Bill Clinton should go home.
It’s easy to see why his wife’s campaign is giving him a major role. His political skills are legendary. And he’s the spouse, for heaven’s sake. Presidential candidates always rely on their families to fill out the schedule, show up where they can’t, spread good cheer.
But we all know this is different. Campaigning in Kentucky – where her husband is more popular than she is – Hillary Clinton told voters that Bill would be “in charge of revitalizing the economy” in her administration. At another stop she promised that if they returned to the White House, “I’ll expect him to go to work … to get incomes rising.”
She presented herself as part of a duo that knows “a little bit about how to create jobs. I think my husband did a heck of a job.”
Hillary wants to be the first woman ever elected president of the United States. The economy is the central issue in the campaign. The fact that she’s assuring voters that Bill will take care of it is … totally wrong.
It would be better if he wasn’t on the scene at all. Let us count the ways:
▪ Implanting a husband in the center of White House policymaking is just a bad idea. All other advisers, from the vice president to the chief of staff to the Cabinet members, fade in authority when there’s one person sitting at the table who happens to be married to the boss. It didn’t work very well when the Clintons were offering “two for the price of one” in the 1990s. Turn the marital partner into a former president and it’s like adding a blue whale to the goldfish bowl.
If Hillary wants Bill in her administration, she can give him one of the useful-but-largely-symbolic roles a first spouse traditionally plays. The Clinton Foundation, for all its messes, has done good work in developing countries. Let him be international ambassador to the poor.
▪ The sex scandal issue isn’t really central, since Americans have a long record of voting for the candidates they think can deliver, regardless of private peccadilloes. And Donald Trump has a history of boorish public behavior that could even overshadow the marital baggage Hillary has to tote. However, she’d be in a much stronger position if she was toting on her own.
▪ It’s not surprising that the first serious female presidential contender would be someone attached to a famous male name. For most of our history, women who rose in American politics were generally filling in for a deceased (or sometimes indicted) husband. But some still rose to do fantastic things on their own. Margaret Chase Smith got into Congress as a replacement for her late husband, but she became the foremost opponent of McCarthyism in the Senate all by herself. That’s the spirit the Clinton campaign needs. Not running as part of a team with your male predecessor.
Our country is now full of women who’ve become senators, governors, CEOs, diplomats without familial assistance. If they have spouses, they’re off doing their own thing. Or – yes! – taking care of the family. It’s a new world order Hillary has always championed. But the way she’s running her campaign isn’t doing the new world any favors.
Bill isn’t the only man overshadowing her political life. Hillary has also been campaigning as a sort of Barack Obama surrogate who’ll carry on the president’s legacy for another term or two. During a debate in South Carolina, she brought up Obama 10 times – more than the other two candidates on the stage combined. In another debate, she laced into Bernie Sanders for disloyalty. “The kind of criticism that we’ve heard from Senator Sanders about our president I expect from Republicans.”
All this identifying with the last two Democratic presidents has left her own political image fuzzy. She’s pledged to do more to crack down on Wall Street, but she hasn’t really said whether the deregulation during her husband’s administration was a mistake. She’s disagreed – briefly – with Obama on matters like immigration, trade and Arctic drilling, but the details are very hard to pin down.
What we haven’t gotten is a vision of how a Hillary Clinton administration would be different from either of her predecessors’. That’s been the great weakness of her campaign from the start. She’s become the opposite of change. Continuity You Can Believe In?
Even if she keeps going the way she’s been going, voters may be so horrified by Donald Trump that she’ll win in November. But you don’t want the first woman president elected by default.
This is one of the most qualified people ever to run for the office, and she doesn’t need to hold on to anybody’s coattails. It’s time for Hillary to stand alone.