Bill Clinton's charisma and political skill can't be denied, but some Democrats are living in the past, kept in thrall to an over-hyped image of him. Others, for self-serving reasons, actively promote the idea that Clinton's the best politico the Democrats will see in our lifetime. It's time to take another look at the legend and the reality.
Here's an excerpt from yesterday's AP article on a possible Gore candidacy:
Privately, senior Democrats put long odds on Gore running and winning the Democratic nomination.
They raised the same old questions about Gore: Can he connect with the average American voter and not let Clinton get in his way? While President Clinton's impeachment posed a political problem for Gore in 2000, the potential candidacy of former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton looms large in 2008.
Remember who we're dealing with here. These "Senior Democrats" are from the "pretend-you're-a-Republican" wing of the party. They're the ones who keep telling us that a) Al (or John, or Russ) isn't the pol that Bill was, that b) a Democrat can't win by actually standing up for what he believes, and c) that Hillary's got that old Clinton magic and Al (or John or Russ ...) doesn't.
So here are a few facts for these "Senior Democrats - these "triangulators," these "Elvis Impersonators," these Dems from the Elmer Fudd "be-vewy-vewy-qwiet" school of political discourse:
Bill Clinton never won a majority vote for President, despite having policy positions that (according to polls) more closely represented the public's wishes than those of either opponent.
Al Gore won three million more votes for President than Clinton ever did, and John Kerry won over ten million more votes.
The Democrats under Clinton lost Congress in 1994 - to Republicans whose views were out of sync with the public's (according to the same polls), but who actually seemed to stand for something.
Clinton's not the only Democrat in 30 years to be elected President. Don't forget about Al.
While Clinton's Administration had its substantial accomplishments, it also made serious mistakes. Signing the Telecommunications Act is near the top of the list. This gave the Clear Channels and Foxes the ability to amass the added power and influence they eventually used to devastate the Democratic Party, Clinton's presidency, and Clinton himself. (And don't forget Murdoch. Sure, he damaged Bill, but could his recent Hillary soirée have been a gesture of gratitude?)
I find Clinton to be an enormously likable guy, so I hate to bring this up .. but there's also the little matter of his personal defect in the sex department, and the long-lasting damage that caused the Democrats. Before you react in rage - yes, I know Ken Starr and the Republicans were despicable about it! The $40 million prosecution was the real obscenity - but Clinton knew how serious they were about getting him, and he gave them ammunition anyway.
That "personality problem" was one reason why Gore - rightly or wrongly - distanced himself from Clinton in 2000. But to hear the "Senior Democrats" tell it, that was just quirky Al's psychological problems or his Daddy complex at work. It's not that simple.
The last thing I would want to do is tarnish the Clinton legacy. In fact, I couldn't if I tried. But this lionization of him says more about the emotional neediness of some Democrats for a hero, and the willingness of other Democrats to exploit it, than it does about reality.
And as for these "Senior Democrats" ... well, they never figured out how to win a Presidential majority. They lost Congress. They've failed to manage the press, so much so that the media are virtually another GOP organ. They've let the Republicans reframe the debate so thoroughly that Democratic opinions seem extreme, even when they're shared by most Americans.
When I need my car fixed, I don't ask the guy whose rusty Camaro is broken down at the side of the road. So, "Senior Democrats," when I want your opinion I'll ask for it.
There's a housing bubble in America, and a "Clinton bubble" in the Democratic Party. Our 42nd President casts a long shadow, but it looks longer than it is because the sun is setting on his wing of the Party. And shadows always grow longer at sunset.
Thank you, Mr. President. I hope you keep using your celebrity, your talents, and your influence for the greater good. America and the world need your help. But as for the Democratic Party, it needs new leaders now.