Oprah and Barack, Political Love Match -- Sorry, Hillary

By Jamie Stiehm

January 12, 2018 5 min read

WASHINGTON — Mississippi River of memory, who gave young Barack Obama an iron boost in the 2008 Iowa caucuses, the momentum to win over a pack of seasoned senators?

Obama's early blessing came from Oprah Winfrey, our new rising star in presidential politics. Who says irony is dead? The sun that winter, she elevated him to frontrunner status. The former president would likely return the love if Oprah jumps into the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.

Here's the thing that stings. Hopefully, Obama would work harder for Winfrey than he did for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016. He talked a great game. But did he play one? He didn't energize and turn out his own blue base in Midwestern industrial landscapes like Milwaukee, Cleveland and Detroit. Clinton lost those states, and bears the blame. But Obama could have made more of a concerted difference if his head was in the game of electing another history-breaking president.

This goes beyond Obama not punching his weight as a political partner. He left his own legacy tragically undefended, more than any recent president: on the landmark climate change treaty, the immigration status of "Dreamers" and his signature law, Obamacare. Every important success, including the Iran nuclear deal, is under assault by Donald Trump.

The star solo artist and speaker is not a team player, not a leader of any band. Obama doesn't like listening to other people's speeches. He hated hanging out with members of Congress. Truly, the man's an island. But party politics is a team contact sport, especially in an election year. Everybody has to hang together, as Benjamin Franklin reminded fellow revolutionaries. Or, politics ain't beanbag, a Southern saying. I know, right?

Obama, then the Democratic Party leader, ignored the party apparatus that was in shambles the summer of 2016. He let it be as the chair, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., drove the Democratic National Committee into the ground. A divisive force hated by the Bernie Sanders wing, she was ousted just before the Democratic convention opened. I felt the fury on the floor and in the Philadelphia streets.

Every hard day that passes in the Trump presidency, not a year old yet, it comes backs to me, unbidden. What Obama did to hurt Clinton's bid is untold in our town, which feels under siege. The things he didn't do to help Clinton are also lost in his dreamy narrative. Many hunger for Obama's class act, so flaws seem small. But they're not.

The gravest cut of all is that Obama appointed James Comey as the FBI director in 2013. Comey was a principled Republican appointee in the George W. Bush Justice Department, a Republican nonetheless.

Generally, Democratic presidents don't appoint Republicans, and vice versa, to such a visible, sensitive position. The spoils of victory mean something. No president gives away the FBI prize, unless it's high-minded Obama. He thought Comey, too, was a peer above the partisan fray. Yet Comey did everything to wreck Clinton's bid. No FBI director should ever tell the public about investigations that come to naught. Comey did that twice, once a week before the election. In the summer, he called her "extremely careless" over her emails, which he had no right to do.

Obama should have spoken out, but he was keeping something secret else with Comey: The FBI investigation into Russian meddling in the election, to throw it to Trump. This was a far bigger deal, and the president should have told the people about it as a threat to American democracy.

Ironically, Comey was extremely careless in not telling the DNC that its emails were hacked, as he had rushed to Attorney General John Ashcroft's hospital bed to avert a crisis. Passive in the face of Comey's outright outrages, Obama's excuse was rich. He didn't want to appear to favor Clinton, since she was leading. The consequences cost Clinton — and the country — dearly.

Iowa is the first contest in a grueling campaign. Ten years ago, the Iraq War raged and an unpopular president, George W. Bush, neared the end of a long winter. The good old days.

Oprah, we'll be seeing you — and you, Barack.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit creators.com

Image courtesy of Luke Vargas

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