Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Clintons: Good cop - bad cop. Or bad cop - worse cop?

No one born since 1970 has voted in a Presidential election that did not have a Bush or Clinton running at the top of the ticket. Presidential politics in this country for the past two decades has come down as either being for or against the Bush’s and for or against the Clintons. The Bush reign is over for the time being but we are being presented with the possibility of a third term of the Clinton administration.

So it’s important for Democrats to understand that not everyone thinks back on the administration of Bill Clinton as the good old days. And even many of those who do are beginning to suffer from Clinton fatigue. Here are Richard Stern’s thoughts on Bill Clinton:
I know what’s happened to my feelings about Bill Clinton, so I assume that the same change has taken place in others.

I’ve been a fan of Bill Clinton’s since his first presidential campaign, I voted for him twice and felt for him deeply when the Congressional lynch mob Clarence Thomas took unto himself ganged up to throw him out of office. In one of Philip Roth’s novels there are pages about the sanctimony and hypocrisy of those days; a former student of ours (Roth’s and mine), a young writer named Isabel Cole wrote me from Berlin, “Why are Anericans surprised that they voted a man into office?” The louder the sanctimonious racket, the angrier I got about the smirking, virtue-sellers who raised it. I found the “Depends on what ‘is’ means” testimony an exhibition of strength and courage unique in presidential annals and delighted in the great public’s forgiveness and “None of our business” response to the congressional and journalistic hypocrites. I enjoyed the subsequent years of Clinton’s popularity, relished the quiet intelligence as he, say, gave a brilliant tour d’horizon of world affairs or refreshed debate by giving down to earth translations of difficult economic or political problems.

Now in the winter of 2008, Clinton’s speeches for his wife and against Barack Obama have infuriated me. They have the simplistic, insinuatingly suggestive stupidity he used to counter. They are devious in the way his accusers accused him of being. They are mean-spirited in an “I-don’t-give-a-damn-about-anything-else” mode, “anything else” standing for the Democratic Party and whoever becomes its candidate. He black-baits as if an older, meaner Arkansas voice was let loose in him; he distorts Obama’s remarks about Republicans and Reagan as if he were the liar the impeachment-mad Republicans claimed he was.

What the psychological explanation is, I don’t know. Some have suggested that he’s making up to Hillary for his liaisons with Monica Lowinsky et al. Some say he’s trying to sink Hillary’s candidacy because he can’t bear the public displays of marital solidarity he goes through on every platform on which they both stand, or because, for many years, he’s disliked her forcefulness, detailed knowledge and Clintonesque grasp of matters small and large. I don’t know and don’t care about his motives. All I know is that the charming, decent, empathetic, learned, hard-working, sincere human being I once thought so wonderful, is now covered with the marble dust of the statue he himself has been daily demolishing.
And if many of Bill Clinton’s old supporters are tiring of him then Democrats need to realize what goes for the goose goes for the gander. It is clear the Clintons are running for a co-presidency. Hillary will be running as an incumbent without the institutional advantages of incumbency in a year when voters clearly want change.

My home state of Virginia is Republican leaning but is slowly coming more “in-play” for the Democrats. If Clinton were at the top of the ticket my guess is locals running for election – outside of Northern Virginia - would keep her at arms-length and it would be very unlikely Virginia, as well as other not-as-Republican-as-they-used-to-be states, would go Democratic. Whoever the Democratic nominee is needs to pull one or two of these states out of the Republican column to take the White House. There is no coincidence that many political leaders from “red states” are endorsing Oboma – they know the Clinton name can be poison in many of these states. These states may still be winnable but it’s going to take a lot more work.

This raises a problem not only of getting elected but also for governing unless the Democrats can make substantial gains in Congress. (Congressional gains seem likely but substantial gains seem unlikely as this time given how the system is geared to protect incumbents.) Part of the calculation the Democrats need to consider is not only who can win the White House in November but also who would have the longest coat-tails to carry in a large enough majority in Congress to actually govern.

Hillary Clinton certainly stands head and shoulders above anyone running for the Republican nomination and if she is the nominee then Democrats should rally behind her. However, for the time being, the Democrats have the luxury of making a choice – fight the battles we choose to fight or fight the battles imposed upon us.

1 comment:

Comrade Kevin said...

Here in Alabama the Clinton name is toxic and Obama on the ballot would garnish far more votes than she would, ever.

A solid red state like this one might even go blue for Obama, but it would almost certainly support McCain.

The view I hear from lot of Alabamians is that of: "I might vote for McCain, but..."

Clearly he inspires reluctant support among many conservative and conservative-leaning independents.

Clinton, Bill's response this time around either reinforces the notion that his true colors are showing or that the worst parts of his personality are evident.