THE EX-PRESIDENT FACTOR

THE EX-PRESIDENT FACTOR. I see the point of Garance's defense of Senator Clinton against the argument that she is too compromised by her husband to win/deserve election to the presidency, but comparing her to 1984 vice-presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro does Clinton no favors!

As it happens, I also just read an account of Ferraro's brief and unhappy months on the national stage, in Steven Gillon's 1994 book, The Democrat's Dilemma, which uses the career of Walter Mondale as a lens to tell the story of the death of mid-century liberalism. By Gillon's account, Ferraro was woefully unprepared for the scrutiny that went with being her party's nominee. She stonewalled the questions about her family's finances, which she had omitted from her congressional financial-disclosure filings. And as more came out, her husband, John Zaccaro was revealed to have some extremely dubious dealings, one of which involved taking a $100,000 loan from the estate of an elderly woman to whom he had been appointed guardian.

Similarly, Jeannine Pirro's husband, a grand scoundrel, has little in common with Bill Clinton. I mocked the New York Times for that tortured analogy a few months ago, and it's still true. It is true that women in politics are more likely to face scrutiny over their husband's dealings than men are over their wives � partly because husband's in those generations are more likely to have their own baggage -- but the majority of women in politics seem to stand or fall on their own feet. I know that Senator Feinstein's spouse has a complicated financial life, and according to Wikipedia, her financial disclosure is the size of a phone book, but it doesn't seem to have hindered her career. And Mr. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Mr. Katherine Harris, Mr. Jennifer Granholm, Mr. Debbie Stabenow etc. all seem to operate on the Dennis Thatcher model.

Garance seems to assume that the main burden Bill Clinton places on his spouse is sleaze, as with Messrs. Zaccaro or Pirro. But the defining characteristic of Bill Clinton, especially among Democratic primary voters, is not that he's a sleazeball but that he was President of the United States for eight years, with all the good and bad that comes with that. I've no doubt the good outweighs the bad by far; if offered the chance to transport myself back to those days, I'd take it. But there was some bad as well, for example, a poorly conceived approach to the critical domestic issue, health care, and on that one, Senator Clinton can't avail herself of the �innocent spouse� protection that Ferraro and Pirro claim.

I'm not opposed to Senator Clinton by any means; she's neither too far left nor too far right for me, and I've been in awe of her political skills and good sense as a New York Senator. But the reason she has 100% name ID and a dominant role in the Democratic race is not because of those accomplishments, but because of her role in the previous Clinton administration, and the role she created for herself, well beyond Eleanor Roosevelt, of an engaged presidential spouse. That's one of her great achievements, but it's also a burden. I'm not sure the assumptions and solutions of the Clinton era are adequate to either the crisis this country faces or to the opportunity to revive an ambitious liberalism. Maybe she's able to go beyond those outdated assumptions and tactics, maybe not, but that's the sense in which her husband, as ex-president, is a complication.

I think comparing her to Pirro and Ferraro is to trivialize both Senator Clinton's accomplishments and the real challenge she faces.

-- Mark Schmitt

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