Courting Bubba: Bill Clinton and the 2012 presidential election

Politicians often attempt to benefit from the legacy of their forebears. This season, the ghost of presidents past appears to be Bill Clinton

Obama is not the only one courting Clinton
Dr. James Boys
On 9 May 2012 10:27

It appears that in politics, if you wait long enough, you see everything and that the troubling details of reality are forgotten, with only myth surviving. In the 1992 presidential campaign both the Democrat and Republican candidates made reference to Harry Truman and attempted to cast themselves as his political standard bearer, albeit for differing reasons. Wave after wave of politicians from all walks of life have attempted to benefit from the legacy of the Kennedy bothers.

This election season, the ghost of presidents past appears to be Bill Clinton.

You remember him, right? Charming rogue; recognised by his wife as being a hard dog to keep on the porch; President of the United Sates from 1993-2001; impeached by Congress?

In 2008 he was the staunchest supporter of Barack Obama’s archrival, Hilary Clinton. He was roundly and ridiculously attacked for suggesting the Obama’s candidacy was a joke and for expressing the opinion that Obama’s much vaunted opposition to the Iraq War was a fairy tale. In the process he learnt a lesson that has become apparent in Europe: “Thou shalt not speak bad of Obama for fear of being misconstrued…”

Having been duly chastised for speaking his mind four years ago, Bill Clinton is now being utilised by the president’s re-election campaign. Clinton is appearing in campaign commercials, lauding Obama’s prowess as Commander in Chief and hailing his ability to finish the job that Clinton himself had started in the late 1990s: the killing of Bin Laden.

Of course the link between Obama and Clinton is an interesting one. Recall that Hilary Clinton was the presumptive Democratic candidate in 2008, only to see her one shot at the presidency usurped by Barack Obama, whose career she has sought to nurture in its early stages. The Clinton’s combined sense of unease at this is understandable and forms the basis for most of the Game Change book, as opposed to the HBO movie, that chose to ignore the Democratic infighting.

Equally infuriating to the Clintons was the way in which their supporters chose to jump ship to Obama’s banner long before it became apparent that he was guaranteed victory. No defection was more symbolic than that of the Kennedys, whom Bill had courted assiduously during his time in office. Ultimately, Hilary and many former Clinton era officials wound up working for Obama in the White House, in a move that should put pay to the actor/agency debate in international relations theory.      

But here’s where it gets interesting; Bill Clinton is also being touted by the presumptive Republican Mitt Romney. The former governor of Massachusetts is contrasting Clinton’s New Democrat approach with the seemingly Old Democrat mentality of Barack Obama. Speaking in Lansing, Michigan, Romney said of the contrast between Clinton and Obama:

"President Obama chose to apply liberal ideas of the past to a 21st century America. Liberal policies didn't work then, they haven't worked over the last four years, and they won't work in the future. New Democrats had abandoned those policies, but President Obama resurrected them, with predictable results.

President Clinton said the era of big government was over. President Obama brought it back with a vengeance. Government at all levels now constitutes 38% of the economy, and if Obamacare is installed, it will reach almost 50%.

President Clinton made efforts to reform welfare as we knew it. President Obama is trying tirelessly to expand the welfare state to all Americans, with promises of more programs, more benefits, and more spending."

This, I remind you, is the same Bill Clinton that was impeached by the Republican controlled Congress; the same Bill Clinton who couldn’t get a single Republican to vote for his first budget and the same Bill Clinton who failed to receive over 50 percent of the popular vote in either 1992 or 1996. Now, apparently, he is Mitt Romney’s poster boy for sensible government!

All things considered, one can see why Romney would contrast Clinton’s time in office with Obama’s. The economic record is particularly striking; during Clinton’s tenure, by the time of the 2000 election, the debate was about what to do with the budget surplus! It really is remarkable that Obama has not sought to make more use of Clinton during his first term in his efforts to get the economy back on track. 

Of course, Bill Clinton is the ex-president who never really went away. An adroit campaigner, Clinton has never strayed from the limelight and appears incapable of yielding the floor to a new generation of politicians. In all fairness, why should he? Over a decade since leaving office, Clinton still remains the Democrat’s most potent campaigner in chief. Clinton’s abilities were often overlooked, or dismissed as being evidence of a Slick Willy mentality, but he was and remains a political mastermind, capable of guile and cunning and a far more able politician than the current occupant of the White House.

Much is made of Obama’s rhetorical capacity, but his stumbling syntax when faced by a malfunctioning Teleprompter reveals a different story. Contrast this with Bill Clinton’s State of the Union Address in 1994 when he was forced to ad-lib for 20 minutes due to the wrong speech having been loaded into the Teleprompter.

The irony in all of this is incredible. In 2012 both Republican and Democratic candidates are utilising Bill Clinton in a positive light in their campaigns. In 2000, Clinton’s own vice president, Al Gore, refused to adequately utilise Clinton or even his own record in office and ended up loosing the election by a couple of hanging chads in Florida.

It will be interesting to see how Romney’s remarks play out in Republican political circles. It is likely that they will reinforce the widely held view of Romney as a RINO (Republican in Name Only) and that despite Rick Santorum’s middle of the night ‘endorsement’ he remains the “worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama” in 2012.

Dr. James D. Boys is a Contributing Editor to The Commentator and an Associate Professor of International Political Studies at Richmond, the American International University in London. Visit his and follow him on twitter @jamesdboys

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