You Always Hurt the One You Love? Musings on Bill & Hillary

Presidents and Presidential contenders have always had relatives they wished they could lock away until their nomination, if not their term, was over.

Remember Billy Beer?

But the latest relative that has embarrassed and seriously damaged a candidate’s chances is a genuine shock. Who would have thought the supremely savvy politician Bill Clinton would in fact be a liability rather than an asset to his wife during her historic presidential campaign

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s husband has brought her yet more negative publicity. As noted in a New Republic blog by Michael Crowley, this is due to an anger-fueled outburst concerning Todd S. Purdum, husband of President Clinton’s former Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers and author of an admittedly unflattering, possibly unfair and apparently dubiously-sourced Vanity Fair article about the former President.

But it was not the ex-President’s first major gaffe during the campaign.

That unfortunate distinction falls on his ungracious handling of Senator Barack Obama’s landslide South Carolina primary victory.

As Anne E. Kornblut of the Washington Post noted, the former President’s reaction was the comment that Jesse Jackson had won in South Carolina in 1984 and 1988. It was a statement that discounted Senator Obama’s sizable victory and tacitly suggested that it was only due to the state’s strongly African-American demographics.

That, as well as his furious tirades at the press after that statement generated justified media backlash, certainly wounded his wife’s campaign.

It also raised an interesting question- How should a candidate handle negative publicity when it is generated by one who is near-and-dear to them? And what do you do when that relative is as famous as you are?

Furthermore, how did Bill Clinton, an adroit master of the political game, blunder so badly?

With Senator Obama finally having sewn up the Democratic nomination, it is unlikely that former president Clinton’s latest outburst can have any further negative impact on his wife’s political career, despite the mushrooming coverage of his ranting denunciation of Purdum as a “scumbag” (and worse) to a reporter from The Huffington Post.

But one has to wonder what might have been if the man had been on his game- if he had managed to generate positive publicity for his wife’s campaign rather than negative. Would it have made a difference?


3 comments so far

  1. Political Junkie on

    One thing’s for sure. Any future Democratic candidate who encounters a state in violation of the Democratic rules will raise the money to have the ballots reprinted. Amazing how Clinton by dint of endless repetition made it possible for some of the illegal votes to count and then used the votes as indicative of her popular vote tallies. Much to be learned in PR terms here.

  2. Dr. Lumbers on

    Another good read, Abby. No surprise there.
    I have two comments:
    1) Would a Slick Willie “on his game” have made a difference? I don’t think so. I think the Clinton team misread the mood of the party and the nation. They ran on a platform of experience, which Obama shrewdly used to his advantage. This means more of the same Washington warfare that has paralyzed our country, he said.
    2) Was Bill really “off his game?” I think this argument has been overstated. First, he brought Hillary to the dance. She would not have been in a position to win the nomination if they had never met. Second,we live in an age where every politician’s remark, sniff, cough and fart is recorded for posterity. Would Thomas Jefferson seem as articulate to us were he alive today (no, I’m not comparing one of the Founding Fathers to William Jefferson Clinton; just making a point)?Chances are he was the same suave Bill 99% of the time. An anti-Clinton media avidly reported his bad moments.
    Thanks for the post. I enjoyed reading it. Buy my book everyone!!!

  3. abbymartin on

    It’s the Doctor! Thank you for the comment.

    (And yes, please buy his book. If you have any interest in keen insights into LBJ’s presidency or Sino-American relations then Piercing the Bamboo Curtain: Tentative Bridge-building to China During the Johnson Years is the book for you.)

    I do think that if the former President had been on his game, it might had made a difference. There was a deep affection and respect between Bill Clinton and the Africa-American community and some of the comments he made really eroded that relationship.

    You are absolutely correct about the media’s role in this. Candidates are under the microscope 24/7 which does magnify any mistake to epic proportions.

    But the thing is, Bill Clinton knew that. And he has used that to his advantage in the past. So the question is, why he was unable to do that during this particular campaign.


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