by David Corn
"Al...? Hillary...?Where'd everybody go?" One can hear Bill Clinton, as he wanders the hallways of the White House. His vice president says he no longer wants to be vice president, he wants to be a candidate. And he leaves town. His first lady says she no longer wants to be first lady, she wants to be a candidate. And she leaves town. The 1600 block of Pennsylvania Ave. has become Lonely Street.
But both Al Gore and Hillary Rodham Clinton, on their not-so-excellent (and competing) adventures, will do much to shape the legacy of the man they are each trying to escape, for how they fare in their respective campaigns will partly determine how Clinton is viewed in the years to come. If his partner-in-politics and his number-one-defender are rejected by the voters, that will constitute a judgment of Bill Clinton. You can toss into the mix the fact that when Clinton arrived in Washington, his party had firm control of Congress. When he departs, that will likely not be the case. At best, the Democrats may wrest back the House, albeit with a slim majority. (The recent Democratic giddiness concerning their prospects in the House is premature.) As for the Senate, no one in Washington believes the Democrats can overthrow the Republicans there.
Regarding the legacy matter, one question is, who will be left standing with the President at the end of the Clinton era? If you believe the current polls, it will not be his number two, and it will not be his wife. Granted, these surveys don't mean much at this time, but both Clinton spin-offs have shown more problems than promise in their initial efforts. Gore, of course, had little choice but to run for president. He was bred to be a presidential candidate. When he worked at the Nashville Tennessean in the 1970s, his colleagues created a timeline for Al that had him going for the White House in 2008. Luck -- if you can call it that -- made him the party front-runner at the end of the Clinton years. (In a recent poll conducted for Hotline, the political tip sheet, 39 percent of the respondents identified Gore's "association with Clinton" as his biggest problem; his personality ranked second, with 26 percent.) Hillary, though, had options.
By announcing she will announce, she has defied the naysayers who were predicting she would chicken out, such as Clinton friend-turned-foe Dick Morris. (My theory: she went for it just to prove Morris wrong. Another theory: Morris was trying to push her buttons so she would enter the race and then be humiliated. The Hillary show is politics as soap opera.) But Hillary, with her recent declaration, has not achieved independence from her husband. In fact, she has just volunteered to be something of a stand-in for him, the vehicle for that final political judgment of Bill Clinton. The wiser course would have been to distance herself before running for anything. Vacate the White House in 2001. Do television. Be a university president. Work with the UN. (Jimmy Carter could have provided some useful suggestions.) Maybe even reside in the state where she wants to seek public office. Then return to the electoral arena. But that would have required patience.
Instead, Hillary elected to capitalize on the victimization that lifted -- temporarily, it appears -- her popularity. Had it not been for Monica, Hillary probably would not now be memorizing the names of Adirondack towns and the lineup of the Knicks. But being cheated on will only get you so far in New York politics. That boost is long gone. Rather than running as a Clinton victim, she will be running as a Clinton. That means she will be carrying much carpetbaggage. With each day, Clinton's Monica foolishness and the GOP's impeachment foolishness -- both of which might have prompted some New Yorkers to regard Hillary favorably -- recede. More and more, this Arkansan-Illinoisan who has never campaigned as a candidate has to run in New York on her own record and life story, which are intricately bound to the man she married. A house in Chappaqua does not a separation make.
The day before Hillary said she definitely would flee the White House for meet-and-greets in Syracuse, Morris predicted to Paula Zahn that Bill Clinton would be supportive of his wife's pre-campaign campaign for a month or two and then, before it was too late, convince her to bail, so she does not end their White House days as a spurned senatorial candidate. With her announcement, Hillary indicated she was not playing by Morris' imagined script. She took the plunge. Now she can't get out without looking all wet. But given how this could well end, she and Bill might want to listen to Morris one more time.
December 12, 1999 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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