic primary, seemed on Wednesday to clearly fall on the Clinton side of the ideological divide. 

He said that labels, such as "not a real progressive" -- which Sanders has used against Clinton -- are damaging to the national discourse. 

"So when I hear voices in either party boast of their refusal to compromise as an accomplishment in and of itself, I'm not impressed," Obama said. "All that does is prevent what most Americans would consider actual accomplishments, like fixing roads, educating kids, passing budgets, cleaning our environment, making our streets safe."

Obama added, "It cuts both ways, guys." 

The president went on to warn against the dangers of "union bashing, or corporate bashing, without acknowledging that both workers and businesses make our economy run."

Sanders has long harbored anger at financial institutions and large companies. "The greed of Wall Street and corporate America is destroying the very fabric of our nation," he said in a speech last month.

But Obama warned Americans against adopting "the notion that compromise is a sellout to one side." Instead, the president said, "we have got to insist on the opposite: that it can be a genuine victory that means progress for all sides." 

The theme of progress through incremental action is central to Clinton's presidential campaign. "A progressive is someone who makes progress," Clinton stressed in her last debate against Sanders. The message was in stark contrast to Sanders' insistence that "what we have got to do is wage a political revolution." 

These tacit signals of Obama's support for Clinton's campaign themes weren't lost on U.S. political reporters. White House spokesman Josh Earnest pushed back against a suggestion that Obama's speech quietly expressed support for Clinton.

"He criticized union bashing AND corporate bashing & praised workers AND business - all in the same sentence," Earnest tweeted

Still, while Obama may not wade into what could become a drawn-out Democratic primary process, the signs of his alignment with Clinton were unmistakable. 

He still believes, Obama said, in the "kind of politics sustained over the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime." In the Democratic race, that's Clinton to a tee. 

CONVERSATIONS