It was the most memorable moment in the debates of the 2008 nomination cycle. Before the New Hampshire Primary, Sen. Hillary Clinton was asked by the debate moderator to respond to comments that she had a powerful resume, impressive achievements, but she didn’t measure up on the “likeability” scale.
Her response was charming. “That hurts my feelings.” But her opponent, freshman Sen. Barack Obama scored a knockout with his ultra-cool rejoinder. “Your likeable enough, Hillary.” You have to see it.
Hillary actually won that primary, narrowly. But it didn’t take away the sting of Obama’s barb. Likeable enough.
Clearly, she was trying to be more likeable in her debut as President Obama’s Secretary of State when she went to Geneva five years ago to meet with Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov. Madame Secretary presented the normally dour Slavic diplomat with a red plastic button.
It was supposed to say: “Reset”. But Lavrov noted that it actually said: “Overcharge” And observers pointed out that the State Department types who had typed the word failed to write it in the Cyrillic alphabet. So, wrong word. Wrong alphabet. No big thing.
We just want to be more likeable. The news media, of course, focused on all the goodwill, the yuk-yuk making, and the promise of a new era in U.S.-Russian relations. No more of that nasty George W. Bush. Now, we would all have a Rodney King foreign policy: Can’t we all just get along?
The reset button was supposed to symbolize America’s willingness to wipe the 2008 slate clean. We would not hold Russia’s invasion of the Republic of Georgia against them. It was a short, sharp clash that only served to show the former Soviet satellite—in fact, all the former Soviet regions--that the Russian bear still had sharp claws and big teeth.
As we look ahead, however, we will find that the reset button will figure more prominently. From that moment on, the Russian policy of this administration was to accommodate, temporize, forgive and forget.
In 2010, President Obama met with then-President Dmitri Medvedev in suburban Washington for what was billed as a “hamburger summit.” The two leaders mugged for the cameras and no one noticed that Medvedev was figuratively eating Obama’s lunch.
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