Usually vice presidents face the difficulties that come with running for president from the same party as the sitting president. George H.W. Bush craved Ronald Reagan's endorsement during the Republican primaries in 1988 and then pushed off from the Gipper and set out on his own course with a vision for a "kinder and gentler nation" at the Republican Convention. Al Gore spent the entire 2000 campaign doing an awkward two-step of embracing what he liked about the Clinton-Gore Administration while distancing himself from Clinton the man. It didn't really work out very well.
Hillary Clinton has the even more difficult task of running for president tied at the ankle with Barack Obama and the ring finger with Bill Clinton. The truth is there isn't much she can do about it. "It is what it is" as they say, so Secretary Senator First Lady Clinton and her team shouldn't worry about it. The hugs she and the former president exchanged with the Obamas on Martha's Vineyard to get past the "Don't Do Stupid Stuff" squall this week should just keep going through 2016. If she runs for President they're all in it together.
The good news for team Clinton is pundits, political opponents and prognosticators will obsess over 20 year old pink sweaters and five year old State Department cables, but voters don't really care. They are much more concerned about the future than the past. More transactional than Janet Jackson, voters don't just want to know what have you done for me lately, they want to know what will you do for me next?
The worst thing to happen to Secretary Senator First Lady Clinton is to be sucked into stories about where she differs from President Obama on some item from their time together. There is no winning. She won't win over his Republican critics and his supporters will just get mad. Besides the math in presidential politics has changed.
In the 1990s Democrats focused on suburban white moderates for most of the campaign with a last minute turn to the base. Winning these days means big turn out from the "rising American electorate," code for blacks, Latinos, single white women, liberal white men, Asian Americans and young people. Getting them to surge means targeting them early and maintaining a relationship through Election Day. Most of those voters are still quite fond of President Obama. Dissing him can only hurt. Instead, her focus should be on work yet to be done and the Tea Party Republicans standing in the way. They are the real obstacles and opponents, not Barack Obama.
Clinton spinners and spokespeople should steal Sarah Palin's note-keeping move from her playbook and write the phrase "unfinished business" on their palms. It's not a message for the public, but it is a framework for communicating her vision every time a reporter calls. It doesn't denigrate President Obama, but builds on his legacy while giving her the space to offer new ideas. Team Clinton ought to be more concerned with fixing problems that still exist than reframing old issues most Americans won't even remember.
What makes Secretary Senator First Lady Hillary Clinton different is that she is different. If she wins, she will be the most experienced president we have had since before most people used touchtone phones. She also would happen to be the first woman.
After the Obama era promise of Hope and Change voters will be in a more sober mood. Clinton shouldn't try to convince anyone that her election would bring an end to partisan sniping and hatred. Nobody would believe her. Instead, Secretary Senator First Lady Clinton should convince them that she knows how to get around the partisan sniping and hatred to get a few more things done. Add a vision for a stronger America where everyone plays by the same rules with more opportunity for more people and that just might do the trick. Experience, toughness and vision are her assets.
The "past may be prologue" in Shakespeare but the future is all that really matters in presidential politics.