Politics & Media
Sep 17, 2014, 01:20PM

Is Democratic Reliance on Bill Clinton Still Smart?

He raises money, but personal appearances can be tricky.

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A few days ago, Ira Stoll, editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com, took to his former platform, The New York Sun, to remind readers just how duplicitous Bill Clinton is when he takes time off from giving $200,000 speeches and saving the world with Bono and George Clooney and gets back to American politicking. Stoll says that Clinton, collecting chits for spontaneity-challenged wife Hillary, was in “full demagoguery mode” at Sen. Tom Harkin’s Iowa Steak Fry last Sunday, telling the assembled that Republicans are “trying to get you to check your brain at the door, start foaming at the mouth, push some hot button. The last thing they want you to do is think.”

Clinton, who’s been dispatched to the South to whip up Democrats who don’t usually vote in midterm elections, warning them that if the GOP wins the Senate, Congress will shut down the “government over and over and over again,” is in his element. Stoll points out that the youngest eligible voters in 2016 weren’t even born when Clinton—and Hillary, “two for the price of one”—was elected in 1992, and could be bamboozled by a campaigner who makes Barack Obama look like Bobby Jindal in comparison. And Hillary, who’s snoozy, stiff and scripted—she actually resorted to a by-now ancient cliché, “Hello, Iowa, I’m baaack”—was, as always at joint appearances, dwarfed by her vituperative, aw-shucks husband. (In fairness, Hillary was also there for Iowa Democratic Senate candidate Bruce Braley, who’s in a toss-up race against Jodi Ernst.)

It’s an open question as to whether or not the former president will reprise his ’98 exhortation that black churches will “burn” if more Republicans were elected in that year’s midterms, or if he’s learned his lesson from Hillary’s failed ’08 campaign, when he—Bill Clinton! The real First Black President!—was accused of racism in the South Carolina primary. No one knows, since he often speaks before thinking (not unlike longest-of-long shots for 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, MD Gov. Martin O’Malley, a pale imitation of Clinton), especially when he’s tired or misjudges the media’s reaction to his comments.

This much we know: Clinton will not be issuing any statements about the on-going NFL troubles of players mixed up in domestic violence. It must be chafing at him, since it’s a perfect stump subject—he said in Iowa that America is less sexist now—but one he can’t use, considering his past. The last thing Hillary needs is for a new generation to hear the name Juanita Broaddrick, who alleged in 1998 that Bill raped her. Monica Lewinsky? Almost quaint, I’m betting, for young Democrats, but Broaddrick’s charge was rough stuff.

As Stoll mentions, Clinton’s two greatest achievements as president were the passage of NAFTA and welfare reform—the latter which caused left-wing cabinet members and longtime associates of Clinton to break ranks with him; the fact that it was a purely political move to upend Bob Dole in the ’96 election didn’t square with the likes of Robert Reich and Marian Wright Edelman. And I doubt he’ll dredge up one of my favorite Clinton quotes from his first term: “We’re all Eisenhower Republicans now.” Wouldn’t go over with what’s left of the Occupy Wall Street crew—then again, those people are probably either plumping for Sens. Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders, or have dropped off the political grid.

The aggregate polls for control of the Senate have shifted this month, in favor of the Democrats, for whatever reason, and you have to wonder if the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee will put a muzzle on Bill—if that’s possible—reasoning that his excursions to Georgia, Kentucky, Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina, for example, might further energize older voters in those states, white men and women who not only vote at a higher percentage than those who are younger, but also vividly remember the Clinton presidency. But for Hillary—and despite the “conventional wisdom” I’m not sold she’s going to run—the problem is of far greater magnitude. Does she really want Bill by her side in 2016, hogging the spotlight, going off-message and telling white lies that a more active media will pounce on? The last thing she needs is for voters to be reminded that the “two for the price of one” duo is, in today’s one-hour-news-cycle environment, from an entirely different era.

—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER1955

  • Even though I can't stand either one of them, I think Bill is the democratic Reagan. More myth than substance. For that reason I think the greatest risk is to his own legacy/image. As for Hillary, without Bill, what's to like? He is the only thing that allows one to think that she is more than just a cranky B

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  • Aren't you being polite, Texan, not spelling out word bitch to describe Hillary. A little rough on The Great Communicator. Did Clinton ever say anything like, "Tear down that wall!"?

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  • There's no question of whether Hillary will run; she's running now. She's raising money; she's visiting early primary states; she did a book tour; she's solidifying support among democratic party actors. It's possible that at some point for some reason before there's actual voting she could decide to stop running — but at the moment she's in the race,and the nomination certainly looks like it's hers if she wants it.

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  • I'm not sure, Noah. Yes, she's doing everything you mentioned. But it's still before the midterms, and that'll factor in her decision. If she, and advisers, determine at end of year and next spring that she could lose again, I say she bows out./And I don't discount several challengers to her candidacy. Do Democrats really want the "safe" choice, a political relic? Warren appears more in tune with the activist base, the people who vote in primaries.

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  • Well, again, she might bow out. But she's definitely in the race now.// There might be challengers; at the moment she's got so much money, and so much support from just about every sector of the party, that it's hard to see anyone making a serious, rather than symbolic challenge. I would say that Warren is in the race too at the moment...but I very much doubt she'll officially announce unless Clinton officially drops out.// There's tons of evidence (polls, money, etc.) that the Democrats would be perfectly happy with Clinton. That includes a lot of the people who vote in primaries. I'd rather have a president Warren...but I've learned from long experience that neither the Democratic party or the electorate in general is particularly interested in my preferences.

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  • " ...but I didn't inhale".

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  • Noah, I think you're underestimating the political ego. Warren's the object of so much "progressive" affection that I think she'll run regardless of Hillary. Issue some baloney statement about how the times are so fraught with danger that even though she admires and respects Hillary, she has to jump in. Sort of like RFK in '68, after he prevaricated for a year.

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