Has the Democratic presidential primary of 2012 started already? Is Hillary Clinton beginning to position herself for a challenge to her boss? Yesterday, Hillary fired what may have been the first shot:
"I think that our rising debt level poses a national security threat, and it poses a national security threat in two ways: It undermines our capacity to act in our own interests, and it does constrain us where constraint may be undesirable. And it also sends a message of weakness, internationally."
The contrast with her husband's presidency is implicit: He balanced the budget and reduced the debt to the point where Wall Street fretted that there would be no more federal debt instruments to buy, leaving them without a safe place to park their money.
Hillary does nothing -- nothing -- without forethought. She plans every word, particularly when the words are critical of her president. By framing the "debt level" as a "national security threat," she gives herself jurisdiction over budget policy and makes her comments about it appropriate for a secretary of state. And by criticizing the debt level that her president has amassed, she sets up the basis for a fiscal/economic critique of his presidency.
Remember that between the time George Washington took the oath of office and the day that Obama took the same oath, the federal government amassed $9 trillion of debt. And, in the 19 months since then, it has piled up $3.5 trillion more! Debt is Obama's big negative, the concomitant of his big spending stimulus package. Now he has Hillary Clinton criticizing it and, by implication, him.
Will Hillary run? She might. The scenario would go like this:
Step One: Obama loses both houses of Congress by record margins, throwing the Democratic Party into shock. Disbelief yields to recrimination, and the party leaders begin to turn on their president.
Step Two: The popular repudiation of their president leads Democrats to question Obama's leadership, and his ratings plunge. Without a base of Democratic approval, President Obama's ratings sink below 40 percent down into the low 30s.
Step Three: As it becomes clear that the Democrats will lose the election of 2012, more and more party leaders and the rank and file demand new leadership and look to Hillary to turn things around.
Who know if she will really run. She doesn't know. She can't know until she sees how low Obama falls. But remember this: If she does run, her candidacy started yesterday.