MorganRants

Things I am passionate about. Injustice, stupidity, intolerance, bigotry and small-mindedness. Oh and there might just be some humor to offset the whole thing.

Editing Hillary’s Story

Posted by morganwrites on January 29, 2008

NYTimes story by Gail Collins.

Last summer, I asked Hillary Clinton if she had any reservations about using her husband in her campaign. She said no, that having Bill on the team was “a great gift. I have always believed you should get the very best people to advise you.”I never really made use of the interview. At the time, it was hard to complain about the former president’s role. Publicly, he was limited to the occasional stump speech, telling crowds what a good senator his wife was, and how she had helped a small businessman market his fishing poles to Scandinavia. He had a peculiar line about how he had told her back at Yale Law School that he’d met all the great minds of their generation and hers was the finest. Even if that seemed a tad over the top, supportive spouse is a role that provides latitude for excessive enthusiasm. After all, Laura Bush always used to assure people that her George was up to the job.But now Bill is all over the place — campaign guru, surrogate candidate, one-man first response team. By next week, he’ll be designing the bumper stickers.

The Democratic elders are wringing their hands about the ex-president’s rants at Barack Obama, worrying that he’ll alienate black voters. That doesn’t seem all that likely. African-Americans have stuck with the Democrats through a lot worse than a fight over who said what about Ronald Reagan’s legacy.

And you can’t deny the Clintons’ double-teaming is throwing Barack off his game. “I can’t tell who I’m running against sometimes,” he complained during Monday’s debate.

But in the process, they’re ruining the central selling point of her campaign, the story that explains why she’s the one a dispirited country should trust to make things better.

Every candidacy has one. Barack’s is about the child of a white woman from Kansas and a black man from Kenya whose very lineage makes him the vehicle for a transcendent national unity. Hillary’s isn’t how the smart girl from Illinois who overcame every obstacle fate could throw at her to become the first woman president. Instead, it’s a version of the story we love best of all, about second chances and the American capacity to turn failure into redemption.

She admits she messed up during her early first lady years. The health care plan was a disaster. Travelgate is still too embarrassing to go near. “Oh, we made so many mistakes,” she said last summer, waving away the woes of 1993 and 1994 in one fell swoop, all the while referring to the first Clinton presidency in the first person plural.

Her biggest error was taking a major policy role in her husband’s administration. During the 1992 campaign many people, including me, were offended when the public seemed to want to limit Hillary to the adoring gaze and cookie-baking role. But the public was onto something. It wasn’t Hillary’s gender that was the problem, it was her status as spouse.

It’s almost never a good idea for the boss to bring a husband/wife into management. It muddies up the lines of authority, and it lets personal relationships contaminate the professional ones. As every sentient being on the planet knows, the Clintons have an extremely complicated marriage, and sticking it smack in the middle of the chain of command caused chaos.

The implicit promise of Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy was that she had learned from Clinton I. In her, Americans would have a candidate who had been in the very center of White House decision-making. And the very fact that so much had gone wrong was added value. She is nothing if not a good learner, and — the story went — she had discovered at great price where all the landmines lay, both in the presidency and her own character. And she had forged a separate political identity in seven years in the Senate. During an era when the challenges to a new president could be sudden and overwhelming — and here Hillary isn’t ashamed to play the terror card — she was uniquely prepared to hit the ground running and achieve the greatest do-over in American history.

Now, Bill’s role as Chief Attack Dog undermines all that. If he’s all over her campaign, he’s going to be all over her administration. Instead of the original promise of the thoroughly educated Hillary, we’re being offered the worst-case scenario — that the pair of them are going to return to Pennsylvania Avenue and recreate the old Clinton chaos.

A lot of people are O.K. with that. (After all, we’ve lived for seven years with a disciplined Oval Office that runs like clockwork while it spreads chaos everywhere else.) Only it’s not change, it’s not a breakthrough moment in American history. It’s just a nervous decision that we’d rather go back than risk going forward.

It’s a story, all right, with Bill at the center. If Hillary expects anybody to get misty-eyed about the first woman president at the inauguration, she’s got to send him home and go back to the original plotline.

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