Sunday, January 27, 2008

Good President, Bad President

Compared to George W. Bush, Bill Clinton looks like Lincoln. Compared to Barack Obama, he looks like Richard Nixon.

This is the only way I can account for the general tenor of the press coverage over the past few weeks, where Clinton's reputation has gone into serious turnaround.

Ever since 2000, he's looked like the good guy, the good old boys whose sexual and financial scandals look like much ado about nothing compared to Iraq and Cheney and the Patriot Act and Abu Ghraib and everything else.

In the Democratic primary race, Clinton no longer has Bush to cover for him. Now, as his wife's chief defender against Barack Obama, there's this general feeling in the press of "Come to think of it, we never did much like you to begin with."

In the New York Times, Garry Wills says the prospect of Hillary Clinton's presidency goes against the intent of the framers of the Constitution, which sought to limit executive power:

We have seen in this campaign how former President Clinton rushes to the defense of presidential candidate Clinton. Will that pattern of protection be continued into the new presidency, with not only his defending her but also her defending whatever he might do in his energetic way while she’s in office? It seems likely. And at a time when we should be trying to return to the single-executive system the Constitution prescribes, it does not seem to be a good idea to put another co-president in the White House.

More to the immediate point, Frank Rich thinks she (and he) just plain suck as candidates, the problem being not that he carries old baggage, but a fresh new set:

Mrs. Clinton repeatedly talks of how she’s been “vetted” and that “there are no surprises” left to be mined by her opponents. On the “Today” show Friday, she joked that the Republican attacks “are just so old.” So far. Now that Mr. Clinton is ubiquitous, not only is his past back on the table but his post-presidency must be vetted as well. To get a taste of what surprises may be in store, you need merely revisit the Bill Clinton questions that Hillary Clinton has avoided to date.

Asked by Tim Russert at a September debate whether the Clinton presidential library and foundation would disclose the identities of its donors during the campaign, Mrs. Clinton said it wasn’t up to her. “What’s your recommendation?” Mr. Russert countered. Mrs. Clinton replied: “Well, I don’t talk about my private conversations with my husband, but I’m sure he’d be happy to consider that.”

Not so happy, as it turns out. The names still have not been made public.

Just before the holidays, investigative reporters at both The Washington Post and The New York Times tried to find out why, with no help from the Clintons. The Post uncovered a plethora of foreign contributors, led by Saudi Arabia. The Times found an overlap between library benefactors and Hillary Clinton campaign donors, some of whom might have an agenda with a new Clinton administration. (Much as one early library supporter, Marc Rich’s ex-wife, Denise, had an agenda with the last one.) “The vast scale of these secret fund-raising operations presents enormous opportunities for abuse,” said Representative Henry Waxman, the California Democrat whose legislation to force disclosure passed overwhelmingly in the House but remains stalled in the Senate.

Between two leading Democratic candidates whose election would make history, Obama is the one who clearly most represents the future, who can energize all that's best about the country; attacking him, as Clinton has done with customary vigor, makes you look not just petty but old -- an anachronism best put out to pasture.

Yes, I'm already echoing the mood of the national press, but what interests me is how much it can change over the next week and a half. There was a reporter on TV this morning. someone from NPR, who said the Clinton tactics which played so poorly in Barack-loving South Carolina might find a perfectly attentive audience in the primaries to come.

When someone has a huge political win of any kind, there's this general feeling that the majority is, always, right, and anyone who stood against it is wrong. It still seems unlikely to me that Obama in the end is going to secure that majority. That will make for some interesting spin.

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