Has Bill Clinton been sabotaging Hillary’s now-struggling campaign? Perhaps he has.
But if so, it’s not at all clear that it was deliberate.
The problem – and the speculation – surfaced back in January when Bill made a flat-footed reference that indicated Obama’s appeal in South Carolina was mainly among African-Americans.
Well, subsequent events have proven Bill at least partly correct (see North Carolina, for example). Obama’s coalition appears to be a combination of wealthy educated whites, blacks, and the very young. But referencing the enormous importance black voters have had in some of Obama’s primary victories isn’t politically correct, as Bill Clinton discovered. And the fact that he referred in the same speech to his wife’s success with women voters wasn’t enough to save Bill from charges of racism.
Perhaps Bill wasn’t sabotaging Hillary so much as exhibiting cluelessness that his remarks would be considered racist (although, as pointed out here, Bill used to be more savvy than that). Or perhaps (as I happen to think) it was an example of hubris: Bill thought he was immune to such criticism due to his own status as the first black President.
Why wouldn’t Bill want to keep that status, though, and prevent Obama from displacing him and becoming the real first black President? And wouldn’t Bill be looking forward to a new residency at the White House, with all its glories and perks?
My guess is that Bill’s early stumblings were representative of his failure to recognize a new media reality: not only had Obama replaced him as the prospective first black President, but Obama had replaced both Clintons in the fickle heart of the MSM. Therefore they could no longer rely on a press favorable to them. And so Bill’s every remark was jumped on in a way he simply was not used to, except from the vast right-wing conspiracy.
Perhaps I’m being too kind, but I think it’s most likely that whatever slipups Bill has had in this campaign represent true ambivalence rather than malevolence towards the prospect of his wife becoming President. Both Clintons love power enough to want it for each other, and for themselves as a couple. First it was his turn in the spotlight – the easier sell – and now it’s hers.
And yet it is an undeniable fact that the “First Husband” role of spouse of a female Presidential contender is nearly uncharted territory. How much more murky it must be for those such as Bill who’ve held the reigns of power themselves. Being the power behind the throne does not come naturally to those who are used to sitting firmly upon it.
The majority of previous female heads of state (with the exceptions of Margaret Thatcher and Gold Meir) have come by their jobs through their personal rather than professional relationships with men in power, either father or husband. But in almost all those cases the male relative in question was dead by the time the female ascended to her political career. This was true even of such famous strongwomen as Indira Gandhi.
Bill is very much alive, which puts him in the odd and perhaps singular position of being a husband accustomed to power who may have to yield it to his wife. It would not be the least bit surprising if the contradictions inherent in those roles make it both tempting for him to campaign for her and to have the trappings of the Presidency again, through her while finding it difficult to see her supercede him.
To be a success as First Husband, it must take a decidedly un-macho ability to play a distant second fiddle to one’s wife. That is why the relatively unknown and retiring Denis Thatcher was able to blend into the woodwork as the spouse of the formidable British Prime Minister. He customarily refused press interviews, referred to his wife publicly as “The Boss,” and saw his main role as being supportive of her.
Can anyone honestly say they can picture Bill Clinton fitting easily – or at all – into that role?
The Clinton marriage has been the subject of such endless speculation that I hesitate to add to the din. My first caveat is that no marriage can be understood from the outside; it’s difficult enough for the couple themselves to know what’s really going on.
But one thing I have noticed is that whatever affection once may have existed between the Clintons became even further chilled after the Lewinsky affair. Whether Hillary was hurt by it because she still cared about Bill in the conventional way, or whether the wound was merely political (“how could he do this to his legacy and my future political career?”), Hillary must have been bitter about his sabotage and her public humiliation.
Still, can Bill learn something of the First Husband role from the only lengthy interview Denis Thatcher ever gave, presented in the video “Married to Maggie?”
It is doubtful. And at this point, it’s also looking highly doubtful that he’ll get the chance – at least in 2008. But if Obama loses the general election this time around, Bill may get a four-year opportunity to study up and learn the properly Denisian posture for Hillary’s rerun in 2012.
Neo-Neocon is a New England-based blogger.