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 Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Housekeeper Running for President of the United States


W SCOTT THOMPSON (D Phil). is a national security expert who served four American presidents and is a professor emeritus at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

Commuting one Monday morning to Boston from Washington during the Clinton presidency, I lucked out: Senator Edward Kennedy came in late and took the last seat next to me. Of course, I respected his privacy, though when breakfast was served he noted from my working papers that I was a professor at a school on whose board he served.

Then we looked at the morning news: the Clintons had rented out the Lincoln bedroom for US$5, 000 a night to political contributors. ‘The Clintons have cheapened the dignity of the American presidency,’ he said. I made the obvious comment that no Kennedy would have ever done that. ‘There’s quite a housekeeper on that team,’ he concluded.

Now the housekeeper is running for president, and her husband is trying to fool all the people that she would be in charge.

Abe Lincoln once said ‘you can fool all the people some of the time, you can fool some of the people all the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time’. Let’s be honest.

This race is not now between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. It’s between Obama and Bill Clinton. And it’s about whether Bill Clinton can once again fool all the people all the time.

Hillary Clinton had the option in the race thus far of showing she could be a chief executive in her own right.

Maybe Bill elbowed his way in, still crimson from the way his own vice-president Al Gore kept him out of the 2000 campaign, denying him the fun and power of anointing a successor. There was lots of schadenfreude in the Clinton White House when Gore finally lost.

After all, what strong leader in history has wanted to be followed by his equal? They all want epigones - ‘weak followers’ that make themselves look good.

Maybe it’s because it’s payback time: Bill owes Hillary.

She let him perjure himself on national TV about his shenanigans with other women, and she ‘stood by her man’. He couldn’t have survived without her graceful silence. Whatever.

The way Hillary allowed Bill to run her campaign in South Caroline has revealed all too clearly what a second Clinton White House would look like.

There is the obvious point, as Garry Wills has pointed out, that the Founding Fathers debated this point, and concluded that power should be divided among the great branches of government, certainly not in the Executive branch.

But the real question is Bill Clinton himself.

Frank Rich, one of the most influential columnists in America, put it quite bluntly. ‘Any democrat who seriously thinks that Bill will fade away if Hillary wins the nomination - let alone that the Clintons will escape being fully vetted - is a democrat who, as the man said, believes in fairy tales’.

The man, of course, was Bill himself trying to put down Barack Obama.

But whatever, Bill made himself the issue in South Carolina. While she was campaigning elsewhere, trying to downplay the significance of this state primary, knowing she was going to lose, she let him muscle his way around the state insulting Obama.

His world-scale ego couldn’t bear being left out of her race in which he has no legitimate role. But there can be no doubt about it anymore. Obama can now concentrate on the issues, ride above the fray, and let the Clinton team once again try to project their marital problems and needy egos on the American people.

No doubt Hillary Clinton is now wishing there were someone like the king of Spain recently turning to President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and telling him just to ‘shut up’.

No one can tell big Bill Clinton to shut up. For Hillary is - at least figuratively - in bed with Bill. If she told him to leave the campaign to her, he would play the game Teddy Roosevelt played in 1912. In 1908, he decided against running for his own second term and anointed William Howard Taft as his successor.

But Teddy, with an ego is big as Bill’s (albeit with much greater grace and style), couldn’t stand the sight of the walrus-like president floundering around and favouring special interests. So in 1912 he created a new party, dividing the electorate with his spoiling game, and ensuring the election of the Democrat’s Woodrow Wilson.

What the Clintons have had thus far is the advantage of psychological entitlement. They know how to move around the world’s stage, enjoying being front and center, ignoring journalists and other impertinent questioners about their secret contributions and sordid past.

In the last days of the Clinton presidency, Bill granted a presidential pardon to the slimy Marc rich, in European exile. We don’t yet know what the trade-off for that was. Mrs Clinton has just bought a house in suburban New York to establish residency in that state for her race for the senate.

She had much of the furniture in the family quarters of the White House trucked off to her new house. Normally this is known as theft. Thankfully, the day after the presidential turnover, White House curators called her bluff.

Hillary Clinton claimed innocence and returned the furniture. The Clintons want us to believe fairy tales about themselves. She was just the housekeeper, after all.

But now the senator from Illinois has found His voice and it is a presidential one. He gave the most flawless victory speech from South Carolina that I have ever heard.

Oddly, while watching it, I thought of my old boss Ronald Reagan, someone about as far ideologically from Obama as it is possible to be.

But 1980 was a time like 2008, with the need for a great leader who could unite the country. I wasn’t alone. Bill Bennett, a conservative commentator, astonishingly said the speech uplifted -like Ronald Reagan! That was precisely the right word.

But there’s a huge difference between the two, Reagan and Obama.

Obama is the most original voice in American politics since Lincoln.

And as best I can see, he’s not trying to fool any of the people any of the time.

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