Hillary’s Spousal Albatross

December 20, 2007

Hillary Clinton doesn’t have the luxury Al Gore did of choosing to dump Bill Clinton on the presidential campaign trail. She’s stuck with him, for better or for worse. And if she becomes president, so is America.

People always questioned Gore’s judgment to cut his umbilical cord from Mother Bill, some saying he had to do it to free himself of the taint of the scandals and others saying the move cost him the election because he was unable to capitalize as much on the Clinton economic record.

There’s doubtlessly merit to both arguments, and Gore was probably hurt some and helped some by the decision. Ultimately, though, voters surely were and are smart enough to evaluate the candidate on his own merits, regardless of the strength of his ties to his predecessor.

But in Hillary’s case, it’s obviously more complicated. Bill will not just have been a past president with very close ties to President Hillary, should she win. He won’t merely be with her in the White House. He will be in her space.

Think about it. Right now, Hillary is probably conflicted about Bill’s role in the campaign. She’s obviously aware of a certain segment of the public’s adulation for the man — mystifying though it is — but equally aware of another segment’s visceral (and cerebral) revulsion.

But that’s the pragmatic aspect. She has to be experiencing personal conflict as well. No matter how much she might deny it or project it onto opponent Barack Obama, this is a lady who has aspired to high office since before the flood.

I’ll admit that part of her motivation to be president might be to implement her long-held vision for America: socialism, more or less. But self-fulfillment, achievement and power have to be equal or greater motivators.

As to these latter motivators, consider her dilemma. She desperately seeks self-respect and self-actualization, but fears she can’t get it — nor could she have ever been in a position to get it — apart from the eventuality of Bill hanging around her neck like an albatross.

It would be bad enough if only cynical sexists accused her of glomming on to Bill for power. But there will be no Hillary presidency apart from Bill. He can’t stay out of her business. He can’t stand it if someone else has center stage, especially his wife, who he will have put in office.

Hillary promotes the myth that she shared a co-presidency with Bill, but her role has been greatly exaggerated. He didn’t need her except to handle bimbo eruptions, feign surprise at his infidelity and stand by her man in the face of impeachment by “the vast right wing conspiracy.” But I bet he only allowed her in on policy decisions, like health care, to pacify her.

We’ll never know the full extent of her involvement, but we can be fairly sure she was in no way a co-president. He was the man.

Some things never change. He is still the man, and if she becomes president, the next Clinton presidency will feature markedly different dynamics from the first. The Constitution will say she’s sole president, but Bill’s constitution will say otherwise. Unless she is weaker than many assume and totally dependent upon him, she will surely find his irrepressibility and narcissism a powerful and distracting annoyance.

Can you envision the anarchy that could ensue on Pennsylvania Avenue? Other than “24’s” fictional President Logan, did any other U.S. president have to enlist the Secret Service to sequester his spouse?

Apart from the “24,” scenario I’m being quite serious about this. Bill Clinton is not constitutionally constructed to play second fiddle. Try as he might, he cannot help himself.

Even if he wouldn’t vie for direct power — which is unlikely, considering he’s already lobbying for it with his ill-considered quip that Hillary would appoint him and Bush 41 as world ambassadors — it’s inconceivable he wouldn’t always be trying to grab the headlines. And the media will always be ready to accommodate him.

So in the end, a Hillary presidency, in addition to the other woefully bad things about it, will be an internally chaotic, unstable mess. Unless she can muzzle Bill more on the campaign trail — which could hurt her prospects as well — voters are bound to consider these things if she wins the nomination and they more soberly contemplate an actual Clinton co-presidency.

She’s already declining in the polls, in part due to the perception that she is unelectable in the general. The thought of a truly two-headed presidency, especially with these dual snapping turtles, will only add to that perception — to Hillary’s further detriment.