The vaunted Clinton machine is sure to rev up its operations to salvage Hillary Clinton’s political future – and the Bush Family’s Republican Establishment likely will settle on an acceptable GOP representative to protect the status quo, possibly John McCain.
Though the presidential selection process has a long way to go, the inevitability of another election between representatives of the Democratic/Republican establishments was thrown into severe doubt by the victories of Obama and Huckabee.
On the Democratic side, the contrast was visible during the post-caucus speeches by Clinton and Obama. Sen. Clinton was surrounded by old faces from Washington’s Democratic hierarchy, which has compromised its way through the past quarter century of Republican political dominance.
There was former Democratic National Committee chairman (and renowned fundraiser) Terry McAuliffe, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, retired Gen. Wesley Clark, and Bill Clinton, looking especially weary as he maintained a smile throughout his wife’s workmanlike political speech.
When Obama spoke to his supporters, the tableau was entirely different. He stood on a platform with his wife and two young daughters, with mostly young supporters behind him, not a single nationally recognized face among them.
Obama’s soaring rhetoric about “hope” and “change” also contrasted with Hillary Clinton’s more mundane appeal to her backers. Obama appears to have touched the idealistic sentiments of many young voters as well as the Democratic “base,” while Clinton’s carefully calibrated message in Iowa came across as stale and uninspiring.
Stung by the Iowa loss, Hillary Clinton’s campaign quickly announced that it would dispatch former President Clinton to New Hampshire for the next five days, seeking to repair the political damage and shore up the dikes against the flood of political insurrection that is building.
But Bill Clinton appears to have lost some of his legendary political touch. Though he remains popular with many Democrats, he seems oblivious to the resentment within the Democratic “base” – and among many young voters and independents – toward the business-as-usual Washington Democrats that his wife’s candidacy reflects.
On Dec. 17, seeking to show how President Hillary Clinton would govern, Bill Clinton announced that his wife’s first act in the White House would be to send him and George H.W. Bush on an around-the-world mission to repair America’s damaged image.
“The first thing she intends to do is to send me and former President Bush and a number of other people around the world to tell them that America is open for business and cooperation again,” said Bill Clinton, who has accompanied the senior Bush on humanitarian missions over the past several years.
However, rather than earning plaudits from rank-and-file Democrats, Clinton’s boast about his cozy relationship with the senior Bush was like fingernails across a chalkboard. The last thing that many Democrats wanted to hear about was more collegiality between the Clintons and the Bushes.
Clinton’s comment also reminded many Americans of the peculiar tag-team quality of the Bush-Clinton exchanges of power, with one or the other family appearing on a national presidential ticket every election since 1980. It was like old Nicaragua where the Somozas and Chamorros would swap the presidency once in a while.
In effect, Bill Clinton’s message about the worldwide trip was that “Clinton 44” would send “Clinton 42” and “Bush 41” on a mission to clean up some of the messes left behind by “Bush 43.”
The comment also suggested that Hillary Clinton would give a pass on real accountability to the junior Bush as the price to get cooperation from the senior Bush.
The implication was that there would be no serious investigations of crimes, like authorizing torture, ordering warrantless wiretaps, exposing CIA officer Valerie Plame’s identity, waging war under false pretenses and other abuses of executive powers.
Bygones would be bygones; it would all be about the future, not the past. The status quo – as corrupt as it may have become – would be protected.
That approach reminded some political observers of how Bill Clinton’s administration had swept Reagan-Bush-era scandals under the rug in 1993, all in the name of some hoped-for “bipartisanship.” [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Hillary Signals Free Pass for Bush” or Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]
In 1993, at the time of the first Clinton-Bush transition, the talk was all about “looking to the future,” “not re-fighting the battles of the 1980s,” “leaving that one for the historians.”
In effect, Bill Clinton opted for what he saw as short-term political gain – some Republican votes on domestic programs and possibly a little reciprocity in ignoring his own scandals.
As it turned out, however, Clinton’s deal was shortsighted, even foolish. Not only did he allow Republicans to establish a falsely heroic historical narrative for the Reagan-Bush era but he got virtually no GOP votes on his domestic agenda and faced an unrelenting attack from the right-wing political machine over his own “scandals.”
Clinton’s accommodation to the senior George Bush in 1993 opened the door to the Republican congressional majority in 1994 and to the restoration of the Bush Family dynasty in 2000.
It was not only a bad political trade-off for the Democrats but it set the stage for the harm to America’s international standing inflicted by George W. Bush – the same damage that Bill Clinton now believes can be repaired by having a new Clinton president send him and the first Bush president off on a worldwide fence-mending tour.
So, it’s not clear that Bill Clinton – despite his political charms – is the best person to right his wife’s foundering campaign.
Barack Obama’s upset victory in Iowa, with Hillary Clinton stumbling into a third-place finish behind John Edwards, suggests that Bill Clinton’s vision of a future run by longtime Washington insiders is exactly what much of the U.S. electorate doesn’t want.
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This story was published on January 4, 2008.