As someone who leans Democrat and leans liberal (which should not come as a surprise to anyone who reads my blog), I am paying minimal attention to the Republican field of candidates for President. I’m going to vote in the Democratic primary in California and, realistically, I am almost certainly going to vote Democrat in the fall election. The only reason I don’t drop the almost is because nothing is certain until it is certain. All these words to underline that I am paying attention mainly to Clinton and Sanders. And, right here, already, I find myself irritated at my own twingy inclination to say Hillary Clinton, as if a reader in 2016 could understand the “Clinton campaign” to mean a “Bill Clinton campaign.”
In 2008, most observers agreed that Bill Clinton was overall a liability to Clinton’s campaign that year. In my recollection, his negative effect was attributed primarily to specific missteps, though some people did comment that Clinton needed to separate from Bill’s shadow. Today when I read about Trump’s jabs at Bill Clinton’s role in what Trump mocks as Clinton’s feminist campaign, I end up (despite myself!) agreeing, somewhat, with Trump.
Let me be clear. I do not feel that Clinton is, or should be, smeared by her husband’s past sexual history. The public aspect of his sexual history is his problem, his responsibility. The private aspect is between them, none of my business. But I do believe that Clinton’s using her husband to campaign for her diminishes her candidacy.
In 2016, President Bill Clinton is history, regardless of whether one looks back at that history as good or bad. Both my children will vote this year; both were babies when he was last President. His authority is from a past that, for the purposes of this election, is only hazily known to many and irrelevant to many others. In 2016, few people will vote for Clinton because Bill Clinton is her spouse. Indeed, I hope nobody would vote for Clinton because Bill Clinton is her husband.
Bill Clinton is an extraordinarily well-informed and strategic person, and so it makes complete sense that he is an influential member of her kitchen cabinet, but, as a political voice, he needs to stay in the kitchen and similar private spaces. On the campaign trail, his only public role is as a supportive spouse. Fifteen years after his second term, he is still an accomplished and active man with his own pursuits. He should stick to them; give advice in kitchen-like spaces; and clap and smile on the campaign trail.
So far Clinton appears the most competent candidate of either party, and the most likely to be effective in rebuilding the center that the US sorely needs to redefine, based on new demographics, and strengthen, given contemporary geopolitical and environmental challenges. In another blog post I have written about Sanders – that I like and respect him and hope he will hold continue to hold his fellow politicians accountable. Indeed, I hope all his supporters will continue to hold their elected representatives accountable, whether he becomes President or not. But fundamentally I don’t think he would be effective even in achieving his vision, leave alone building the robust, twenty-first century socio-political center that the US needs. I think Clinton can do it; I’m not passionately confident that she can (and, yes, I know her reputation as a polarizer), but I think she can. And I, we, need to hold her accountable too.
I cut her some slack on the email slip-up (sloppy, but no great damage), and also on the Foundation shenanigans (overconfidence and lack of adequate oversight; not great, but still a relatively small slip-up). I partially looked away when I heard about the funds she got from the private prison lobby (that hurt; but then, thankfully, she repudiated them!) Now, I find myself distrustful of her use of Bill Clinton as a political speaker on her campaign trail.
The Clinton name gave her huge name recognition, with both positive effects and a lot of negative baggage, in the early years of her political career. Since then she has worked very, very hard to build her own credentials and credibility. Today, she is so well able to stand on her own; we saw that most stunningly in the Benghazi hearings. Her kitchen cabinet, though certainly subject to judgement by me and other voters, is for the most part her own business. But, in public, Clinton muddling in Clinton’s campaign puts her authority, both perceived and real, at risk.