Monday, January 28, 2008

Hillary and Bill Clinton

Until the past six weeks, most people probably assumed that Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic nominee for President and realistically, it was not a bad assessment. But of course, reality changes and often in the blink of an eye, or the cast of a ballot (or few thousand).

Hillary Clinton's reality though is coming home to roost. The fact is that she is a flawed candidate trapped by circumstances, partly of her making and partly of history that she cannot change. Let me be clear, Hillary Clinton, had her name been anything else, might or might be a viable candidate for the Presidency, but her name is Clinton and that is a problem, or rather a whole series of problems for her.

First, there is the whole Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton dynamic which is working against her. True, this is not a dynamic wholly of her making, but it is a problem that she has to overcome and as time wears on, it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so.

Second, she has always had a woman problem (which I have noted a number of occaisions) and in reality she has not corrected her campaign's belief that she will outperform any candidate in the gender gap.

Third, she has a big problem with her message. In every poll taken where the question of whether experience or change matters to people, she is getting beaten badly on the change issue, which seems to be driving a lot of action on the Democratic side. There seems to be no end to the American people's dissatisfaction with the way Washington is doing things and Obama is tapping into that dissatisfaction in a big way.

Fourth, and this may be her biggest problem--Bill Clinton. Let's face it, Bill Clinton is both a boon and an anchor around her neck. A great big part of her "experience" argument is tied close to Bill Clinton, but while embracing Bill Clinton, both as her husband and the source of her experience, she cannot avoid the negatives of Bill Clinton, and I am not even referring to the racially tinged statements that came to light in the run up to South Carolina.

Spouses campaigning for the other is nothing unusual, if fact it is almost expected. The problem for Hillary Clinton is that her husband generates his own press by just being former President Bill Clinton. That takes some focus off of her in the good times and shines a glaring spotlight on her when Bill shoots his mouth off.

But while it would be nice to put him in the penalty box for the whole South Carolina thing, she can't really do that. Again, her claim to the mantle of "experiernce" is based on her proximity to him and she needs to have him around. Additionally, it would look bad to have your husband campaigning hard for you one week, only to have him sitting the next week because you are mad at him. Of all a candidate's surrogates, the spouse is the one who you are supposed to trust the most not to go off message.

But Hillary's problem with Bill extends beyond spousal surrogacy and "experience." In a campaign that is increasingly becoming about change, her ties to him keep her trapped in the past and that, more than anything else, may be costing her the lead in some states. Finally, Bill's proximity to Hillary reminds people of not only the relative good of the Bill Clinton years, but the bad as well and that simply is not going away.

Sure, in campaigns, you take the good with the bad, but in this case, life for Hillary Clinton would have been much better is Bill Clinton had lost his voice for the past eight months only to suddenly regain it if she wins the nomination. But alas for Hillary, she can't change the past--although she must surely want to do so.

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