Monday, January 28, 2008

What To Do About Bill Clinton?

I’ve been a fan of Bill Clinton for a long time. I admire his political skills, and the more we see of what the current administration has done, I think history is going to judge his presidency in a favorable light. The man has his faults, to be sure, and on more than one occasion I’ve been embarrassed by his actions. Fortunately, none of them had anything to do with the running of the country, and the same cannot be said of George W. Bush.

That said, I’m in agreement with Glenn Greenwald on the recent spate of stories about the former president’s campaigning on behalf of Hillary Clinton and the conduct of the Clinton campaign in general.

Many Democrats — including progressives — have an ambivalent attitude towards the Clintons despite Hillary’s relatively conservative record since she’s been in the Senate. They distrust their “triangulation” and soul-less political tactics, as expressed most vividly in Hillary’s case by her years-long support of the Iraq War and general support for war-loving policies.

But they also respect the Clintons for being among the very few Democrats of any significance with the willingness and ability to stand up to and defeat the right-wing monster and, most importantly, to recognize its true character. The Clintons’ behavior over this last week does nothing but highlight the absolute worst parts of their character and make any rational person dread the return of the whole Clinton show to the White House — not because of how their political enemies react to them but because of how they, almost addictively, conduct themselves.

Perhaps if Mr. Clinton would remember that it is Hillary that is running for the presidency, not him, and if there was a way that he could stop thinking of himself as her husband — he’s certainly shown that ability before — he might better serve the campaign as a political adviser and not as the aggrieved spouse defending his wife against unfair attacks. In addition, regardless of the merits of his argument comparing the Obama win in South Carolina as being comparable to Jesse Jackson, he had to know that he was kicking a hornet’s nest when he made it, and don’t think for one minute that he didn’t know it.

Notwithstanding Paul Krugman’s point (see below) that no matter who the Democrats nominate they’re going to get the full monty from the Republicans, it doesn’t do anybody any good if this campaign, already seeing some pretty outrageous actions on both sides, gets off the topic of the current state of the union and how to fix it and spends its time on, as Mr. Krugman calls it, “unpleasantness.”

If we’re going to fight, let’s fight about how to get us out of Iraq, the role of government in repairing the nation’s problems, keeping us safe, educating kids, and ensuring that all citizens are treated fairly and with equal rights. If Bill Clinton wants to talk about that on behalf of Hillary, fine. If not, then he should stay out of the way. And remember that if her candidacy goes down in flames, you can be sure who will get the blame.