Thursday, June 24, 2004

Kerry and My Life

Since the beginning of the election season there has been rampant speculation about the role that the Clintons will play. First, the rumor du jour was that Hillary was going to run for the Democratic nomination. Despite her immediate, and repeated, denials of her intention to run, the rumors persisted, with most speculating that she was being dishonest in her refutation. As the primary season progressed, and Hillary had not declared her candidacy, the rumors morphed into her waiting until late in the game to ride in like a white knight to save the Party from the lackluster crop of choices available. Hillary, of course, stayed true to her word and did not seek the nomination.

Then, there was the Wesley Clarke speculation. Clarke was everything from a Clintonian proxy that would enable the power couple to exert their influence over a Clarke White House (possibly choosing Hillary as a running mate), to a candidate whose purpose it was to weaken other candidates thus paving the way for Hillary's late entry into the race. Neither baseless claim came to fruition.

Now we are in the throes of the VP sweepstakes theories, and general campaign sabotage conspiracy. These play out thusly: the Clinton's are pushing anyone but Edwards because they are concerned that even if Kerry loses, the extra gravitas and notoriety that Edwards would gain in the process would make him a formidable foe in 2008 when Hillary would run. Secondly, the Clintons will withhold support for Kerry and secretly work to undermine his candidacy so that Hillary will not have to wait until 2012 to run for president (and even then, it would be likely that she would be running against Kerry's Vice President of either one term, if Kerry lost in 2008, or two if re-elected).

Amidst the frothy swirl of endless Clinton conspiracy pre-occupation, who should appear but Bill himself with the release of his much anticipated memoir: My Life. Naturally, such a momentous event involving Bill Clinton, in the heart of a presidential campaign, could not go by unnoticed, or without excessive dissection. So what is the group-think party line emerging from the punditry? The story goes like this: By releasing his book now, Clinton is going to take the spotlight away from Kerry, and thus hurt Kerry's campaign effort. Furthermore, this is likely intentional and a component of the overall sabotage design.

Allow me to disagree, and not only on the grounds that up until now almost all of the incessant Clinton carping has turned out to be, quite simply, wrong. I think that Clinton, as further evidence of his political acumen, has done Kerry an extremely valuable service. Clinton has effectively changed the subject from Reagan-era nostalgia to Clinton mania. As further testament to his deftness, his timing was impeccable. He waited until the country could properly mourn Reagan, and pay him his due respect, and then he moved in and cut off the self-indulgent rambling and overkill in its place.

Now, the country is focused on a very popular and successful Democratic former President, for a change, lending credence to Kerry and the Democratic party as a whole at a time when credibility is of tantamount importance to Kerry. Clinton has allowed the country to wax nostalgic about the Clinton years in addition to the Reagan-era, thus providing a counterweight of euphoric recall. This balance only helps Kerry not hurt him.

As for the claim that Clinton is soaking up the spotlight, I have a couple of thoughts. First of all, its June. There will be plenty of time for Kerry to capture the attention of the American people, including the debates, the Democratic Convention and his selection of a running mate (aside: anyone other than John Edwards would be a big mistake). And look at the context, this political season started earlier than any in history, and on top of that, Kerry was more or less anointed after Iowa, so there was little intrigue in the primary process as a whole, which makes hoarding the spotlight in June even less consequential.

Kerry seems to understand this, and has kept a somewhat low profile, at least partially out of fear of inducing election-fatigue, and also out of a desire to preserve much needed campaign funds for the impending brutal stretch run. Not to mention the fact that things are going so poorly for Bush and his embattled, scandal-ridden cabinet, that Kerry is taking Lee Atwater's advice and letting his opponent shoot himself without interfering. Enter Bill Clinton, who is allowing Kerry to stay on the sidelines, raise money not spend it, and all the while priming the country for the return of Democratic leadership and ideals.

The second most popular argument states that Clinton is hurting Kerry because he was such a luminary that it makes Kerry look pale in comparison. This might be somewhat true, but extremely overstated. I think that the same contrast in stature is highlighted between Bush and Reagan, and that the voting public has come to grips with fact that this race is between Kerry and Bush not Clinton and Reagan. The potential harm here does not outweigh the positives gained by the strength Clinton brings to the concept of Democratic leadership, as well as the reprieve Clinton's presence is providing for the Kerry campaign. His insertion into the body politic is a decisive net positive.

I think that the same people that promoted the earlier Hillary theories are spreading the My Life massacre scenario too. This speculation, like that which preceded it, will be proven false in time but one can't ignore the motives. Those discussing these fanciful topics are trying to change the subject from Clinton's popularity and success, cast him and his wife as a two person scheming power hungry cabal, and undermine the alliances and cohesiveness in the Democratic Party. Fortunately, saying that My Life is hurting John Kerry doesn't make it so.

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