January 22, 2008
The guy who wasn't in last night's debate (but might as well have been....)
I'm talking about Bill Clinton, of course.
He might as well have been in last night's debate. Really and truly, it's almost as if he was there.
Anyway, even if he wasn't there, his strategic emotion certainly was:
...while large swaths of the American opinion elite suffer from Clinton fatigue, the Democratic primary electorate does not. Reading the New Hampshire primary exit poll, we find that 83 percent of New Hampshire Democratic primary voters had a favorable opinion of President Clinton, and that Senator Clinton beat Senator Obama among these voters by 10 points. By contrast, among the 16 percent of Democratic primary voters in New Hampshire who held an unfavorable view of President Clinton, Senator Obama won 50 percent to 13 percent. Another exit poll question asked voters whether they would vote for Bill Clinton if he were eligible and on the ballot. Most voters said no, they would vote for the candidate whom they supported anyway -- and Obama won these voters handily. But 37 percent of respondents said yes, they would vote for Bill Clinton if he were on the ballot -- and Senator Clinton won these voters by 34 points. It was understood among New Hampshire Democrats that, whatever Senator Clinton's qualifications and talents, a vote for her is, in a way, another vote for her husband.Matthew Continetti goes on to describe the mechanism of the controlled outbursts, and how they work strategically:
the former president's "outbursts" serve a dual purpose: they lend the impression that Senator Clinton is the insurgent running against the media-supported Obama, while also creating the illusion that it is the former president, not his wife, who is actually the candidate for the Democratic nomination. Far from hurting Senator Clinton -- who also understands how to deploy strategic emotion, as we saw before the New Hampshire Democratic primary -- former President Clinton effectively has rallied a coalition of Democrats to her cause.As to how the strategic emotion played out last night, the issues became muddled as Obama tried to debate Hillary, only to find that he was really debating Bill.
It shows in the transcript:
CLINTON: You did. You gave a great speech in 2002 opposing the war in Iraq. That was not what the point of our criticism was.Not "her" criticism. "Our" criticism.
Then, a bit later:
The facts are that he has said in the last week that he really liked the ideas of the Republicans over the last 10 to 15 years, and we can give you the exact quote.Under the circumstances, I think the use of the word "we" and "the last 10 to 15 years" constitute clear references to Bill, and the implied interchangeabilty of the two. Furthermore, Obama never said he liked the ideas of the Republicans over the past 10-15 years. This were read into Obama's Reagan remark by the Clintons, who (apparently in their mutual megalomania) believe Obama's simple observation about Ronald Reagan is an attack on "their" (and I use the term loosely) later admininstration.
I think this mutual megalomania (which I've called "comegalomania") was the driving force behind much of Hillary's attack in last night's debate, placing Obama on trial for his arrogance in having dared to question the Clinton legacy:
Obama's candidacy not only threatens to obliterate the dream of a Clinton Restoration. It also fundamentally calls into question the Bill Clinton legacy by making it seem ... not really such a big deal.Author Eugene Robinson argues that Obama's real debate is with the Clinton legacy, and that this is seen as intolerable arrogance:
...implicit in [Obama's] campaign is a promise, or a threat, to eclipse Clinton's accomplishments. Obama doesn't just want to piece together a 50-plus-1 coalition, he wants to forge a new post-partisan consensus that includes "Obama Republicans" -- the equivalent of the Gipper's "Reagan Democrats." You can call that overly ambitious or even naive, but you can't call it timid. Or deferential.Ah, but it's not his wife that Bill is defending; it's also his legacy.
Like it or not, Bill Clinton was an integral part of last night's debate, and a major reason the sparks flew. Obama's admission that it was hard to tell whether he was debating Bill or Hillary was very telling.
That there was clearly a joint attempt to put words in Obama's mouth only heightens the confusion.
I see no easy way to resolve the problem. Clearly, Bill Clinton has become part of the debate. Perhaps it would be more fair to let him participate directly. It would certainly be more honest. If Obama is in fact calling the Clinton legacy into question, then the two of them should debate. I realize I said that Bill Clinton might as well have been there last night, but it's unfair to pronounce him the might-as-well winner under might-as-well circumstances.
So, enough with the "might-as-wells" already!
Rather than continue the fiction, I'd like to see a real Obama-Clinton debate.
How would it be done? Should Obama challenge him directly? (Surely, Bill would not refuse a chance to defend his legacy...)
posted by Eric on 01.22.08 at 02:32 PM
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