Monday, June 28, 2010

The Clintons, 3.0

It's a Clintonian world now, we just happen to live in it. That Clintonian psychodrama which we all thought was so cloying and so over is now, in the fullness of Time and the agony of this Recession, almost -- dare one say it? -- almost charming in retrospect. In their first American iteration He was self-indulgent, hugely ambitious President, and She was imperious, Evita-y First Lady (or so went the popular narrative); Clinton-Clinton part the Second saw a bit of a role-reversal: She was the alpha Junior New York Senator en route, inevitably, to the Presidency, He was the supportive international do-gooder and soft power; Clinton 3.0 reveals them both to be international players of the highest magnitude, the ultimate Boomer power couple.

The people of the United States of America have, I believe, come to terms with the reality that no matter how annoying, selfish, messy, operatically diva-esque and power-hungry as the Clintons can sometimes be, they are -- warts, welts and all -- our Clintons. Love them or hate them (and we vacillate between both polarities), the Clintons are uniquely American by-products, avatars really, of their time and age and generation.

How, pray tell, did the Clintons reinvent themselves, yet again, when all seemed irrevocably lost? At the end of the exhausting campaign of 2008, people (this blogger for example) were saying of the Clinton family drama na-na-na-na; na-na-na-na-na: hey-hey-hey -- goodbye. Loudly.

Their defeat in the Presidential campaign seemed so total, so final. Political decimation. That fateful meeting in Unity, New Hampshire with Hillary the defeated and Obama the victorious conjured, optically, of all events in American history, Lee's surrender to Grant at the Appomattox courthouse. It seemed, in fine, to be the formal end of the Clinton project in American political history. One could even argue, as some did, that Bill Clinton -- during the last days of their scorched earth campaign -- had so besmirched his legacy that the coveted Secretary Generalship of the United Nations was now truly and irretrievably beyond is reach.

The pendulum swings. Hillary Clinton is probably the most popular member of the Obama candidate (though in all fairness, her portfolio does not include the politically radioactive economy) and Bill is, well, Bill. This Saturday he was spotted sitting next to -- and I kid you not -- Mick Jagger.

Further, this blogger cannot fail to note that Bill has been hanging out in South Africa with his old friend, one of the most respected political figures of the 20th century, Nelson Mandela. And Bill, once positively bristly and jealous on the subject of Obama, is now positively magnanimous regarding his wife's boss. From today's Politico:

Former President Bill Clinton said Sunday that Barack Obama is doing a “better job than he’s given credit for.”

Clinton, speaking in Cape Town, South Africa as part of the Fortune/Time/CNN Global Forum, said that public perception of the president has lagged behind what he has done to benefit the country.

“I think he's done a better job than he's given credit for,” Clinton said. “I feel very strongly about this.”

The former president, who, like Obama, saw his polling numbers dip dramatically during his second year in office, said that Obama is not fully “responsible” for how he is perceived, adding that a dip in approval is “not avoidable” in an economic downturn.

“Until people feel good about their own lives, they're not going to feel good about their president,” Clinton said. “And there's nothing you can do about that.”

Bill Clinton is also experiencing something of a Risorgimento on the campaign trail. Democrats in 2010 are clamoring for Bill Clinton appearances in their districts as they campaign for the House and Senate in critical, empurpled states. It is nothing personal (only politics, as the President knows), but the recession and high unemployment and BP have all conspired in something of a Perfect Storm to make President Barack Obama all but politically radioactive in places like Nevada and Arkansas and Louisiana and Pennsylvania and Ohio. In mid-term elections, incumbent parties that have control of both Houses of Congress and the Presidency tend, if history serves, to face robust electoral defeats. Such are the mysteries of American democracy. This "overincumbency," plus the present economic conditions may result in the Democrat party facing what Bush the Younger once charmingly called (Averted Gaze) "a thumpin." Polls, however, show that in many of those same crucial states, that Clinton magic still bedazzles.

Finally, the calls for Hillary Clinton to be on the Presidential ticket (should re-election prospects become shaky) are reaching fever -- or should I say fevered? -- pitch. Arguably, the paleoconservative undertones in the closing days of her 2008 campaign paved the way for Sarah Palin. There is, clearly, something there. One knows not where it will conclude. Whether or not President Obama ditches Vice President Biden for Hillary in 2012, the sheer amount of buzz that this possibility is garnering is in and of itself significant. We must perhaps look to Pennsylvania and Ohio and Florida -- states Hillary won during the primary against Obama -- to see where the future lies. It is, anyway, as I said earlier, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, a Clintonian world now, and we just happen to live in it.

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