Pardon me - - have you seen President Clinton lately?
I’m referring to former President Clinton - - not the would-be, wanna-be, possible future Prez.
I might be imagining things, but as I write these words - - and it is now 12:06AM Eastern Time on Friday 01/11/08 - - I’d have to say that I haven’t seen Bill Clinton in the news for the past forty-eight hours or so.
By the time you read this, Mr. Clinton may have re-emerged. But suffice it to say that from last Tuesday January 8, the day of the New Hampshire Primary Election, to the wee hours of Friday morning January 11, our former President didn’t make much headline news.
Maybe this has something to do with Mrs. Clinton “finding her voice” in New Hampshire.
And it might also have something to do with the fact that Bill and Hillary do, and say, and are, whatever they need to be at any given moment.
A year ago, Hillary Clinton’s campaign seemed to display a level of uncertainty as to how much the candidate should be seen publicly with her husband. In fact, in February of 2007, the Washington Post reported that Hillary staffers weren’t quite sure as to whether Bill helped or hindered his wife’s efforts. Apparently, there were concerns that Hillary might be confronted with questions about Bill’s impeachment. Similarly, there seemed to be a recognition that, charismatic and loveable as he is, Bill still denotes scandal and chaos in the minds of many Americans.
But those concerns seemed to be gone sixty days later. In April of 2007, Hillary announced that, when she becomes President, she will appoint Bill to be America’s “Ambassador To The World,” and that he would make a “great cheerleader for America” around the globe. And for most of the remainder of 2007, Hillary and Bill seemingly took every opportunity they had to be seen together.
And the campaign quickly became all about Bill.
It would probably be naïve, even unfair to suggest that this was all Bill’s doing (surely a woman as smart and as capable and as assertive as Mrs. Clinton wouldn’t let something like this just “happen” to her). Yet it’s difficult to imagine that Bill was thinking and acting in his wife’s best professional interests, or that his only motive was to “serve the campaign.”
Consider some of the antics we’ve seen from the former President, just within the past ninety days. After Hillary’s abysmal performance at the Philadelphia debate, Bill claimed that NBC-TV’s Tim Russert (the debate moderator) had been unfair to his wife, and that the other candidates had “ganged up” on her merely because she is a woman. Shortly thereafter, Bill claimed that Hillary had arranged to send he and former President Bush around the globe, just as soon as she becomes President herself, so as to repair America’s image that has been so severely tarnished by Bush 43 - - only to have “Poppy Bush” deny 24 hours later that such plans existed.
And then there were Bill’s numerous accusations of an “Obama bias” in the media. And there was Bill’s speech in Iowa where, in the first ten minutes of his address, he used the word “I” 94 times, while using the word “Hillary” only times.
And then as we all rolled-in to 2008, there was Bill’s speech in New Hampshire where, in a moment of humility, he acknowledged that , yes, even HE has limitations - - and he can’t make Hillary “younger, taller” or “male” (good thing he cleared the air on that point). And then of course there was the former President interrupted while talking in front of a group, with Hillary on the other end of his mobile telephone and Bill replying “..and I love you too.”
Yes, it’s Bill and Hillary running for President again, so reminiscent of 1992 - - and it is, without a doubt, quite a “show.” But it’s unnerving to realize that, experienced performers that they are, they still don’t seem certain as to who should rightfully take center stage this time around.
Knowing that marriage is a challenge for most, I’ve always been uncomfortable analyzing other couples, including the Clintons. But the Clintons invite scrutiny, if only in one’s mind, simply because the boundaries between their private lives and their public lives seem to always be shifting, and the definition of their relationship appears to change depending on the political goals that are in their path.
At times the Clintons, while technically married, nonetheless portray themselves as very independent from one another, living apart, rarely seen together, each with their own careers and professional objectives. This seems to have been the image that the Clintons portrayed for most of the first six years after Bill left the presidency, and during Hillary’s first term as a Senator.
At other times the Clintons are the quintessential, middle-aged, empty-nester couple who, after many years together, are still madly in-love and can’t keep their hands off each other. This seems to have been the image that they have attempted to portray on the campaign trail since April of last year, Bill’s moments of self-absorption not withstanding.
But if they can’t determine what is for public consumption and what should remain private; if they cannot determine who is “in charge” right now; if they are still uncertain as to who they are, individually or together - - how are American voters to feel comfortable voting for Hillary?
Bill has made it a point to remind us that, when Hillary becomes President, he’ll be available to help her in any way he can. But it seems more plausible to think that Bill would be unavoidable throughout a Hillary administration, whether she wants it that way or not.
Surely she’s got to know this herself.
Do American voters know this as well?