Monday, June 30, 2008

The Tarnish On The Clinton Brand

There is an interesting piece in the July Vanity Fair about Bill Clinton. It's called, "Has Bill Clinton Lost His Mojo or His Mind?" I think losing his mojo would cause him to lose his mind. Charming Bill seems not so charming any more (according to friends and aides tasked with "handling" him). His behavior during the primary created such problems for his wife, that he might have cost her the nomination. It was especially his behavior in South Carolina that alienated black voters, who then moved in droves toward Obama, giving him a huge victory. This baffled Bill, and made him testy with reporters which caused further problems for Hillary. Apparently Bill's people and Hillary's people weren't playing well with one another, giving her campaign the appearance of a chaotic and disorganized mess.

All the while, Obama was dancing the light fantastic. His grassroots organization was moving forward into states Hillary wasn't even planning on having to campaign in, since her nomination was assumed to be inevitable. (Beware of believing your own mythology). She had planned for it all to be over by February 5th. From then on the Clinton organization began to make rookie mistakes, looking clumsy, graceless, and strident. Yes, I know--that word "strident," when used about a female candidate, might sound sexist, but in this case it was more a description of Bill's voice than Hillary's. Bill was the one stepping on his wife's toes, shaking his finger at reporters faces and urging his wife to go old school, get down and dirty--act tough, make herself look "strong." That's when they put out the "three A.M. phone call ad." Which, in the end, was another foolish mistake. First thing that came to my mind when I saw that ad was an image of Hillary desperately making calls at three A.M. trying to track down her errant husband. It was pretty much all down hill from there.

For women, who so desperately wanted to have a female President, this loss of inevitability was heartbreaking. And though it hardened their resolve, it seemed to make them get desperate, and desperation isn't particularly attractive in either sex. It was after South Carolina that Hillary stopped being gracious, and started looking rude and thuggish herself. She stopped congratulating Senator Obama on his victories. She stopped thanking her supporters and volunteers. She just moved on to the next state's stump speech, looking ham fisted and flat footed. She started campaigning like a boorish man, dismissing the brilliance of her opponent, and placing herself and John McCain together as the two adults running for President, and calling into question Barack Obama's "experience and maturity." I remember the interview where Hillary was asked if Senator Obama was Muslim. Her answer was one of her worst moments for me. She said, "No, not as far as I know," leaving the possibility open that he might be, as far as she knew.

Loosing power must be terribly painful. Never having had power, I have no experience of the pain of loosing it. But this loss of power might have happened to Bill Clinton in a much more personal way with the problems created by his heart surgery. The bypass operation seemed to be a success, until it was discovered that there was scar tissue causing other problems, necessitating another and more complicated surgery to go back in and remove that hardened, rubbery scar tissue. He had a long, painful recovery, and according to friends and colleagues, has never been quite the same--short tempered, easily tired, diminished--not the man he was. Oh yeah, he's still a wonder, still smart and able to turn on the charm, but now he sees his mortality looming, and the side effects of his medical complications and medications might be increased irritability, and irrectile disfunction. And he is hanging with a fast, rich, risky bunch of guys who travel to parties in exotic places aboard the 747's these guys own, with Billy boy on board, along with a coterie of lovelies. Barely legal lovelies. Young, smart, pretty women, happy to flatter and please these powerful men. And what aging guy, once powerful or not, who is on the brink of losing his famous stamina, would pass up the opportunity to partake of the charming generosity of young lovelies? I've never known one.

There are many insiders, former aides to Bill, who have expressed concern about the company Bill keeps, the ethically iffy donors to his library and charities. These are the records the Clintons did not release during the primary. The concern of these aides is that release of these records would have been damaging to Hillary during a general election.

So maybe the Democratic Party did dodge a bullet by nominating Obama. His moves, post primary, have been flawless. Today he gave a gorgeous speech about patriotism in America, (a lightening quick response to Wesley Clark's comments about McCain's "heroism and status as a great American patriot," when General Clark appeared on Meet the Press Sunday). I missed the Meet the Press interview with Wes Clark. But I listened to Obama carefully today, and though I am pretty cynical when it comes to political candidates, Barack Obama can bring a tough old cynic to sentimental tears with the beauty of his words, the grace of his delivery, the power of his thought.

And this makes me hopeful again. If Hillary wants to negotiate her place in the Party by holding Obama responsible for her debt, and her desperation to stay in the race (which caused her debt to mount when nothing was coming in) then I say it's time for Bill to pay the piper for his roll in turning off donors to her campaign, and encouraging her to stay too long at the ball. Pony up, Bill. Pick up the tab for your past sins, and then party-on big guy.