Mr. Geffen told Ms. Dowd that he found Mr. Obama "inspirational" and fresh: "He's not from the Bush royal family or the Clinton royal family." The dynastic nature of recent presidential elections is bound to be a major issue this time around. After all, everyone agrees that Jeb Bush, a successful just-retired governor of a large swing state, would be a natural candidate for president if he had a different last name. Should Mrs. Clinton win and serve two terms, the presidency will have been held by members of two families — the Bushes and the Clintons — for 28 years. (That could be good news for Jeb Bush, who will be only 63 in 2016.)
Mrs. Clinton herself drew attention to the dynasty problem last Friday, when she told a group of voters that her husband was "the most popular person in the world right now" and said that when she reaches the White House, "I will continue the tradition of using former presidents" in key diplomatic missions.
"Her comments needlessly revive memories about the 'two for the price of one' sales pitch that Bill Clinton used in 1992," says a former Clinton aide who is not working on Mrs. Clinton's campaign. "Mrs. Clinton didn't help by being involved with health care and the Justice Department during the first two years of the Clinton administration. Having Bill playing a similar role carries the danger of reminding people this might be a sequel they'd rather skip." The prospect of Bill Clinton formulating policy and living in the White House again also has the potential of firing up the GOP base that pushed for Mr. Clinton's impeachment in 1998.
That's why it's important for Democrats to take Mr. Geffen's unkind comments seriously and have a candid discussion about them now rather than later, when they are wedded to her as a nominee. It's entirely possible that Mrs. Clinton's many strengths outweigh her drawbacks. But ignoring the issues Mr. Geffen raised or dismissing them, as Mrs. Clinton did, as "the politics of personal destruction" only delays the day when they will have to be addressed forthrightly.
Mr. Geffen might have identified Hillary Clinton's greatest vulnerability with Democratic primary voters. It's that she won't apologize for her vote in favor of the Iraq war. It's that as powerful as the Clinton name remains, many voters view it as stale. "The Clintons were fresh once," write Bob Herbert of the New York Times yesterday. I remember the exhilarating bus tour they took with Al and Tipper Gore right after Bill Clinton won the Democratic presidential nomination in the summer of 1992. . . . Almost 15 years later, Hillary Clinton has to fight the perception that she is chasing yesterday's dawn."
Mrs. Clinton is betting she can excite voters with the prospect of electing the first female president. But Mr. Obama is the first black candidate with a realistic shot at the presidency. And he carries a lot less historical and ethical baggage.
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