Chill Bill

Hillary Clinton’s wardrobe is not the only thing that isn’t necessarily working in her favor these days. Even less flattering is the popularity of Bernie Sanders, whose campaign -- according to conventional wisdom -- should have been suspended long ago. And now, instead of promoting her vision for America and the world, Hillary finds herself sidetracked into defense mode over the high fees and undisclosed lowdown in her speeches to Wall Street moguls. She’s under threat of an FBI investigation over possible e-mail and server abuses. She’s even had to dodge the protesting rabble at her outrageously pricey celebrity fund-raisers.

A less hardened veteran of the political wars might be buckling a bit under the pressure. Even during Hillary’s long and contentious struggle with Obama for the presidential nomination eight years ago, real tears were once seen welling up in her eyes. But Mrs. Clinton is one tough cookie, and an overarching ambition to become the first woman president of the United States steels her to the task at hand, taking precedence over everything else.

Secretary Clinton clearly underestimated the feisty junior senator from Vermont. Yet now she is faced with another unexpected dilemma:  she overestimated Bill. The popular former president -- who was supposed to wow the crowds on the stump, charm the pants off Democrat ladies, and lend a softer side to his shrill wife – is turning out to be a liability instead of an asset.  

Bill Clinton wasn’t dubbed “the teflon kid” for nothing. Long before he moved into the White House and upgraded to “the teflon president,” he had a reputation for using and discarding women. Hillary took it upon herself to duly discredit those involved in Bill’s “bimbo eruptions.” Nowadays she may keep a straight face when she urges abused women to “speak out,” but back then, she made sure they shut up. The future of the Clinton dynasty depended on it. 

Even if  “bad boy” Bill had his way with the ladies, he still had a way with the voters. But some of the good-‘ole-boy goodwill  faded in the wake of his scandalous relationship with Washington  intern Monica Lewinsky, despite the First Lady’s ambitious visits to all the Sunday talk shows to deny the charges and lay the blame on “a vast right wing conspiracy.”  

By the time Bill Clinton’s second presidential term ended, the teflon -- and the patience of many Americans -- had worn thin.  When his vice president, Al Gore, ran for president, he refused to associate himself with the former chief of state, much less allow him to campaign for the Gore-Lieberman ticket. Bill was a political pariah. 

But politics is a strange and fickle beast. And now, sixteen years after Bill Clinton left the White House under cover of scandal and impeachment proceedings, he is generally acknowledged as one of the most popular political figures in America, if not in the world. Gore may by now be schmoozing out there in the ozone layer; retired Joe Lieberman  might be sunning himself on a Florida beach; but Bill Clinton,  true to his “two-for-the-price of-one” boast to the American electorate,  remains bound  to his wife’s  intention of  returning them to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. After all, it’s her turn now and her last chance, so Bill is back on the campaign trail, expected to be as persuasive and irresistible as ever. 

But is he? Well, it seems that Hillary, who all along has found it to her political advantage to identify with her husband’s generally successful presidency, is backpedalling in an attempt to distance herself from parts of his administration, now that his once-lauded bipartisan crime and welfare laws are coming under fire by her vital black constituency. Hillary may not really have dodged sniper fire during any of her sallies as secretary of state, but she knows how to do it when the bullets are tantamount to votes.

To make things worse, Bill’s unflattering image as a womanizer is becoming known to younger liberal female voters who weren’t around back then, and who, as a consequence, are gravitating to a candidate not of their own sex. And if that’s not troublesome enough, Bill is acting distracted and petulant on the stump. He’s arguing with Black Lives Matter protesters, and afterwards attempting some semblance of an apology. He’s having more and more to defend his own past record, instead of promoting his wife’s. 

Bill is a frail shadow of his former self. He is five years younger than Bernie Sanders, but he doesn’t look or act it. His courtly, phlegmatic Southern manner, so appealing in his younger years, now comes across as listless. When he was a young political whippersnapper on the rise, Clinton famously bored an entire assemblage of delegates at the national Democratic convention by delivering a legendary longwinded speech. Now his spiels are briefer, but just as uninspiring to those who turn up at his rallies. 

Things have gotten so “iffy, “it’s been suggested that the Clinton campaign may be considering cutting back on Bill’s appearances. The thought is to “use” Bill’s other abilities, such as his talent for fundraising and arm-twisting, during the general election.  

So could it be time for the Clinton camp to chill Bill, or at least redefine his role in Hillary’s campaign? Does it matter anymore that he was responsible in large part for her getting as far as she has? When Hill met Bill, she opted to hitch her wagon to his star, grasping the benefits of holding fast, even in the most humiliating of times. 

If Bill’s performance disappoints her, it wouldn’t be for the first time. As always, she’ll figure it out and keep him under closer wraps, if necessary. Like it or not, if Hillary wins the 2016 election, Bill will become the first First Gentleman of the United States. Indeed, the culmination of their mutual dream would be well worth living together again under the same roof.