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Jewish World Review June 2, 2003 / 2 Sivan, 5763

John H. Fund

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Clinton the Hoover: Bill, Hillary and the Dems' political vacuum | The Clintons are back--but then they never really left. More than two years after Bill and Hillary departed the White House with controversies about presidential pardons and missing furniture swirling about them, they still occupy front-row seats in American politics. The former president does not seem to let a week pass without criticizing his successor. His former finance chairman, Terry McAuliffe, remains at the helm of the Democratic National Committee, despite the party's rout in last November's election. Simon & Schuster will be hawking Mrs. Clinton's memoirs next month, and she's considered the leading candidate for the Democratic nomination in 2008 should President Bush be re-elected.

But not all Democrats are happy that the Clintons remain their party's most prominent national figures. Two weeks ago Susan Estrich, Michael Dukakis's 1988 campaign manager, wrote a column giving voice to many liberals' misgivings about the couple who came to the (Democratic) party and wouldn't leave. She argues that the Clintons' domination means that the nominee next year won't be able to put his own stamp on the party.

There is also a more practical reason for Ms. Estrich's frustration. "Hillary Clinton is never going to be president," she writes. "There is no more divisive figure in the Democratic Party, much less the country, than the former first lady. And I like her. But many women do not. Even Democratic women. Even working women." She concludes that while Mrs. Clinton is a hardworking and effective senator, she only helps Republicans raise money and stir up their troops whenever talk turns to her running for president.

As for Hillary's husband, Ms. Estrich maintains that while he is a brilliant man, "the more attention he gets, the more the Democrats of the future suffer. He would be the first to say this, if it were not about him." She concludes: "Enough with the Clintons. Please. Not for the sake of the Republicans. But for the Democrats."

Ms. Estrich is reflecting the private feelings of many Democrats I have spoken with, but most of them won't say it in public. The Clintons and their defenders have long memories, and they are proven survivors. How else to explain Terry McAuliffe staying on as chairman of the DNC, after his party managed to defy history and lose both House and Senate seats last year?

In many ways, the Clinton years were not good ones for the Democrats. In 1992, after Mr. Clinton won his first term with 43% of the vote, the party held substantial majorities of both houses of Congress and a clear majority of the nation's governorships and state legislatures. Mr. Clinton was almost able to muster a popular-vote majority in his re-election four years later, but already his party was out of power in both houses, had a minority of the nation's governors. For the first time in 50 years, they do not control a majority of state legislatures.

Democratic pollsters concede that the Clinton impeachment scandals eroded much of the party's support with blue-collar women and religious voters. Like a battered spouse, Democrats struggle to justify hanging on to the Clintons. "He is a good provider," Rep. Gary Ackerman, a New York Democrat, told me a few years ago, referring to the millions the Clintons raise for Democratic candidates.

But that money won't do the party any good if it can't win elections, and Ms. Estrich's point is that the Clintons stand in the way of that goal. Two-thirds of the country cannot name a single Democratic candidate for president in a field that includes Joe Lieberman, a former vice presidential candidate, and Dick Gephardt, a former House minority leader. The Clintons are so big there is no room for anyone else in people's minds when they think of the Democratic Party.

Most former presidents have not tried to dominate their party's affairs after leaving office the way the Clintons have. Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan were in their 70s when they left the White House and uninterested in anything other than the role of an elder statesman. Jimmy Carter suffered such a crushing defeat in the 1980 election that his party tried to forget him. George Bush père suffered a similarly crushing defeat in 1992 and poured his political energies into promoting the gubernatorial ambitions of his sons, George W. and Jeb. As important as the Bush family is in the GOP of today, no one believes it is crowding out or inhibiting the development of the party's future national candidates. Indeed, its political success is creating exciting new potential candidates, such as National Security Adviser Condi Rice.

The publication of Hillary's memoirs next month, followed by her husband's just before the presidential election next year, will create a lot of buzz and may even sell a fair number of books. But the attention will benefit the Clintons, not the party whose ideals they claim to champion.

As the Clintons continue to suck the oxygen out of the political atmosphere, more and more Democrats are going to find themselves yearning to breathe free.

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05/27/03: Nerd Nirvana: Students are to the right of the faculty even at the U of Chicago
05/16/03: GOPers gain in the land of Humphrey and Mondale
04/28/03: With the war won, it's time for Bush to master the Senate
04/04/03: Is "diversity" on campus even a goal worth pursuing?
03/05/03: Sunday morning with the BBC
02/28/03: Shut Up, They Explained: If you can censor this, thank a teacher
02/21/03: Unmitigated Gaul: Saddam isn't the only dictator with whom Jacques Chirac is cozy
02/18/03: Growing number of black officials breaking ranks by calling for a more honest approach to race relations
01/31/03: Half and Half: Republicans have achieved parity among American voters
11/11/02: Sobering Thoughts: The GOP's cup runneth over? No, it's half empty
10/31/02: Blue Gray: California's governor answers a Nobel Prize winner with obscenities
10/14/02: Bad Hair Day: Did Montana Dems exploit antigay prejudice?
10/11/02: The kill-everything senate
09/30/02: Schroeder did what it took to win--but at what cost to Germany?
08/22/02: Buh-Bye Bob, So Long Cynthia : No amount of shouting could've saved Barr or McKinney
07/29/02: GOP: Get Over Panic --- Dems are vulnerable on corporate scandals, too
07/17/02: Not Just an Average Joe: A black GOPer may give Rep. Eliot Engel a run for his money
07/15/02: The McCain Mutiny-II
07/01/02: Opening the Schoolhouse Door: The politicians can't stop school choice now
06/20/02: The Body' Bows Out --- American politics will be duller without Jesse Ventura
06/06/02: It's time for President Bush to stand up to California's senators
05/16/02: A Court Intrigue: Procedural funny business in a racial-preference case
05/14/02: Thin moral ice: New revelations from a skater's Stasi files recall an oppressive era
05/09/02: Newark, Zimbabwe!?
05/02/02: Will Terror Leave Us No Choice? Teachers unions try to use Sept. 11 as an excuse for bad schools
04/23/02: The New Nixon? Al Gore plots his comeback
04/16/02: 'I, Uh, I Have No Comment': A union plays dirty in opposing an antitax initiative
03/31/02: Don't Just Do Something, Stand There!: Filibusters can help the Senate GOP get things done
03/14/02: Red-Light District: It's time to draw the line on gerrymandering
02/21/02: Slippery Slope: Can Dick Riordan beat California's Democratic governor?
02/14/02: Reform School: The Shays-Meehan incumbency protection act
02/07/02: Arizona Highway Robbery: Politicians make a grab for campaign cash
01/31/02: Disfranchise Lassie: Even dogs can register to vote. We need election reform with teeth
01/17/02: Dr. King's Greedy Relations: Cashing in on a national hero's legacy
01/10/02: Oil of Vitriol
01/04/02: The little engine that couldn't--and the senators who don't want it to
12/24/01: E-mail and low-cost computers could be conduits for a learning revolution
12/13/01: How Gore could have really won
12/07/01: Let our students keep their cell phones
12/04/01: Why the White House gave the RNC chairman the boot
11/12/01: A Winsome Politician: She won an election in a majority-black district--and she's a Republican
11/01/01: Bush Avoids Politics at His Peril
10/30/01: Cocked Pit: Armed pilots would mean polite skies
10/24/01: Chicken Pox: Hardly anyone has anthrax, but almost everyone has anthrax anxiety
10/11/01: Will Rush Hear Again? New technology may make it possible
10/04/01: Three Kinds of pols
08/24/01: Lauch Out: Who'll replace Jesse Helms?
08/08/01: Tome Alone: Clinton's book will probably end up on the remainder table
08/03/01: Of grubbing and grabbing: Corporation$ and local government$ perfect "public use"
07/31/01: Affairs of State: The Condit case isn't just about adultery. It's about public trust and national security
07/14/01: The First Amendment survives, and everyone has someone to blame for the failure of campaign reform
07/12/01: He's Still Bread: Despite what you've heard, Gary Condit isn't toast --- yet
07/12/01: Passing Lane: Left-wing attacks help boost John Stossel's and Brit Hume's audiences
06/25/01: Man vs. Machine: New Jersey's GOP establishment is doing everything it can to stop Bret Schundler
06/15/01: A Schundler Surprise? Don't count out "the Jack Kemp of New Jersey"
06/06/01: Memo to conservatives: Ignore McCain and maybe he'll go away
05/29/01: Integrity in Politics? Hardly. Jim Jeffords is no Wayne Morse
05/22/01: Davis' answer to California's energy crisis? Hire a couple of Clinton-Gore hatchet men
05/07/01: Prematurely declaring a winner wasn't the networks' worst sin in Florida
04/23/01: How to fix the electoral process --- REALLY!
04/11/01: A conservative hero may mount a California comeback
03/30/01: Can the GOP capture the nation's most closely balanced district?
03/09/01: Terminated
03/06/01: Leave well enough alone
02/22/01: Forgetting our heroes
02/15/01: In 1978 Clinton got a close look at the dangers of selling forgiveness
02/12/01: Clinton owes the country an explanation --- and an appology
02/06/01: How Ronald Reagan changed America
01/16/01: Why block Ashcroft? To demoralize the GOP's most loyal voters
01/15/01: Remembering John Schmitz, a cheerful extremist
12/29/00: Why are all Dems libs pickin' on me?
Dubya's 48% mandate is different than Ford's
12/13/00: Gore would have lost any recount that passed constitutional muster
11/13/00: The People Have Spoken: Will Gore listen?
10/25/00: She's really a Dodger
09/28/00: Locking up domestic oil?
09/25/00: Hillary gives new meaning to a "woman with a past"
09/21/00: Ignore the Polls. The Campaign Isn't Over Yet

©2001, John H. Fund