What about Bill? That is, what to make of the large and bumptious role former President Clinton is playing in the Democratic presidential primary contest?
It would be odd for Clinton, the most magnetic Democratic politician since John F. Kennedy, not to play an active role in his wife's campaign for the White House. He remains popular with Democratic crowds and has one thing Hillary Clinton does not: boatloads of charisma. For Mrs. Clinton to go head to head with Barack Obama without taking advantage of her husband's gifts would be like showing up at the OK Corral without a fully loaded revolver.
And yet, there's something disconcerting, even diminishing, about watching a former president get down and dirty on the campaign trail. Clinton has behaved so petulantly at times that he's been compared to a bellicose Little League dad, trying to coach from the bleachers. After Mrs. Clinton's ugly win in the Nevada caucus, liberal commentator Michael Tomasky said someone needs to stand up to Clinton about his behavior, because "he campaigned against a fellow Democrat no differently than if Obama had been Newt Gingrich."
If you believe that Clinton is essentially campaigning for a third term, his hardball politics makes sense. Even so, he's doing his own stature no favors.
George H.W. Bush, having a sense of decorum about his role as a former president and Republican Party paterfamilias, largely stayed out of his son's 2000 campaign. Ex-presidents customarily assume the role of elder statesmen, transcending the grubbiness of mere politics for the sake of doing good. Certainly Clinton's charitable projects have helped him remake his image after the disgraces of his final years in office.
But that legacy now hangs in the balance. Of course, if Mrs. Clinton wins the nomination, many Democrats will forget how her husband carried on. But will all of Obama's supporters? And imagine how Clinton's behavior would play in a general election.
Having been elevated to the heights of American politics, Bill Clinton is taking a tremendous risk with his personal reputation. It wouldn't be the first time.
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