On Saturday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Bill Clinton has taken a larger role in his wife's campaign, and is now serving as a de facto chief strategist. For Hillary and much of the media, such a move makes quite a bit of sense. For more than a decade, the press has taken to describing Bill as the greatest political strategist in the party. Through much of 2007, the Clinton campaign was constantly lauded, not just for its commanding style, but for having Bill on the team, the kind of asset that would make Hillary an unstoppable juggernaut.
But Bill Clinton is not now, nor has he ever been, a particularly impressive political strategist. Few would dispute the depth of his skills as a politician; but the chasm between politician and political strategist is wide, and one he has consistently failed to bridge. Isiah Thomas was an extraordinarily gifted basketball player, and has gone on to be one of the worst basketball coaches the NBA has ever seen. Bill Clinton is to politics what Isiah Thomas is to basketball. He can hit the political jumper, but he cannot call the plays.
Still, the Clinton campaign has allowed Bill to make decision after decision and long ago lost the ability to prevent him from straying off message. So much of what has plagued the Clinton campaign has been the direct result of Bill's actions. In the run-up to the South Carolina primary, Bill injected race into the campaign, trying to marginalize Obama by making an unprompted comparison to Jesse Jackson's presidential runs. That decision solidified the black vote behind Obama, who usually enjoys as much of 90% of their support. Even more damaging, a new Newsweek poll has Hillary winning a mere 59% of the black vote against John McCain, a number that would make Hillary's ascension to the presidency impossible.
While in South Carolina, Bill also introduced the notion that he could not be controlled, that Hillary was either willing to have him campaign as an equal, or powerless to stop him. Bill Clinton as senior counselor was one thing; Bill Clinton as co-president was quite another.
He has also demonstrated, on more than one occasion, that the brand of politics he mastered is far different than the technologically driven political landscape that now exists. He has repeatedly contradicted himself on the campaign trail, seemingly unaware of the impact of YouTube. Just last week, he was recorded saying that Obama had played the race card against him, only to deny having said it the following day.
The Wall Street Journal also reports that it is Bill that is and has been pushing Hillary to step up her attacks against Obama, attacks that have done little to derail the Obama campaign; they have instead driven Hillary's negatives up and her trustworthiness down. And as Bill continues to be Hillary's most aggressive attack dog, he has shed the statesman persona that he worked so hard to cultivate in the years of his post-presidency, permanently scarring his legacy.
Perhaps worst of all, it was Bill Clinton who suggested Mark Penn, one of his closest advisors, to head up his wife's campaign. That Bill viewed the 2008 contest as a microtrend race, and that he suspected an unsavory pollster with no experience running a presidential campaign should be in charge, is evidence enough that Bill's grasp on political strategy is tentative at best.
At this point, the Clinton campaign is long over, existing now only on fumes and denial. To that end, whether Bill takes a more central role in the campaign or not will have little impact on the outcome of the race. It is, however, yet another example of poor decision-making by a woman who is vying to be the chief decision maker.
Bill Clinton does not deserve a promotion. He deserves to be fired.
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