The same day a fourth grade student asked President Obama why do people hate him a Gallup survey found that far more people like Hillary Clinton than Obama. The question and the poll implicitly asked and answered the youngster's troubling question. Obama is plainly not liked by a lot of people. The stock reasons they don't like him are racism, personal and political jealousy, partisan politics, fear of change, and just plain contrariness. With the sole exception of racism, these are the same reasons many Americans have disliked other presidents.
Hillary's popularity is a far different matter. The stock explanation for her popularity trounce of Obama is that she's not a sitting president. Therefore she has none of the burdens and problems of the office that reflexively stir tensions, create divisions, and engender animosity, even blind hatred toward a president.
That much is true. But there's more. The more is Hillary. Millions still have a deep respect, admiration, and appreciation for her tireless work as a women's rights advocate, her fight for health care reform, civil rights, and international diplomacy. Before the Democratic Party bosses and much of the media ganged up against her, she was the clear presidential choice of most rank and file Democrats and millions of voters who spanned all racial and ethnic lines. Despite being outgunned and out spent during the primary campaign war with Obama, she still retained much of that support.
Her positions on health care and corporate reform, her mea culpa for her early support of the Iraq war and willingness to oppose it later, her experience in international relations, and her hands on administrative experience in White House policy affairs insured the allegiance of millions of voters to her. She was the one Democrat who could beat any GOP contender, and hit the ground running once in office. Millions of women also saw Hillary as the gender Obama. Her presidency would have marked a historic presidential breakthrough for women. She would have been a role model and inspiration for millions of women young and old. She would have proven that women can hold the world's top political power spot and govern as well if not better than a man. And do it with the grace, dignity and class that had been sorely missing from the Oval Office for years. Her administration would have been savvy, moderate, and capable of skillfully navigating and winning the blood battles with Congress.
Obama knew all this about her. He wanted and needed her experience to shore up his paper thin resume on foreign policy issues. He also needed to remove the one Democrat who posed any real reelection threat to him in 2012. Obama quickly took that possibility off the table by back rooming her at the State Department to keep her out of the media and domestic policy limelight.
When asked whether she might be a candidate in 2012, Clinton dutifully says no; that she's happy at her post. She's telling the truth. But to millions of voters, Hillary was the best candidate in 2008. As the Gallup Poll shows a year later, to millions, she's still the best presidential candidate that wasn't.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book, How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press) will be released in January, 2010.