Bill Clinton is a star. Three years removed from his run as President of the United States of America, the 57-year-old politician from Hope, Arkansas is as popular as he has ever been. On a regular basis, people come up to the ex-president and shower him with praise: “You are the best President I’ve ever had!”; “I voted for you twice, and I’d vote for you again”; and of course, “He’s lost some weight!” Clinton, like other ex-presidents and leaders, commands up to $150, 000 for each speech he gives. And during the recent Democratic presidential primary season, President Clinton was No. 1 on every candidate’s speed dial: daily, John Kerry and the others would go to Clinton for advice on their campaign and any other words of wisdom he might have to offer. As he was in 1992 and 1996, Clinton again seems to be the man with all the answers.
But what role should Clinton play in Kerry’s campaign to take back the White House for the Democrats? Some in the party fear that giving Clinton free reign to do whatever he wants and thrusting him into the spotlight once again will only hurt Kerry. Very few people make Republicans angrier than Bill and Hillary Clinton: the GOP hates having lost to, in their mind, a couple of morally inadequate individuals who used the White House for their own games. Allowing Clinton to once again be the party spokesman potentially would add to the Republican hatred of the Democrats and the energy and resources they are putting behind President Bush. Many Republicans are still looking for a way to destroy a man they tried to tear down during the scandal-laden Clinton years.
On the other hand, a number of Democrats are scared that Clinton will be too good, overshadowing the party’s standard bearer and taking attention away from the goal at hand. As we know from having watched Clinton for the last 13 years in the national spotlight, everything the man does brings controversy and spectacle. Just last week, the Democratic National Committee hosted a Unity Dinner (raising $11 million in one night) at which all of the Democratic candidates attended, as well as former Vice President Al Gore and Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. While Gore and Carter gave short speeches in support of Kerry, Clinton stole the show. In the longest speech of the night besides Kerry’s, the oratorical master delivered a “virtuoso performance” that was “folksy, anecdotal, full of scornful gibes at the Republicans, and rhythmic with the cadences of a Southern preacher — in other words, it was vintage Clinton,” according to msnbc.com. And while those attending the dinner and the group of devoted Clintonistas were thrilled to see their man in the limelight, others were left wondering whether Kerry was just a puppet in another one of Clinton’s shows.
My answer to those skeptics is simply to go with it. Let Clinton run the show. We must remember what happened in 2000 when Al Gore lost the election to the current president. Certainly, if all the votes had been counted in Florida, Gore probably would have won; but Gore gave up the office primarily because of his own campaign mistakes. No gaffe was larger than Gore’s decision to run away from the Clinton record, in effect completely disassociating himself from the last eight years of his political life. Rather than running on the merits of the greatest economic boom in our nation’s history, Gore took the moral high ground and told the world that Clinton’s adultery and perjured testimony were unacceptable. Gore was scared that Clinton’s personal mistakes would become his own; however, in failing to embrace the Clinton Presidency, Gore was unable to take credit for the team’s successes. And although Kerry was not part of the Clinton administration, pledging to return to and improve upon Clinton’s domestic policies will make those yearning for the days of old believe they finally have a solution to their problems.
Through the primary process, Democrats have chosen Senator Kerry to battle Bush. Now, they must pull out all of the weapons, and there is none greater than Bill Clinton. The skills that won him the elections in 1992 and 1996 still make him the best campaigner in politics today: no one will be a more powerful and persuasive advocate for the party and Kerry than Clinton will be. The electorate already is so polarized that inserting Clinton into the race will create no new fury among the Republicans. And I’m positive that John Kerry will be willing to lay down his ego just a bit for a few months in order to win this race.
I am sure some are now thinking that this election needs to get back to focusing on policy. But by this time, the policies have been set. They have to be sold now. Who better to be your pitchman than the greatest American political salesman of the last 50 years?
Ravi Agarwal is a sophomore in Branford College.