Years before the 2016 presidential campaign got underway, pundits and the public alike were debating “Clinton fatigue” and “Bush fatigue.” Back in 2007, the Wall Street Journal even invented “Clinton Book Fatigue,” to go along with the regular variety.
The updated version from Keep the Promise I, a PAC backing Ted Cruz, debuted in a video in August 2015. It depicted a hospital ward full of barely alive patients suffering from the “disease” of Clinton Fatigue. Prominent Republican senators and former Republican party chairman Haley Barbour publicly agonized over Jeb Bush’s last name as a negative as far back as 2013.
Agony and attack ads notwithstanding, it seemed a legitimate question: Was it desirable or even right to concede the presidency to two political royal families once again? Should a candidate share credit or blame for the past sins and successes of a family member in the White House?
Now that the choice is here, it’s no longer a theoretical issue. But it’s moved beyond mere association, and into the realm of personal responsibility for one’s political forebears. Donald Trump was first in the ring — accusing Hillary Clinton of being an “enabler” to Bill’s sexual shenanigans while in office. Tellingly, on the eve of Jeb’s final defeat in South Carolina, Trump tarred him with the sins of brother George W. Bush in regard to the Iraq war.
Fair or not fair? Clearly not fair in the case of Hillary when it comes to the enabler charge. We don’t know what she knew and when she knew it. We do know she held her head high and she tried to minimize the damage to save his career and probably their marriage to boot. It’s a path countless women have taken for centuries in similar circumstances. And “by the way” (as Trump is fond of saying) there’s more than a little sexism here. Betty Ford had a drug and alcohol problem when Gerald Ford was in the White House. No one ever called him an enabler.
But that’s all really beside the point. Bill Clinton is not running — Hillary Clinton is. Besides being irrelevant to her campaign, his wandering eye is irrelevant to his record in matters of governing and the country’s well being. If sexual escapades count, we’d have to downgrade the presidencies of at least half the guys who have served, from Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Dwight Eisenhower to JFK — and that’s just the 20th century. So maybe Eleanor, Mamie, Jackie and Hillary can all be blamed for picking imperfect partners, but surely not for their husbands’ successes or failures at leading the country.
When asked in a public forum not long after Trump’s “enabler” charge, Bernie Sanders put it best. “Look, Hillary Clinton is not Bill Clinton. What Bill Clinton did, I think we can all acknowledge, was totally, totally, totally disgraceful and unacceptable,” the Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate told a crowd at an Iowa town hall. “But I am running against Hillary Clinton. I’m not running against Bill Clinton. I believe what we need to do as a nation is focusing on issues facing this country. So what I am doing is contrasting my record with Hillary Clinton’s record, and they are very, very different records. But I am not gonna get into the personal stuff.”
Sanders is right, and Hillary is woman enough to take credit or blame on her own record, which is extensive. She’s not running for Bill Clinton’s third term. She’s running for her first term, and even though he campaigns for her, neither of them touts his resume as a reason to vote for her. (The same can’t be said for Jeb — he trotted out both dad and bro’s records as a reason he should get elected — right before he was drummed out of the race.)
Hillary has been straightforward about what she’s for, what she against, and why she has changed her mind on such matters as her vote for the Iraq war and support for the Trans Pacific Partnership. It’s certainly fair to accept or reject both her record and her explanations, as we do for all other candidates.
But none of that has anything to do with Bubba.