Sunday, January 27, 2008

Clinton Nostalgia vs Clinton Fatigue

The dynamic of the Democratic primaries (and of the general election, should Clinton become the Democratic nominee) has a lot to do with the tension between two opposing forces: Clinton nostalgia, and Clinton fatigue. Voters who long for the good old days of Bill's presidency tend to support Hillary. Voters who are glad the Clinton White House is over tend to support someone else. The question is, which force is stronger? I think the answer here is: fatigue.

Part of what makes nostalgia such a fine feeling is that often the past seems more pleasant in memory than it was in reality. Ordinarily, the reality of the past can't gainsay the pleasures of nostalgia because the past is, by definition, gone. But this is not the case in the election at hand.

The Clintons have injected Bill into the race to such an extent that a derogatory (yet not inaccurate) word I haven't much seen since 1996 -- Billary -- is back in vogue. I noticed it in Colbert King's column in yesterday's Washington Post (Billary's Adventures in Primaryland), then again this morning in Frank Rich's column from the New York Times (The Billary Road to Republican Victory).

In fact, the Clintons have played the Bill card so aggressively that judging from Hillary's news conference following her defeat in South Carolina, you would think Bill is the candidate and Hillary his spokesperson:

"Clinton was asked if she thought Sen. Barack Obama is the Jesse Jackson of 2008. She did not answer the question, and instead spoke about what she views as the great things President Clinton has done in his life. 'Bill Clinton is somebody who brought out country together. He understands what it takes to repair the breaches and hopefully mend the divides that have stalked us for so long and his record speaks to that.'

"Clinton continued, 'I think Americans from every community know what his life's work has been and they really know his heart.'

"When questioning turned back to President Clinton, the Senator said 'his life's work has been about bringing people together.'"

What the Clintons have done, therefore, is to make the past live again. And the sharp reality of the resurrected past seems to be eclipsing the fuzzy nostalgia that preceded it. In South Carolina exit polls, "Roughly 6 in 10 South Carolina Democratic primary voters said Bill Clinton's campaigning was important in how they ultimately decided to vote, and of those voters, 48 percent went for Barack Obama while only 37 percent went for Hillary Clinton. Fourteen percent of those voters voted for John Edwards."

In other words, about 62% of South Carolina Democratic voters who were affected by Bill's role voted against Hillary. And there's more:

"Meanwhile, the exit polls also indicate Obama easily beat Clinton among those voters who decided in the last three days — when news reports heavily covered the former president's heightened criticisms of Obama. Twenty percent of South Carolina Democrats made their decision in the last three days and 51 percent of them chose Obama, while only 21 percent picked Clinton.

"Bill Clinton's presence on the trail was 'very important' to roughly a quarter of those surveyed. Among those voters, Hillary Clinton edged out Barack Obama, 46 to 42 percent."

For me, that feels like Clinton fatigue eclipsing Clinton nostalgia.

If I'm right in believing the unwelcome reality of the past will trump the nostalgia of the present, then the longer Hillary and Bill are in the limelight, the more Hillary's candidacy will falter. Even if she manages to survive her growing weakness throughout the primary and become the Democratic nominee, Clinton fatigue will continue to worsen, and the Democrats would be sending an increasingly debilitated candidate into the general election. I hope the Democrats will be smarter than that. Nostalgia is a weak foundation for a campaign. Not just because campaigns are and ought to be about the future, but because when reality intrudes upon nostalgia, it tends to ruin the reverie.

P.S. I've received quite a few messages asking if I'm a Democrat. The answer is no -- I'm neither a Democrat nor a Republican, and have voted for candidates from both parties. More than anything else, I would describe myself as a libertarian, which means I probably won't ever have a comfortable home in either party. Regardless, I think the Republicans have so lost sight of their principles (small government, realistic foreign policy, fiscal responsibility, respect for individual privacy) that they need an intervention. If the Republicans lose badly, I hope they'll take advantage of the experience to get their act together. Which would be good for them, and good for the country. That's why in this election I've been more invested in the Democrats fielding a strong candidate than in who the Republicans might nominate.


XX said...

Well, we agree on belonging to no offical camp and I would have to say I'm a Libertarian.

And that, is what makes politics difficult in that the choices are limited.

All I know is I crave change (but I thought that's what American's wanted in the last election and look what happened).

Vigilante said...

If Hillary can't control him now, will be she be able to control him in the West Wing when she's in the East Wing (or vice-versa)? Personally, I think re-electing the Clintons is a little like a 'roll of the dice', if you get what I mean....

Slick Willie can talk all he wants about 'fairy tales' (of which I guess he knows something about), but I'm going to do all I can do for Barack Obama.

Anonymous said...

Barry said:
"Regardless, I think the Republicans have so lost sight of their principles ... that they need an intervention."

Not to mention become so utterly mean-spirited.

Great post!

Anonymous said...

Bill Clinton had the benefit of the tech boom when he was in office.

John McCain or Barack Obama would get my vote.

Obama seems naive when it comes to defense but he's smart enough to learn from his mistakes.

Though, presidents that disrupt the status quo in any significant way sometimes get assassinated in the U.S.. Which one of them would be willing to follow through given that risk?

Anonymous said...

Well said!!! I think both parties are going to suffer in the long run after this election. People are starting to take notice and abandon ship. I used to be a democrat (when I was younger). I realized that the government is waaaaaaaaaaaaaay too big so I switched to republican. Then I got smart and said that neither party is worth a darn anymore, they have both abandoned their base and have turned into one giant beast.

Billy looks as though he has lost a few marbles lately.

Ada [The Duchess] said...

I completely agree with you. You have the most insightful posts, and you just really look at the deeper picture. I admire that. I hate when people pander about and see things skin deep. This whole election has been "Black president vs Woman president (when the 'black' president is half white as well and the 'woman president' is as coniving as I can't even begin to describe.)That's just my opinion though!

The Clinton's are running on Bill's track record. They keep bringing up his 'good' record, and the point they are pushing is that by voting for his wife you are putting your 'favorite pres' back in the white house. This annoys me. I admit in his days I supported him greatly, but I'm sorry his behavior lately, and the way Hillary is just...I can't come to grips with it. Why doesn't she talk about what she is going to do to change things? She changes her platform to whatever the 'polls' are saying people are worried about/feel is most important.

I hope her bid fades into the background, and I won't whine if it enters the history books (not like those books are fair anyways).

Have you listened to INDIA ARIE'S Heart of the Matter? Her version of it? You should google it. It really fits with what you're blog seems to be about. Good on you, you're fantastic.

Anonymous said...

While I'm more apt to vote Democratic than GOP on Super Tuesday (Illinois has a closed promary), I'm not yet sure just who will get my vote. I've not heard much to sway me one way or the other, although I believe Obama might benefit from a few more years of seasoning and be a better leader because of them. I have heard a lot of "we must" from all the candidates, but I've yet to hear any "how". Color me old enough to be skeptical about promises made in the heat of the moment and hopeful enough to think that some of them will be just as appetizing in the cold light of day.

KSR said...

As a Democrat, it is interesting to watch the primary season this go around. Four years ago, we had a candidate (Kerry) that I had to hold my nose to support. This time, any of the front runners are all qualified and would do a superb job. It’s actually made it difficult for me to decide which candidate is best. I guess my decision just got 33% easier since Edwards dropped out a few moments ago.

Taking slogans away (change vs. experience), I’m left with two individuals who hold primarily the same views on the major issues. So I’m struck with which person do I believe will be most able to “unravel” the Bush years…in terms of ending the quagmire in Iraq, restoring civil liberties, and elevating our standing in the rest of the globe. Again, I think they both have the ability to do that.

One candidate is a known entity, the other requires us to have faith. One will be immediately able to conduct the duties of President from day one, the other will have a learning curve. One has the rolodex of world leaders and one has to be introduced.

I too have suffered from Clinton fatigue. And I certainly believe that Bill needs to take a chill pill. But I believe that if Clinton is the nominee, he will. My mom still can’t get over Hillary’s “cookie” statement from 1992. I’m guessing she’s not alone. I’ve seen Hillary in person. She is incredibly different live from the caricature presented by the Right Wing Talking Machine. If she could find a way to present that sincere image to the country, people wouldn’t be so afraid to vote for her.

I was watching the Bill Maher show on HBO last Friday, when guess Richard Belzer said he heard a rumor that if Hillary is the nominee, someone will release a list of all the women Bill has slept with since leaving the White House. I brought this up to my wife, presented as the slime machine that will continue as if the intervening 8 years hadn’t happened. She said she didn’t care. She wants competence in the White House, and Hillary is her choice.

What is it about the Clintons that gets these people’s goat? They don’t attack anybody else with such ferocity and persistence.

At the end of the day, to me, it doesn’t matter. A “D” next to the next president will satisfy me. We need corrective action for our government. A Republican, any Republican, won’t work. They need that intervention and they need it bad. Just as the Democratic Party found its footing after suffering two humiliating defeats, so must the Republicans. They are so woefully out of touch with a) what the country needs, b) what the country wants, and c) what this country is, that they need to go away and dream it all up again.

Sorry for the stream of consciousness, but I just had to get it out!


Oblivious to oblivion said...

I think people should get used to the title "President John McCain" because it's probably going to happen. Though nothing would make me happier to see a Republican in the White House for another four years, it still bothers me (some) that our country will continue to be torn and divided as Red and Blue States. Our country is so polarized by our politics that it is amazing that we get anything done at all.

The hate is strong on both sides, but I had an interesting conversation with my old Uncle the other day, a man who is a diehard Democrat through and through and hates Bush with a passion. I asked him who he would vote for if it was between Hillary and McCain. He said he would have to vote for McCain. And this man HATES Republicans and only slightly tolerates his nephew (me). So that is what the Democratic Party will have to contend with – neither candidate is really a winning candidate. Hillary brings all her history and baggage while Obama is too inexperienced and naïve. It’s really a lose/lose situation.

That’s why the Republicans will win, yet again, in 2008 and the country will remain a divided quagmire. And when the House and the Senate seats come up for reelection the Republicans will take those seats too. Why? Because the Democrats are full of empty promises and have done practically nothing since taking control.

I, too, have looked strongly at the Libertarians – as that they have a lot of good ideas. Unfortunately, they also have a high number of crazies in that party. So when it comes to being either conservative or insane - - I choose conservative - - if only because a mind is a terrible thing to waste.

PBI said...

There may well be a McCain presidency, but only as long as the mythical McCain integrity isn't investigated too closely. After all, this is a man who once (rightly) called Jerry Fallwell's bunch religious extremists, but then reversed himself to deliver an address at Falwell's own Liberty University. Then there was the utter self-debasement he exhibited by literally cuddling up to George W. Bush after W savaged him in the 2000 South Carolina primary with a despicable push-poll smear that spread the rumor he'd fathered a black child out of wedlock. Sure, McCain was still a Republican, but there are other ways to exhibit party unity without throwing his arms around a man he would have punched in the face in any other circumstance. Oh, and let's not forget that John McCain was a charter member of the Keating Five - the Straight Talk Express didn't start rolling until it was revealed he was a bagman for Lincoln Savings & Loan.

Hillary's certainly got baggage, but she's not the only one traveling heavy. It will be interesting to see if the media starts to actually mention McCain's. As for Obama's lack of experience, I'll take a fresh face over the "experience" we got with Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the rest of the worst administration this country has seen since Herbert Hoover. A little naivete and a learning curve that I think Obama can master is infinitely better than the corruption, cronyism, incompetence, contempt for the Constitution and outright criminality of the George W. Bush years.

The idea that there is "hate" on both sides may be true, but the obstructionism of the GOP in the Senate is the real story since the 2006 elections. There is no bipartisanship to speak of; take a look at these votes (in fact, the whole article is well worth reading) on the major issues of the past several years at Greenwald's site, and let's acknowledge that the Republicans have killed bills indiscriminately, setting a record for the most filibusters EVER. (And they have accomplished this all since 2006 - using only half of this Congress's term. Just imagine how much more they'll be able to obstruct by the end of this year! It would be funny and even a little exciting to see how far they can go if it weren't so contemptuous and utterly wrong.) The Democrats could absolutely be doing a better job - especially the pathetic Harry Reid - but the machinations of the Republicans last week on the FISA revision are a perfect example of the complete disregard they have for the mandate expressed in the last midterm elections.

Republicans are "retiring" from the House in droves, and voter turnout has been three-to-one in favor of the Democrats during the primaries. The country is energized now that the beatdown it has weathered from Bush and his backers is almost over, and my own read is that, while there might be a Republican in the White House if McCain gets the nomination with his current cross-over appeal, the Congress will be solidly Democratic. (But seriously, do we really want a president who thinks it's funny to sing "Bomb Iran" to the tune of "Barbara Ann"? Haven't we had enough fratboys antics in the White House?) Congress HASN'T done enough, but that will not fulfill wishful thinking that has the GOP picking up seats. As a recent NBC/WSJ poll indicates, people want Congress setting the country's direction, not Bush, and that's not going to change, even if McCain somehow gets the nod. He, Romney and Huckabee have all embraced too much (although not all) of the president's policies, and the public has had enough.

Despite widespread claims that the GOP has "lost its way" or that President Bush "abandoned conservative ideals," the same people who are now claiming deep disappointment with the Republican Party were singing a vastly different tune during the two terms Bush was kicking the country while it was down, and they backed him every step of the way, like he was a king. The United States needs both parties, but the GOP and the "conservatives" who populate it are currently the party of torture, the suspension of habeas corpus, wars of choice, the politicization of the Justice Department, and a legion of worse ills that time and space constrain me from listing fully. (What the heck, here's a convenient running list.)The Republicans have a long, long way to go before they should be allowed anywhere near the controls; there is a tremendous amount of damage that needs to be undone, and a clear majority of people (at least according to all the polls conducted in the last couple of years) know exactly who is to blame.

Republicans, especially Bush-backing Republicans (and that's almost all of them, whatever they claim today), as well as Bush-dog Democrats, all have political targets on their backs. As they should.

Sensen No Sen

Mark Terry said...

I would be happy/satisfied with a Clinton, Obama or McCain presidency. My biggest concern, and I honestly do think its a big concern, with McCain is his age. The man will be 72 when he STARTS the job, which is probably one of the most stressful in the world. Call it age-ism, but that's pretty old for this particular job. Who's his running mate going to be?

Joshua James said...

"And when the House and the Senate seats come up for reelection the Republicans will take those seats too. Why? Because the Democrats are full of empty promises and have done practically nothing since taking control."

True that the democrats have been a disappointment for the past two years (at least up until recently when Dodd found his voice) and claimed they didn't have enough of a majority to overcome Republican obstructionism - my own opinion is they know the Republicans are running the country into the ground and are willing to let them do up to shore up their seats in 08 rather than fight now. I don't approve, but it's certainly a strategy, doing nothing while most of the thinking public steams at Republicans.

And I'd have to say -

Doing nothing is certainly preferable to the years of Republican control and corruption, which has been well documented, and breaking federal law, torture, bombing countries that are not in a position to threaten us, etc.

I think given a choice between corruption (R) and what the Dems offer (nothing) most thinking folks go with the latter.

The press will get excited for McCain because it makes for a good story, but the truth is the Dem's are drawing out a huge numbers of voters for the primaries, and the Republicans are not. So I wouldn't cross one's fingers for a President McCain, who would certainly hurt the country with his blatant dishonesty.

Personally, I'm hoping for a President Obama, myself. Not that it matters, but that's the person I think most can help rebuild the image of America.

But that's me. I understand that there's a lot of resistance to a black President, so there will be much to overcome - but if it happens, it would be a great day for our country.

Mike 'Bwana' Blackgrave said...

I personally find the idea of Senator McCain as our next president to be a sad state of affairs. In my opinion this country is in dire need of change and youth with fresh ideas and hope. I see no other candidate that even comes close to this refreshing nuance outside of Senator Obama. McCain is an old man with old rhetoric which will lead to 4 more years of the same old shite different day. Senator Clinton to me is the second coming of the first Clinton, again 4 more years of stale dogma, hence nothing changes. I agree with other posters here that the devisive nature of our political system is what makes it gut wrenching for me...and until such time when two party politics will be a thing of the past the division will continue to transpire, and the true eaters of that grape are the citizens of this magnificent country!