As Barack Obama’s approval numbers trend ever lower – and a new Gallup poll reports that 50% of Americans believe the President doesn’t even deserve a second term – it’s going to be very interesting to watch Hillary Clinton. Well, not the Secretary of State herself, of course. She’s busy at Foggy Bottom, burnishing her foreign policy credentials. Instead, watch her husband.
Notwithstanding news accounts about the détente between the Clintons and Obama, surely the former president and his wife can’t help but feel that their predictions about the political disaster that would result from Obama’s inexperience and naivete, reportedly made during the 2008 campaign, amply borne out. With Hillary turning 65 in 2012, can anyone blame her (or her husband) for entertaining the idea of challenging Obama in two years if his popularity continues to plummet?
In fact, Democrats might be well-advised to take with a grain of salt any advice Bill Clinton offers in months to come. The greater the damage to the President (and his party) that accrues in the interim, the greater the justification for a new (yet experienced!) candidate to step in to “rescue” the tarnished Democrat brand in 2012.
Certainly, this rationale would explain the advice that President Clinton offered the Democrats in the midst of the health care debate. Push forward, he told them, predicting that “the minute health care reform passed, President Obama's approval ratings would go up 10 points." Of course, that simply didn’t happen, and every day, the ObamaCare vote looks like nothing so much as a Democrat political suicide pact. If Democrats are nervous now, consider that the ex-President insisted at the same time that Obama’s ratings would increase by 20 points by next year.
Most recently, President Clinton emerged to insult the members of the Tea Party. Invoking memories of the Oklahoma City bombing, he implicitly compared administration critics to domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh, insisting that “all you have to do is read the paper every day to see how many people there are who are deeply, deeply troubled.” If polls are to be believed, more Americans identify with Tea Partiers than with the President himself – and so Clinton’s remarks couldn’t be better designed to alienate voters from the Democrat establishment. At the very least, his comments will serve further to energize the administration’s most fervent opponents.
All of this could be attributed simply to political wrongheadedness and clumsy posturing – if it weren’t Bill Clinton. For years, Americans have been informed of his formidable political and strategic skills – and his political adversaries have learned, to their detriment, of his dexterity in assessing and responding to the public mood. If he is truly seeking to help the Obama administration, then it’s fair to say that the Comeback Kid has lost a lot of his kick.
On the other hand, if the former President dislikes being sidelined and upstaged by a younger, more powerful man – who is singlehandedly shredding the Democrat coalition that Clinton himself did so much to assemble – and misses the attention of being the undisputed leader of his party, then his actions aren’t so difficult to understand. If Clinton still resents the battering his image (especially in the black community) suffered at Obama’s hands in the 2008 campaign, then perhaps his words aren’t so inexplicable. Oh, yes, and if he wants to see himself and his legacy vindicated (and his wife’s years of hard work and forbearance repaid) by helping Hillary take her own shot at The White House – then maybe, just maybe, Bill Clinton’s behavior makes perfect sense.