Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Drawing the Line

Imagine, Bill Clinton back in the White House. Hillary sitting behind the Commander in Chief's desk in the same oval room where her husband had certain dalliances back in the 90's.

Walking the halls and coming upon a portrait of a former president who is still revered today as something akin to a rock star. Knowing that whenever you speak, a lot of people will be judging your words by what that other president might have said.

Realizing that you're presiding over a nation in troubled economic straits while everyone remembers how good everything seemed when that other president ran the economy.

Will Hillary Clinton be measured by the America she inherits or by the other Clinton who ran the place up to end of the millenium?

Bill exuded a serene confidence, he put people at ease. Hillary doesn't have that gift. She comes across as cold and ambitious, the sort who lets no one get in her way. Bill was blessed by the gift of extemporaneous speech. He could speak, convincingly, at length, without notes and he did it in a way that reached people. Hillary hasn't shown that same spontaneity.

Bill was also incredibly lucky. During his administration America experienced the "Dot Com" boom. Of course it was aberrent, an empty bubble, but it was a blessing for the presidency. Notional wealth was being created on an astonishing scale. With that, a tsunami of tax revenues flooded the treasury. Americans felt prosperous and the government was awash in sufficient revenue that it was able to balance the budget. Sure it was an illusion but it had concerete benefits for Bill Clinton.

America was respected globally. Bill Clinton made friends and allies easily. Around the world he was liked, even admired, and that spilled over into a fondness for America and its people.

All that has changed, for the worse. Bush has squandered America's goodwill. It is now widely seen as a pariah, a rogue state. George Bush has stupidly revealed how fragile America's military might can be. Nasty little states are flaunting their nasty little ways, confident that America is so tied down in Iraq that its options against them are limited.

At home, George Bush has created an American oligarchy where the divide between the rich few and the poor or marginal working class is wider than ever, where social mobility has been strangled, where the wealthy make their fortunes offshore while their working class countrymen work harder for less reward, if they're lucky, or search for jobs if they're not.

He has transformed the United States into a fiscally weak state that has accrued massive debts, that runs enormous deficits and that even funds its foreign wars on foreign loans. George Bush has "defunded" the American government, crippling its strength for years, if not decades, to come and mortgaging the future of its working class by borrowing to fund its excesses. George Bush has waged and perhaps even won America's first class war.

Should she become president, Hillary Clinton will face a towering wall of challenges that Bill never had to confront. Lucky as his administration was, the next one will be just the opposite. The Frat Boy who now occupies the White House is like the deadbeat tenant who can't make the rent and steals away into the night leaving behind a filthy and damaged apartment and a landlord with no money.

The next president is going to have to make some tough and potentially unpopular decisions. He or she will have to call upon the American people to make the sacrifices that George Bush was too gutless to ask of them in order to fund his war of whim. The next president is going to have to behave like a grown up - and that, too, will come as a shock to the American people. If it is Hillary, her government will bear no resemblance to Bill's and there are bound to be people who will be angry about that.

As president, Hillary Clinton will have to redefine Bill or exile him to pursue "good works" far from Washington. The problem isn't her and it really isn't him either. It's the American people and the expectations that having Bill there might heap onto Hillary's shoulders. Such a presidency may be the one to draw a clear line between president and presidential spouse, a line that was increasingly blurred by the likes of Nancy Reagan and - why Hillary herself.

No comments: