Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Convention Wars, Episode II: "Slick Willy" Strikes Back


Above: Bill Clinton in full--a beacon of integrity, speaking truth to power.

(First, to the--hopefully--growing number of readers, I apologize for the gap in postings.  The rush of getting kids moved and some medical issues set my schedule back.  With the campaign about to go in full spin cycle, the Sons anticipate more frequent posts to this site.)
Last week we had the opportunity to watch the Republican National Convention.  The G.O.P. offered an impressive slate of young, ideologically driven speakers and office-holders.  These included, among others Suzanne Martinez, Marco Rubio, Artur Davis, and of course the VP nominee Paul Ryan.  We also saw some older, familiar names including Condileeza Rice and film icon Clint Eastwood.  Regarding Clint’s performance, it is one appreciated more on review than experienced live.  During the broadcast I thought at any moment Mr. Make-my-Day was about to slip on the metaphoric banana peel, much to the delight of the Democrats and the media (wait, that’s redundant).  But just as the whole idea of Eastwood performing acupelo seemed ill-conceived and poorly executed, Clint pulled out rhetoric gems that transformed a performance that started as cringe-worthy to virtuoso.  The most memorable of these was “we own this country, you and I, and when somebody doesn't do the job, we have to let him go.”  Memo to the Romney Campaign: please adopt this as your slogan for the next 60 days.
Presidential nominee Mitt Romney closed the convention.  Romney strikes me as an imminently decent, honorable man who is devoted to his faith and his family.  His speech suggests a candidate who, if elected, would surround himself with capable people – many from the private sector – set clear objectives for performance and allow them to do their job.  He would make a far better President than he is candidate.  Without question he does not have the ‘rock star’ quality of some recent candidates and office holders.  But maybe the country would benefit if we moved past the era of President as “Celebrity in Chief” in which we are currently living. 
Which leads me to the subject of this post.  Former President Bill Clinton is delivering the nomination speech for Barack Obama at this week’s Democrat National Convention in Charlotte.  Slick Willie has led a charmed political life.  I remember thinking on at least a dozen occasions during the 1992 campaign that Bill’s candidacy was toast (most notable, perhaps, the revealing of his creative draft dodging and admission to a U.S. Army officer that he ‘loathed the military.’)  The scandals and anecdotes which emanated from the Clinton campaign should have, by rights, led to its demise. 
But love him or hate him, and I fall in the latter category, Bill Clinton is a crafty political street fighter and a survivor.  He rode the magic carpet of a high energy campaign, cunning use of media (for example, his saxophone performance on the Arsenio Hall show) and an apparently disinterested and disengaged incumbent to victory.  I remember watching the returns of that election and sadly lamenting that a man like this could be elected to the highest office in the land marked a permanent change in our national temperament.  Of course, he was aided in no small part by the third-party candidacy of Ross Perot who, I’ll be forever convinced, took many more votes from Bush the Elder than Clinton.
As President, Clinton refined the skill of using the powers and trappings of the office to advance him personally.  On Day one, Clinton relieved all of the seated U.S. Attorneys of their positions.  While the position of U.S. Attorney is appointed, and it is certainly in the President’s prerogative to replace them, the concept of a President firing them all on the first day of office was stunning and previously unheard of.  (By comparison, recall the media-created “scandal” in the Bush 43 Administration when Attorney General Gonzales released a handful of U.S. Attorneys, purportedly for political reasons.)  Some speculated the cursory dismissal of the U.S. Attorneys, chief prosecutors of the Federal Government, was intended to slow or terminate pending investigations of a handful of Clinton and/or Clinton-supporter-related matters.  Later in the first term, First Lady Hillary Clinton engineered the dismissal of the White House letter-writing staff, most of whom were elderly women who held the positions for decades.  The bloodletting continued as the heads of the White House travel staff rolled on the orders of the Queen First Lady.   
Hiding barely behind the curtain of the Clinton Administration were ongoing rumors of political and personal scandal.  These included the suspicious suicide of close aide Vince Foster; shadowy campaign contributions from Communist China; the miraculous returns by financial wizard Hillary Clinton from her skillful exercise of cattle futures; and the real estate pyramid scheme known as Whitewater.  Later came sex scandals associated with Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones (which ultimately led to Bill’s disbarment), Kathleen Willey, Juanita Broderick and most famously Monica Lewinsky--if the "war on women" exists as anything more than a Democrat talking point, then who can deny that Clinton was one of its fiercest combatants?  (Here is a handy list of Clinton-era scandals.)
Through all of these diversions, however, the Clinton machine persevered.  Early in his term, Time magazine ran a cover story describing “The Incredible Shrinking President.” 

 Clinton was asked once at a press conference if he was becoming irrelevant.  After an ill-fated attempt at health care reform, the Democrats lost the House in the 1994 mid-term elections.  It was the emergence of a foil, notably Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (who readily played Lex Luther to Clinton’s Clark Kent) that energized Bill and brought out his best political animal instincts.  Simultaneously publicly excoriating the Republican majority while quietly signing their legislation, Clinton skillfully allowed the GOP to do the heavy lifting that led to the passage of NAFTA (over union objections), welfare reform, tax reductions, and balanced budgets.  He was a master at the art of ‘triangulation,’ appearing to soar over the petty skirmishes of the right and left wings.  The appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the Lewinsky and associated scandals really brought out the Clinton political beast.  Clinton and his minions savaged Kenneth Starr, a quiet and judicious former Federal Judge and Solicitor General.  Starr did not consider as part of his charter the obligation or authority to return rhetorical fire.  Consequentially, Clinton’s verbal volleys went largely unrebutted and Starr was successfully caricatured as having a Javert-like obsession with poor and noble  Jean Valjean Bill Clinton. 
As we know Bill survived a Senate impeachment trial and sailed out of the White House with head held high and public opinion polls soaring.  Today he is a multimillionaire, media darling, respected political elder of the Democrat party, and First Gentleman-in-waiting to Hillary Clinton.  So what can we learn from the trials, tribulations and ultimate political conquests of Bill Clinton?  And what can we expect from that loveable scoundrel Bill later this week and through the rest of the campaign?  Rest assured that Bill will be guided by the first principle of the Clinton id: above all, do no harm to the Clinton legacy. This corner speculates he will use the nomination speech not as much of an endorsement of the first Obama term, but as an affirmation of the greatness of the Clinton Administration. This could well be a primary example of the idiom of Obama being damned by faint praise.  I anticipate as well Bill seizing the opportunity to herald the (so-called) foreign policy successes of the Obama Administration, successes which were instituted by candidate-in-waiting Hillary Clinton.  Bill is an expert at political tea-leaf reading.  He will skillfully navigate the murky convention waters with an apparent endorsement of the incumbent all the while preserving his and Hillary’s hopes to return to future residency at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Interestingly, reports are that Clinton is not previewing or vetting his speech text with the Obama campaign team.  This adds to the possibility that the speech may not be so much an affirmation of the accomplishments of the Obama Administration as a fond remembrance of the Clinton years and a reminder that, if they ask nicely enough, the public could have those years back.   Rest Assured also that regardless of what he says the assembled delegates will go wild for their hero. 
We’ve all had people in our lives whom we concluded never received the fate they truly deserved.  I’m sure there are a sizable number of people on the opposite end of the political spectrum who feel that way about George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan.  For years Bill Clinton was to me the equivalent of the kid who cheated his way through class and yet somehow ended up as the class valedictorian. 

Perhaps it’s time for me to grudgingly acknowledge the instinctive political and survival skills of the roguish William Jefferson Clinton.  That said, I will never stray from my personal belief that Bill was devoid of the character this country should always expect and demand in its President and Commander-in-Chief.  In that respect, perhaps there is no more appropriate person to deliver the nomination speech for the current incumbent. At the same time, however, the leftward movement of the Democratic Party since the Clinton years on a whole host of issues--gays in the military, welfare reform, free trade, capital gains taxes, "the era of big government is over," and others--shows as much as anything else that Republicans are hardly the only "extremists" in Washington. Yet somehow, in a Party that philosophically rejects nearly all the political accomplishments through which Clinton earned his fame, he survives--as he likely always will.


  1. Greetings from Cincinnati! I just found this blog, and I like the title- Cincinnatus was a true politician... the average citizen who didn't want the power.

    I was in my teens during the Clinton years, and I didn't like him much. Looking back now, he had his personal flaws, but compared to the last few years, he was good. He worked with the GOP, and he embraced the free market.

    That aside, I will always believe that the Clintons have no respect for Obama. After the campaign Obama ran against Hillary in the primaries, I can't blame them. I personally believe offering Hillary the head of State was a backroom deal.

    Hillary wants to be president- I came to that conclusion in 2000. 2016 is the last time she'll be able to run, and the only way she has a chance is if Obama loses this time around. I don't think Bill is serious in his surface support for Obama-especially these ads now appearing in Ohio. He's made too many unofficial comments criticizing Obama or praising Romney. I think he's appearing in these pro-Obama ads just to keep up his credibility with the Dem base that Hillary will need in '16.

    1. Mark,

      Thanks for your readership and your insightful comments, with which I agree. We hope you visit often and become a regular commenter!