With floundering political support, President Bush and his vaunted political machine seem to have embraced a new strategy that might boost the president's poll numbers: tie Bush directly to Bill Clinton. At this point, the approach is about as subtle as a sledgehammer.
On the way to the Coretta Scott King funeral in Atlanta yesterday, for example, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan had a quick press briefing aboard Air Force One. A reporter asked about the visit the President and First Lady had with Bill and Hillary Clinton in the morning. "The President was visiting with President and Mrs. Clinton.... They were in the conference room together," McClellan said. To the laughter of the press corps, McClellan added, "The President is glad to have his brother traveling with us today."
Yes, the go-to joke within the Bush White House lately is to play up just how much the president loves Bill Clinton. Even during the State of the Union, Bush worked the material into his speech, telling the nation, "This year, the first of about 78 million baby boomers turn 60, including two of my Dad's favorite people -- me and President Clinton."
A couple of days before that, Bush jokingly referred to the former president as "my new brother" during an interview with CBS's Bob Schieffer. "I check in with Bill Clinton occasionally to see how he's doing," Bush said. "He says things that make it obvious to me that we're kind of, you know, on the same wavelength with the job of the presidency."
This week, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed went so far as to say, "Dubya chats privately with Bubba about major issues facing the country."
In one sense, I guess this should be flattering to Dems. Clinton arguably remains the most powerful and popular Democrat in the nation, and the fact that Bush is going out of his way to embrace the former president -- after being less than charitable towards him in the past -- may strike some as a sign of progress.
But I'm not buying it.
To be sure, it's nice to see Clinton and H.W. Bush, who've now worked together to raise funds for tsunami and hurricane victims, get along so well. The ex-presidents' club is very small, and I imagine it's enjoyable for a chief executive to be able to talk with someone who can relate to the similar pressures, burdens, and experiences all presidents endure.
But the Bush White House's near-constant references to Clinton have taken on a forced, almost contrived feel. Why try so hard to remind everyone, as often as possible, about Bush's close connections to the former president?
I suspect it's because Clinton has something that Bush doesn't: high poll numbers. Last summer, an ABC News/Washington Post poll asked respondents, "Thinking back to when Bill Clinton was in office, would you say you approve or disapprove of the way Clinton handled his job as president?" A whopping 62% of Americans said they approved. At the time, the ABC/Post poll showed Bush's support at 47%, a number which has dropped even lower since.
For Karl Rove & Co., the idea may be to boost Bush's appeal beyond the far-right base. The president has practically labeled his Democratic critics tax-raising terrorist sympathizers, but Bush can't be all bad if he's hanging around with Clinton. Or so the theory goes.
If this is a strategy for Bush to get a bump in popularity, the Bush gang might want to look for a Plan B. The frequent Clinton references only serve to remind people of a time when we had a president who had the country on track -- economically, militarily, fiscally, and diplomatically.
The Bush White House seems to enjoy the joke about Clinton being the president's new sibling, but for many of us, the question will always be, "Why can't you be more like your brother?"