Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Does Bill Clinton help Hillary's chances?

A couple of weeks ago I heard one of the seemingly-interchangeable conservative talk radio pundits say that Hillary Clinton owes her presidential aspirations to her husband. I suppose that this assertion is fairly uncontroversial on its surface. Had Bill Clinton never attained the presidency, it's likely his wife wouldn't have become the senator from New York. But that's not all that anonymous hack was talking about- he was actually claiming that Hillary somehow owed her successes to Bill's infidelities. I had a hard time following the logic of this argument. I assume that this guy was suggesting that people felt sorry for Hillary during "Lewinsky-gate", and therefore were more willing to give her the benefit-of-the-doubt as a politician. This particular claim seems ridiculous, but I won't deny that Bill Clinton's actions do affect Hillary's fortunes. They have in the past, and they will continue to do so.

It's clear that Hillary Rodham Clinton is running for president on the merits of Bill's two terms in office. She's obviously hoping that people will make a comparison between the last eight years of Bush rule, and the mid to late 90's. Certainly there are many people (especially within the Democratic party) who would accept the notion that the nation looked brighter under Clinton's management. I actually think that Dubya has done more for Bill Clinton's political legacy than any other American alive, including the former president himself. Obviously most of our history's executives look better in comparison with George W. Bush. That's the main reason why none of the current candidates for the office have much in common with the man. Even many who have struggled to defend his record are ready for change. But that doesn't necessarily mean that they want to return to the Clinton years.

In fact many progressives would prefer that almost any other Democrat (besides Hillary) win the 2008 primary. For one thing, they concede that the prospect of another Clinton presidency could be the one thing that mobilizes the increasingly deteriorating Republican coalition to show up for the general election. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton isn't representative of truly progressive politics (nor was her husband). She promises no real health care reform. She has done little to challenge the aggressive foreign policy goals of the Bush administration. She doesn't seem to be much of a friend to working people. There's actually very little indication of what agenda she will actually pursue if she achieves victory. She's very much an establishment candidate.

Meanwhile, Bill Clinton is doing very little to help Hillary's chances of winning. The greatest asset he demonstrated during his presidency was his ability to come off as a diplomatic and thoughtful man. If nothing else he was moderately likable. His ability to connect with a wide range of people masked the fact that he was accomplishing little of the Democratic agenda. Still many of the faithful were willing to invest their trust in his management skills. Unfortunately for his wife, he seems to have changed dramatically in the intervening years. He has shown himself to be defensive, deceitful and petty in his support for his wife's pursuit of the presidency. His attacks on Barack Obama seem shrill and impulsive. The media, who were often charmed by his wit and patience in the 90's, has been unpredictably critical of his approach.

Additionally, I don't think that the Democratic Party machine appreciates the increasingly ugly tone with which Bill Clinton has been attacking Hillary's chief rival. The type of slash-and-burn techniques that he is employing could come back to hurt Obama's chances after the primaries are over. I think that's why we are seeing more and more respected Democratic leaders endorsing Obama. The support of Claire McCaskill, John Kerry, and Caroline Kennedy for the upstart senator from Illinois must weigh heavily on the Clinton collective mind. And when Edward Kennedy actually evokes his dead brothers' memories to back a candidate, it's clear that the tide is turning. It would be interesting to see what effect true desperation has on the Clintons.

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Anonymous jefg99 said...

I hereby concede that I was wrong, you were right (or you are closer to being right). I thought John Edwards would break out on top as someone judged to be electable. He's out. Now, let's see if your prediction (which I at the time called a longshot) pans out. He certainly has a presence.

My wish didn't come true. A year ago I was hoping that someone would emerge in both parties that wasn't among the then-current leaders. I guess I should have known that it's tough fighting the establishment.

8:29 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

We'll just have to wait until next Tuesday to see.

I don't think Obama or Huckabee were expected to perform as well as they already have. I think they meet the qualifications for your "emergence". Although you may not like either of them... in that case, I understand and share your frustration regarding the establishment.

9:23 PM  

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