As Bill Clinton crisscrosses America defending his wife's candidacy, he's fueling speculation about who'd be in charge should Hillary be elected. Sen. Clinton - the incredible shrinking candidate - seems at times almost a bystander at her husband's campaign, merely playing a somewhat more active role than she did in '92.
In our modern era of dynastic politics, the elder members of the dynasties have a duty to step aside to let their less experienced heirs shine. Former President George H.W. Bush, for example, has stayed well out of the limelight to let his son have center stage. Yet Bill Clinton is playing an ever-larger role in his wife's campaign.
At first, his appearances were novel and politically helpful. But then they came to underscore her weakness. It was as if Dennis Thatcher had stood up for Maggie as she faced down the Argentine junta in the Falklands war. Now, Bill's oversized presence on the national stage raises an even more profound question: Is he using his wife's candidacy to seek a third term in office, prohibited him by the 22nd Amendment?
Increasingly, he seems like former Gov. George Wallace - who put his wife Lurleen into the Alabama State House after he was forced from office by term limits. (Or, in a more recent example, like Argentine President Nestor Kirchner, who stepped aside only to have his wife, Christina Fernandez Kirchner, take power.)
In '90, Hillary Clinton faced a similar problem when she flirted with the idea of running for governor of Arkansas. Bill, determined to seek the presidency in '92, was weighing whether to run for another term as governor or to step down and seek the presidency as a private citizen. Key to his decision was whether Hillary could take his place, both to keep the seat warm for him should he lose the presidential race and to stop any unwanted revelations from surfacing while he was off campaigning.
But the polls I took at the Clintons' behest found that voters saw Hillary merely as an extension of Bill, not as an independent political figure. Arkansans saw her possible candidacy for governor as an attempt to be a placeholder for her husband.
When I likened the public reaction to Hillary's candidacy to that of Alabama voters to Lurleen's years before, Hillary and Bill exploded in shock and indignation (more his than hers) at the metaphor; they even asked me to do a second poll to confirm the results.
Hillary thereupon began a 20-year effort to differentiate herself from Bill and craft an independent identity.
Now that proj ect is at risk. Bill's intervention has become so overt, voluble, high-profile and independent that it calls into question the entire premise that Hillary is running for president as anything other than a figurehead.