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February 5, 2008

Three-Term Bill?

Eugene Robinson once again takes a close look at the Clinton Restoration, and again decides that he can't abide it. The Washington Post columnist wonders exactly how Hillary can argue that her experience as First Lady somehow included actual governance, and then in the same breath insist that Bill will have nothing to do with running the country as First Spouse:

There's no way that Hillary Clinton would go to the considerable trouble of running for president in order to let her husband make the decisions, as if the Clinton marriage were out of a 1950s sitcom. Hillary has her people -- longtime friends, supporters, aides -- just as Bill has his. If she made it to the White House, her people would be the ones with real power; if his people didn't like it, there wouldn't be much they could do but grumble.

But Hillary Clinton opens the door to all the questions and suspicions about Bill's role. Has she made a single campaign appearance without claiming that "for 35 years" she's been fighting for this, that or the other?

When she tries to portray herself as a battle-scarred political veteran and Obama as an ingenue, she counts the years she spent as first lady in Little Rock and Washington. When she adds the policy successes of the 1990s (but not the failures) to her résumé, she implies that she was part of a co-presidency. It's legitimate to ask whether she intends to be part of another.

Robinson catches the essential contradiction in the Hillary campaign's embrace of Bill. On the one hand, she can't argue for her own experience without trying to convince people that she played anything other than a ceremonial role in the White House. On the other, if she expects to beat the Republicans and independents who do not long for a Clinton restoration, she has to assure them that Bill will play nothing more than the ceremonial role she specifically rejects.

In order to get around the contradiction, she has attempted to turn the ceremonial into the substantial. The most glaring example came when she tried to claim that a visit to Bosnia came under enemy fire, all to fulfill some important diplomatic mission. It turns out that the "mission" was a USO show and that Hillary landed routinely with Chelsea, Sinbad, and Sheryl Crow. If it had been as dangerous as Hillary claimed, shouldn't we question her judgment in bringing her teenage daughter along with two entertainers?

Robinson touches on another aspect of Clintonian manipulation as well, that of the papers the Clintons have not released or even attempted to release from the first administration. If Hillary had all of the experience in foreign policy and governance she claims, her papers and those of Bill Clinton should reveal that. Neither have been forthcoming; both blame George Bush for keeping the records sealed. Why not just demand their release publicly? Neither have bothered to do that, either. They finally started moving through Hillary's schedules on Friday, but it could be months before the review on all of the documentation finishes.

The questions of a Clinton Restoration will resonate among those who recall all too well the mendacities of the first administration. A third Clinton term will apparently look much like the first two.


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