For months weâ€™ve been hearing about how Bill Clinton will be the secret weapon in his wifeâ€™s bid for the presidency in 2008 – “the consigliere to the head of The Family,” as the International Herald Tribune put it. Yet there he was on July 2 in Davenport, Iowa, standing on a tractor trailer bed beside his beloved, wowing the crowd.
It was the former presidentâ€™s first appearance on the campaign trail, although the two of them had been together at various public events, such as the funeral services for Coretta Scott King. Kurt Ullrich, writing for the Chicago Tribune, captured the moment: “To deafening cheers and applause, left-handed Bill spoke first, offering up all sorts of reasons why we Iowans should support Hillary for president. As Bill spoke, an extraordinary thing happened. Hillary began to disappear. By the time he said, â€˜I donâ€™t want any child to be denied the chance to live his or her dreams,â€™ she had all but ceased to exist. For fifteen minutes the center of the universe sat squarely in the strong left hand of one William Jefferson Clinton.”
In those few choice words, Ullrich captured the essence of the upcoming Clinton campaign: one of the worldâ€™s finest salesmen will be using his magic to prop up his wifeâ€™s recent sagging spot in the polls – she trails rival John Edwards in Iowa, and her chief competitor, Sen. Barack Obama, has raised more money than Clinton in the second quarter of this year. That, according the Reuters news agency, is about $10 million more than Clinton expects to report for the same period.
Speaking of money, itâ€™s hard to see why the lack of it would be a problem for the Clintons. Bill Clinton, on his own, is said to raise $100,000 or more at each fund-raiser he attends. His speaking fees generate about $30,000 per appearance. And his job as a consultant for InfoUSA has paid him $3.3 million over the past five years.
For all the positives that Bill Clinton brings to Hillaryâ€™s campaign, the Democrats stand poised to resurrect the issues of Monica Lewinskyâ€™s smarmy sexual escapades with Clinton in the sanctuary of the Oval Office, Clintonâ€™s impeachment, the old charges of rape and molestation by other women in his life, and the profound pain and suffering these foibles have clearly visited upon his wife.
Those close to the former president say it is these very indiscretions that have prompted Bill Clinton to volunteer to be a master strategist in Hillaryâ€™s campaign. As the International Herald Tribune article puts it, “He wants Hillary to win. He feels he owes it to her on so many levels, for bringing her to Arkansas in the early â€˜70s and upending her career and everything since.”
The same sources say, in effect, “You ainâ€™t seen nothinâ€™ yet!” By autumn, Bill Clinton reportedly will be appearing regularly at large public events for Hillary. His current schedule will be replaced by such activities as adding more income-generating speeches, and separate appearances in various states during the general election campaign. Unlike Al Gore, who in the campaign of 2000, regarded Bill Clinton as a hindrance rather than an asset, Hillaryâ€™s advisers plan to shine the spotlight on her husbandâ€™s record and his current “super star” status among mesmerized audiences.
But the question persists, would it be good for America to have Bill Clinton back in the White House? As a team, Bill and Hillary have been known to play hardball, to take no prisoners when it comes to attacking their opponents. A case in point: during her speech in Iowa, Hillary roundly condemned President Bushâ€™s decision to spare former White House aide Scooter Libby from a prison term. “The Bush administration,” said Hillary, “has elevated cronyism over the rule of law.” Bill Clinton has also criticized Bush over the Libby decision, rallying many Democrats who remain enraged over the commutation.
But Bill and Hillaryâ€™s knee-jerk response to Bushâ€™s action only served to dredge up Clintonâ€™s actions on January 20, 2001 – his last day in office – when he issued no fewer than 140 pardons and commutations. Among them: commutation of the sentence of Illinois Democratic congressman Melvin Reynolds who was in jail for twelve counts of sexual assault, bank fraud, obstruction of justice, and solicitation of child pornography. The president also issued a full pardon to his half-brother, Roger Clinton, who had served time for convictions of drug charges. Later, Roger was arrested again for drunk driving and disorderly conduct.
One can only speculate as to what Bill Clintonâ€™s role would be, should his wife win the presidency. After his fifteen-minute panegyrical speech introducing Hillary, she responded, “If I was as smart as Bill seems to suggest I am, I would say nothing.”
Barack Obama, notes the online magazine Slate, “is trying to use Bill Clinton to paint Hillary as a woman of the past. Talking about Clinton, Obama said the country needs to move past the harsh partisanship and old arguments.” The maiden voyage of Bill and Hillary on the campaign trail has just begun, notes John Dickerson in Slate, and voters were supposed to be reminded of the balanced budgets and economic prosperity of the Clinton years, not the rough episodes.
In the months ahead, say campaign watchers, Bill Clinton will go public “big time” on Hillaryâ€™s behalf. There is even talk of the former president having his own campaign plane, press corps, and separate agenda for visiting crucial states. Depending on how deep his detractors dig into his past and how sordid and detailed their accounts will be, the public may be reminded, once again, that it was Bill Clinton who made the word “Lewinsky” into a verb.