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Robert J. Elisberg Headshot

Bill Clinton Speaks. And Speaks. And Speaks.

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Small amounts of medicine is a good thing for getting healthy. Keep guzzling it, though, and you'll overdose.

Bill Clinton helped Hillary Clinton in putting her New Hampshire campaign back on track after its Iowa loss. But the former president's being unable to relinquish center stage may be what brought Senator Clinton a crushing defeat in South Carolina.

A spoonful of sugar does make the medicine gone down. But a sugar rush can bring about hyperglycemia. Which causes blurred vision.

Contrary to what many Republican pundits are desperately trying to postulate, Hillary Clinton's defeat in South Carolina is not The World Finally Seeing What Republicans Have Said About Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton is wildly popular to Democrats. And he was a popular president, too, no more so then when Republicans impeached him for reasons far less detrimental to the nation than lying it into a five-year war, and more.

("Far less" will be used here to mean "no comparison in the slightest.")

Bill Clinton's national approval during his impeachment trial -- when Republicans were throwing every possible charge they could -- was 73%. If you took George Bush's approval for the past two months and added them, you still wouldn't reach Bill Clinton's national approval -- and you'd have room left over for Dick Cheney's 9% and a box of birdshot.

No, Americans have a good idea who Bill Clinton is, and most like the guy.

What they don't like is something very different, and that's what has come back to bite Hillary Clinton.

Remember, when the former President campaigned in New Hampshire, it pushed his wife to victory. It's only when Mr. Clinton began to push himself up on the podium too that things soured.

To be sure, this downward turn was aided by President Clinton's snipping towards Barack Obama. It was unappealing, it danced around the truth, and it backfired on Mrs. Clinton, most especially for the racial aspects of it.

But the main problem to Senator Clinton's campaign has been larger. With Bill Clinton relentlessly on the attack, we had the aura of a two-person presidency rearing its ugly head again, and -- perhaps more importantly -- the gnawing question of who's in charge, undercutting Hillary Clinton's pronouncements that she's her own candidate.

I think these two issues are significantly more problematic to voters than the snipping. The snipping definitely matters -- but it matters less is because most people don't pay close attention to what's being said. But everyone does see the image. Everyone sees Bill Clinton making a speech, everyone sees Bill Clinton being interviewed, everyone sees Barack Obama having to "debate" Bill Clinton, everyone sees Bill Clinton make the 70-minute concession in South Carolina. Even if you don't hear a word being said, you see that.

And that image, what everyone sees, makes Hillary Clinton look weak, the helpless woman who needs her husband. Not her own woman at all. A tandem. And I think that hurt her in South Carolina more than anything else.

With the big loss in South Carolina, and Super Tuesday around the corner, it's hard to imagine the pressure lessening and that Bill Clinton will slip into the background. If attacks on Obama by the former president continue, however, there's a very easy response by the Obama campaign -- and it's not a response from Senator Obama himself.

Should the attacks by Mr. Clinton continue, Michelle Obama, a bright, eloquent spokeswoman for any cause, let alone for her husband, should stand before reporters and say:

I don't think the public cares what any political spouse has to say about another candidate. But if Hillary Clinton's spouse would like to debate me, simply as one spouse to another, that might be valid, and I would be willing to. Other than that, we should stick to supporting our spouse, and let the candidates who are actually on the ballot run against one another.

I suspect the former president would get the point that the public isn't voting for Spouse of the Year. So, silence would be far more golden.

Bill Clinton is admittedly in a difficult position. Any spouse should staunchly defend his or her mate. But Bill Clinton is also a former president of the United States, and it's simply a given that such a person stays far from his party's primary fray. This is done for etiquette and common sense. Because at some point, someone will be that party's nominee, and you want your former president to be outspoken on that person's behalf.

It's clear that party leaders are upset at Bill Clinton. The racial sniping is high among their complaints. But what the general public is seeing is something that can harm Hillary Clinton more. Seeing her husband overshadow her campaign is doing Hillary Clinton the biggest disservice of all.

Once the Democratic nominee is named, that's when Bill Clinton should be outspoken. Because in the end, the Democratic Party is outraged at the policies of the current Bush administration and at the Republican candidates relentlessly supporting those policies. Democrats are showing up at the polls in massive, record numbers. When the general election comes around, Bill Clinton will be a prominent voice of outrage, but just one of many. He should save his voice for then.