Buy One, Get One Free

Posted: Jun 07, 2007 12:01 AM
Buy One, Get One Free

Bill Clinton boasted in his first campaign for president that voters could "buy one and get one free." He should have kept quiet about Hillary. A lot of Americans have never let either Bill or Hillary forget it. An unelected co-president was not what anyone bargained for (and neither did the founding fathers who wrote the Constitution). Now we have another opportunity to "buy one and get one free."

When Wolf Blitzer of CNN, the moderator, asked her the other night in the Democratic debate what her husband would do if she makes it to the White House, she replied that he "will be sent around the world as a roving ambassador." One of her rivals, former Sen. Mike Gravel, piped up: "He could take his wife with him, who will still be in the Senate."

Clever repartee, but it underscores a problem that will bedevil Hillary through the brutal primaries and all the way to Denver and the 2008 Democratic National Convention, and beyond. Bill is enormously popular with a lot of Democrats, but even the ex-president's fervent admirers have to wonder what this co-presidency would look like. Every wife has horror stories about having a husband forever underfoot, cluttering the house and interfering with the woman's work that is never done. Double, triple, quadruple that for a woman presiding at the White House. Who can doubt that sending Bill somewhere on the other side of the world is exactly where Hillary would want him?

Like it or not -- and what woman does? -- Hillary is still "the first woman candidate," something more than a "wife of" but required to confront the questions none of her rivals have to answer. The New Hampshire debate was hardly over before the speculation began about what one commentator called Hillary's "flawless, almost dewy appearance," and whether this was the work of Botox, fillers, microdermabrasion or just a good make-up artist. "I'm no fan of Hillary's, heaven knows," observed columnist Margery Eagan in the Boston Herald, "but we must face facts here. She never sounded so good nor looked so good -- not easy when you're standing next to Breck Boy John Edwards, he of the $400 haircut and the primping video on YouTube."

More infuriating, Hillary is always compared, even if sometimes subconsciously, to Bill. When she attempted to distance herself from her fiercely antiwar rivals, asserting that there is, too, a deadly Islamist terror threat out there and the nation is safer than it was after September 11, it sounded like a "Sister Souljah moment" of the sort that Bill used to set himself apart from certain other Democratic candidates. But then Hillary tacked sharply left, to "a Dennis Kucinich moment" where she is more comfortable: "I think it's particularly important to point out, this is George Bush's war -- he is responsible for this war. He started the war. He mismanaged the war. He escalated the war. And he refuses to end the war."

Bill has his uses, beyond becoming the Flying Dutchman, endlessly circling the globe in her behalf. She uses him to scold reporters for portraying her as less zealous than she should be in knocking George W. Bush. He makes the tortuous argument that her vote to authorize the war wasn't exactly a vote to go to war. If Hillary makes this argument, she sounds like the fake, insincere, calculating politician so many of us think she is. He makes the argument for her, echoing his explanation of his support, when he was the governor of Arkansas, for the first Gulf war, when he said that he was for the war but actually agreed with those who weren't.

The campaign of '08 already seems headed into the homestretch, with only 517 days to go, and pollsters and pundits arguing over who's ahead, who's not, why not, and who has "the Big Mo." Try as she might, Hillary cannot escape the colorful past she shares with Bill. The pundits (and presumably the public) can't get enough of the reprise of stale scandals in the fresh round of Hillary biographies, which portray her as brilliant and bitchy, as brutally ambitious and the vulnerable victim.

The Hillary campaign wants to talk about the war, health care, education and "worthwhile domestic initiatives," but the beauty-parlor buzz is only about the characters who populate her past: Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, Susan McDougal, Vince Foster. Perhaps the best of the new wave of Hillary books is "The Clinton Crack-Up," by R. Emmett Tyrrell, with lots of new details of sordid old stories. The crack-up is about Bill Clinton's life after the death of leaving the White House, but the juice is about Hillary. You can buy the book about Bill, and get one about Hillary free.

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