No one expected that Bill Clinton, once out of office, would go home to Hope, Arkansas and settle down, the way Harry Truman did in Independence, Missouri. And while it seemed likely Clinton would set up a charitable foundation, do some international good will work and otherwise contribute, few of us harbored any illusions of him becoming another Jimmy Carter. And certainly no one doubted that if Hillary ran for president he’d be in her corner.
But I don’t think many of us anticipated anything quite like this.
Prominent Democrats are upset with the aggressive role that Bill Clinton is playing in the 2008 campaign, a role they believe is inappropriate for a former president and the titular head of the Democratic Party. In recent weeks, Sen. Edward Kennedy and Rep. Rahm Emanuel, both currently neutral in the Democratic contest, have told their old friend heatedly on the phone that he needs to change his tone and stop attacking Sen. Barack Obama, according to two sources familiar with the conversations who asked for anonymity because of their sensitive nature. Clinton, Kennedy and Emanuel all declined to comment.
And it isn’t just members of the Democratic establishment, like Kennedy and Emanuel, who are upset with Clinton’s almost attack dog approach to an intraparty nomination contest; many traditionally pro-Clinton bloggers are expressing similar misgivings. Here, for example, is Josh Marshall;
I don’t have a good answer to this. I don’t expect Bill Clinton, who’s not a shrinking violet, to be neutral in his own wife’s nomination campaign. But I have to admit that the intensity of Bill Clinton’s attacks on Barack Obama really makes me uncomfortable. I know there are a lot of Democratic party insiders, mostly older than I am, who don’t like it either. But I wonder if there’s not some generational aspect to it for people my age. I was in my early 20s in 1992. And really throughout the 90s you couldn’t be a bigger Clinton guy than I was. So it’s hard to see that history (and it’s quite some history) leveraged to muscle this campaign.
For many Democrats this goes beyond being uncomfortable with Clinton’s conduct. It’s more like a feeling of betrayal. And that, as strange as it may sound, has a lot to do with Monica Lewinsky.
As strongly as I supported Bill Clinton every step of the way through the Lewinsky dust up, I always knew ultimately that he would stab his supporters in the back. What he did was reckless, stupid, selfish and ultimately dishonest. And the repercussions didn’t just hurt him: they hurt his supporters, and may well have played a role in bringing the worst president in American history to power.
Still, we stuck with him.
Why did we do it? A lot of it, I suppose, came down to something as simple as the fact we liked him. In fact, we liked him a lot. Also, defending Clinton had become almost instinctive after years of watching him subjected to one unfair attack and investigation after another. But more than anything else, I think most of us just felt that it was the right thing to do: as foolish and disingenuous as Clinton’s conduct had been, he’d done nothing nearly bad enough to justify his being driven out of office, especially given the mitigating factor that his Lewinsky dishonesty occurred at a time when he was being mercilessly pursued by a massive right wing witch hunt.
So we stuck with him, and he survived. And, as Josh Marshall said, seeing that now “leveraged to muscle this campaign,” often in very unfair ways, is disturbing.
And it feels like betrayal.