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Steve Barnes | Political notes from the road

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Believe it or not this town offers more than country music. It is home to what I am told (I have not had the opportunity to personally partake) is a stellar symphony orchestra, and a bistro or two where the order of the day, or evening, is not Prokofiev or Patsy Cline but Charlie Parker. The political music, meantime, is hardly as varied, though it leans to what might be termed classical, if by that you mean conservative; yet beyond that shared theme the notes create something other than a melodic whole. Rather like Arkansas, perhaps. About which more in a moment.

One of our former governors, who went on to something bigger, returned again, on Friday, and quite possibly not for the last time this season, to raise money for the state Democratic Party.

It’s a $250 per-person cocktail thing at the Capitol Hotel, Little Rock’s swankiest venue. It wouldn’t do to hold an overtly political fund-raiser at his namesake presidential library, just a few blocks to the east, even though parking is more convenient. That the Capitol (the hotel, not yet the state Capitol, with its own problematic parking) is owned by a prominent Arkansas Republican who contributed heartily to the campaigns of the men who attempted to defeat the featured speaker adds a dollop of irony, but only that; the innkeeper of the Capitol is, at his core, a capitalist.

So, Bill Clinton will speak. Don’t know if Mark Pryor or Mike Ross or Pat Hays or James Lee Witt, or any of the other Democratic nominees for major offices will take the microphone, but it’s likely Steve Beshear will offer a word or two. Beshear? He’s a Democrat and the governor of Kentucky, which like Arkansas took advantage of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare. And Kentucky and Arkansas are the two states which were reported last week to have seen the largest drop in the percentage of uninsured residents. So Beshear’s appearance in Arkansas is not because he was the only “name” available.

Rather it is a not so subtle shift in strategy by senior Democrats: with 200,000 previously uninsured Arkansans now covered under Medicaid or the Private Option health coverage program, with the pressure of providing “free” coverage to the non- or underinsured easing on rural hospitals and providers, why run from something — Obamacare, or whatever moniker – from which you could never hide?

Now, the other Clinton, not to mean Chelsea.

It was never a question of how, but when: when does she begin the inevitable, necessary task of separating herself, distinguishing herself, from the president who appointed her Secretary of State? A president whose job approval ratings are in the 30 percent range, a president who has unsettled the moderates of his own party and irritated, at a minimum, its left?

The “how” could not have been on health care reform, except to call for an even greater expansion of the program, say, toward a single-payer system. No, it had to be on foreign policy, strategic affairs. And in fact she had grown a bit prickly in recent weeks, offering opaque criticisms of Mr. Obama’s national and global security policies. Democrats have long fought the perception, nurtured by Republicans, that they are “soft” on defense. And, facing new hearings about the Benghazi tragedy, which are really about her and not Benghazi, it was time to get tough. She did.

“The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad —there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle — the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled,” Clinton told The Atlantic.

She was just getting started. She went on to a full-throated defense of Israel’s counteroffensive against Hamas in Gaza, which won’t hurt her with an influential component of the Democratic primary base.

The scolding could not have been unexpected by the Obama White House and quite likely was communicated to either the President or his top political aides well in advance. He, and they, understood; it’s part of the game. But they might be asking, Did she have to hit us that hard?

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