Tuesday, January 22, 2008

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An assignment to the mediasphere and blogosphere

Well, that South Carolina debate sure was pleasant, wasn't it?

I'm intrigued by Obama deciding to bring up the "Bill issue," as it were:
Mrs. Clinton’s campaign this week in South Carolina is essentially running Mr. Clinton against Mr. Obama. The two have been engaged in a war of words, with Mr. Clinton accusing the Obama campaign of voter coercion in the Nevada caucuses, and Mr. Obama saying on Monday that Mr. Clinton had made comments that were “not factually accurate” and that his advocacy for his wife had grown “pretty troubling.”....

Mr. Clinton has drawn particular criticism for saying, just before Mrs. Clinton’s victory in the New Hampshire primary, that Mr. Obama’s depiction of his steady opposition to the Iraq war was “a fairy tale,” given that Mr. Obama voted for a time for Iraq war financing and once indicated that he was not sure how he would have voted on authorizing military action in Iraq.

At the Ebenezer congregation on Monday, an Obama supporter, Mayor Shirley Franklin of Atlanta, appeared to take a shot at Mr. Clinton over that comment as he sat a few feet away.

“In this beautiful, all-American morning,” Ms. Franklin said, “we are at the cusp of turning the impossible into reality. Yes, this is reality, no fantasy or fairy tale.”

Pundits are also chatting up Bill Clinton's advocacy.

Which leads to my question to readers and reporters: it would seem that the obvious comparison to Bill Clinton's conduct in the 2008 campaign is George H.W. Bush's conduct during the 2000 campaign. To what extent has President Clinton's advocacy for his wife exceeded Bush's advocacy for his son?

Combing through Google news archives during the primary phase of the campaign, it's tough to find much at all on Bush pere. There are a few mentions of Bush's father campaigning for his son, but frankly, there was less than I expected. I could not find anything about Bush attacking McCain, Forbes, or other primary candidates (which does not mean anything can't be found). Even more surprisingly, I can't find a story this month that has made this comparison (again, that does not mean anything can't be found).

Question to readers: has Bill Clinton crossed the line in campaigning for his wife? Is there a line to cross?

posted by Dan on 01.22.08 at 08:51 AM


And that's not even touching all the protectionism (Obama: NAFTA was a mistake) on offer.

posted by: John Thacker on 01.22.08 at 08:51 AM [permalink]

This is another Dan, not Drezner.

Yes, the last two Democratic Presidents have both crossed lines established by long precedent.

Could you even imagine Herbert Hoover trash-talking FDR? Or Harry Truman publicly bashing Eisenhower or JFK? But Jimmy Carter injects himself into foreign relations, shows sympathy for anti-American sentiments, and hysterical criticisms of Reagan, both Bushes, and occasionally Clinton. The worst ex-President in history.

Bill Clinton is all about Bill, and to actually meddle in the Democratic primaries in this fashion is incredibly unworthy of a past President. GHW Bush never made negative comments as I recall, only positive comments about his son. I would have reacted very strongly to any bashing of the competition had it occurred in 2000, so it must not have happened.

Bill Clinton makes up his own rules, but his actions are terribly destructive to his party and to the precedent of ex-Presidential dignity, or lack thereof.

posted by: DanD on 01.22.08 at 08:51 AM [permalink]

"Could you even imagine Herbert Hoover trash-talking FDR? Or Harry Truman publicly bashing Eisenhower or JFK?"


posted by: Aaron on 01.22.08 at 08:51 AM [permalink]

"GHW Bush never made negative comments as I recall, only positive comments about his son."

You realize that they are related, right? That GHWB is the father of GWB, right? "Father doesn't trash the son that has been groomed for political aspirations" seems like a paradigm of surprising goodness? Did you really mean to make that statement as some sort of argument for your side?

Also, Aaron has shown you that this sort of political drama isn't new to the world of American politics....

posted by: yagij on 01.22.08 at 08:51 AM [permalink]

Which line? There's one set of norms for ex-Presidents, another set of norms for candidate's spouses. Elizabeth Edwards raised some eyebrows early on when she was John's advocate. The Republican wives are all proper, being seen and not heard, or at least not saying anything controversial.

Maybe Bill is setting new norms. Or maybe he's proving that Al Gore was right in not asking him to campaign until late.

posted by: Bill Harshaw on 01.22.08 at 08:51 AM [permalink]

As I recall it, Bush the father said something like (it may even be the exact quote) "give the boy a chance" about our current President when he was running in 2000. Not exactly the endorsement a campaign wants the public to hear, and I think that Herbert Walker was put out to pasture and told to shut up for the rest of the campaign.

I like Eisenhower's response best. When asked what Nixon had done as Vice Preseident, he [is supposed to have] said "Give me a week and I'll think of something"

posted by: Gene on 01.22.08 at 08:51 AM [permalink]

yagij, I will gladly violate my own standards of debate and discussion by raising the question as follows: Are you not a native English speaker, or did you intentionally misread DanD's comment?

DanD can correct me if I'm wrong, but most normal people read his comment as referring to GHW Bush not making negative comments about his son's opponents. Wasn't Prof Drezner's point about Bill Clinton taking on Hillary's opponents in a negative fashion?

Yes, Harry Truman was publicly angry about how his home-state candidate was treated at the Convention. Bill Clinton is speaking in a bitterly negative tone about Hillary's opponent EIGHT MONTHS before the convention. Difference in degree, difference in scope and scale.

posted by: Seppo on 01.22.08 at 08:51 AM [permalink]

I don't really think we can expect Me Generation Presidents to acknowledge any discretion that it might once have been thought proper for former Presidents to exercise.

The rules are different for them and, frankly, the public appears fine with that. I expect Bill Clinton's zealous efforts to secure the Presidency for his wife to be closely coordinated with her campaign, and four years from now I expect George Bush to be leading the effort to raise money for his brother. This kind of thing will stop when candidates benefiting from it pay a price -- or, to be more specific, when the American people decide that Bushes and Clintons as far as the eye can see are giving to American politics an unflattering resemblance to the politics of backward South Asian republics. There's no sign of that happening yet.

posted by: Zathras on 01.22.08 at 08:51 AM [permalink]

big differences:
Bill Clinton is popular. Especially in a Democratic primary. H.W. Bush was associated with patrician indifference to the sufferings of average people which is exactly the image that W. was trying to avoid, so they kept him out of the campaign. Even in the primary W. was running as the tax-cutting true conservative, again an image not helped by bringing H. W. Bush into the campaign (Read My Lips!). I'll bet (if they can control him at all) Bill won't be quite the same in the general election as independents will wonder what sort of influence he might have on a new president.

posted by: jared on 01.22.08 at 08:51 AM [permalink]

Hoover and Truman were actively involved in electoral politics and intra-party scrums. Hoover was the defacto head of the Republican party for a good decade or more after he lost to FDR. Going back further, Teddy Roosevelt was so involved in politics that he ran again, splitting the ticket and giving Wilson the presidency.

I think the "above the fray" meme began because of Nixon and Carter, as no one in their parties wanted their help. Bush carried it on a bit. But as recently as 1980, Gerald Ford, an ex-president, was considered for the vice-presidency, which certainly doesn't suggest a longstanding tradition of ex-presidents staying out of politics.

posted by: Cal on 01.22.08 at 08:51 AM [permalink]

It depends on your expectations for the conduct of ex-Presidents. As someone wrote above, the expectations have come down considerably because of Carter.

posted by: Rob on 01.22.08 at 08:51 AM [permalink]

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