Hillary Clinton will win the Democratic nomination; it’s just not official yet. When it is, President Barack Obama will hit the campaign trail for her, bringing both his popularity with voters (which is at a two-year high) and his fondness for Hillary with him. It will be terrific for us. And a nightmare for Donald Trump.
One of my favorite stories in US politics is the story of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. First, they were fierce adversaries. Then they were colleagues. And now they are friends.
After a long battle during the 2008 primary, Hillary eventually conceded that she had been bested by her rival who would become president. She asked her supporters to back him and joined him on the campaign trail in Unity, New Hampshire, where he, in a sky blue tie, and she, in a sky blue suit, took the stage together. “She rocks!” Barack declared. “We are one party; we are one America!” Hillary exclaimed.
Whatever recriminations were left over from the primary were buried beneath a collective will to take back the White House and enact a progressive agenda for Americans.
As the story goes, once President Obama was elected, he wanted Hillary to be his Secretary of State. His aides cautioned against it, but he was determined:
I was a big admirer of Hillary’s before our primary battles and the general election. You know, her discipline, her stamina, her thoughtfulness, her ability to project, I think, and make clear issues that are important to the American people, I thought made her an extraordinary talent. She also was already a world figure. And I thought that somebody stepping into that position of secretary of state at a time when, keep in mind, we were still in Iraq. Afghanistan was still an enormous challenge. There was great uncertainty in terms of how we would reset our relations around the world, to have somebody who could serve as that effective ambassador in her own right without having to earn her stripes, so to speak, on the international stage, I thought would be hugely important.
And she was reluctant. She thought she would be going back to the Senate, where she would help champion the new president’s agenda. But then he surprised her by inviting her to Chicago and making her an offer she couldn’t refuse:
So when I got to Chicago and he asked me if I would consider being his secretary of state, I immediately said, “Oh, Mr. President, there’s so many other people. Let me give you some other names.” Because it just took me by surprise. But he is pretty persuasive, I’ll tell you that much. And he kept saying, “Well, I want you to think about it again. I want you to– wait a minute, don’t make– don’t give me a final answer.” I’ll tell you what I finally thought. I thought, “You know, if the roles had been reversed. And I had ended up winning. I would have desperately wanted him to be in my cabinet. So if I’m saying I would have wanted him to say yes to me, how am I going to justify saying no to my president?” And it was a great decision, despite my hesitancy about it.
The above quotes come from a 60 Minutes interview in 2013, just as Hillary was wrapping up her four-year stint as Secretary of State. It was the only joint interview the President did during his first term with anyone besides First Lady Michelle Obama.
The interview is remarkable and deeply moving, and it was as much about the nature of friendship and the profound patriotism of these two extraordinary people as it was about the four-year foreign policy collaboration that was coming to an end.
There are people who cannot ever imagine anything but infinite competition with a former rival, and there are some people who forge enduring friendships in the unique bond that intense rivalry yields. From the outside, maybe it does seem unlikely that they are “strong friends,” as the President said, but from the inside of their relationship, into which they generously gave us this precious glimpse, it does not seem an unlikely friendship but an inevitable one.
They battled each other, and then they campaigned together, and then they worked beside one another—all because of their shared beliefs in hope and change, and love and kindness. And because they both deeply love their country.
That was more important to them than their rivalry. So they became allies, developing a deep bond of trust as colleagues, and, eventually, an abiding friendship.
It’s the sort of friendship we should all be so lucky to have: A confidant who shares your values, who will tell you when you’re wrong, and who will have your back when you’re right.
Politicians campaign for each other all the time, but there’s something different, something special, about the prospect of President Obama joining Hillary on the campaign trail, to endorse her presidency, eight years after she endorsed his, because they are not just political allies, but friends.
Somehow, that just makes it mean more. It’s not just that he believes she is the best candidate, nor just that he’s there because he’s her friend. He’ll be there for both reasons.
He’ll be there because he believes she’s the best person for the job, and because she helped him make history, and now it’s his turn to help her make history, too.
Yes, she’s still got to win the nomination officially, but it is only a matter of time before her friend, and our president, joins her on the campaign trial—where he will tell us why he respects her, why he trusts her, and why he likes her.
And where she will promise, once more, to protect his legacy; to keep building on the progress he’s already made. That they made together.
(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)