Bill Clinton’s long game

Bill Clinton's speech will surely help Obama in 2012 -- and his wife in 2016

Topics: Opening Shot, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, 2016, Barack Obama,

About 20 minutes into his speech last night, Bill Clinton invoked Mitch McConnell’s 2010 statement that his party’s top priority was denying Barack Obama a second term.

Senator,” Clinton said, “I hate to break it to you, but we’re going to keep President Obama on the job!”

And with that the crowd erupted into the first of what turned into a series of “Four more years!” chants. The speech Clinton gave may help them realize that wish. Point by point, the former president rebutted the major lines of attack that Republicans have deployed against Obama. He also provided politically helpful context about the nature of the economic crisis Obama inherited and the Republican obstruction he’s faced that the president himself can’t spell out (for fear of seeming like he’s passing the buck and pointing fingers at his predecessor).

But the way Clinton was received Wednesday night, the “Four more years!” chants could just as easily have been directed at him. Clinton himself will never run for office again, but the possibility of a Clinton restoration is still very much alive. No matter who wins this fall, the Democratic nomination for 2016 will be open, and Clinton’s speech undoubtedly advanced his wife’s prospects for claiming it if she wants it.

Obviously, it’s still early – very early – but Hillary Clinton looms over the ’16 Democratic race as a front-runner like we’ve never seen before. Yes, the same was said about her in the run-up to 2008, when she was supposedly assembling the biggest, meanest, best-funded campaign operation of the modern era – and when she ended up losing out to a guy who’d been a state legislator until 2004.

But Hillary also had two clear vulnerabilities in ’08. One was her vote for the Iraq war, a serious sore spot with the party’s base. The other was her image. Republicans had begun treating her as one of their chief enemies in 1992 and hadn’t stopped even after her husband left office. They’d had no reason to; she’d gone straight from the White House to the Senate, and everyone knew it was only a matter of time before she ran for president. This left her with dangerously high negative poll numbers and left many Democrats open to an ‘08 alternative – someone whose nomination wouldn’t immediately relaunch the Clinton Wars of the ‘90s. In Obama, these Clinton-wary Democrats found the perfect vehicle, and the rest is history.



As ’16 approaches, these weaknesses no longer apply. The Democrats’ intraparty divide over Iraq has long since healed. And, as I’ve written before, Republicans dramatically altered their posture toward the Clintons when Obama usurped them as the face of the Democratic Party in 2008. Since then, the GOP has portrayed both Bill and Hillary as sympathetic figures, victims of Obama and his ruthless thirst for power and symbols of a moderate, unifying style of leadership that Obama has forsaken. For the first time since they’ve been national figures, the Clintons for the last four years haven’t been the subject of daily attacks from their partisan foes.

And within the Democratic Party, the ill will toward them from Obama loyalists began disappearing when Obama tapped Hillary to be his secretary of state. And if there was any left before this week, Bill’s rousing defense of Obama on Wednesday night surely erased it.

The result of all of this is that both Clintons are more popular than ever. And with four years as secretary of state under her belt, Hillary seems even more prepared than last time to assume the presidency. Nor is there an Obama-like figure poised to swoop in and compete on an immediately level playing field with her. This is why early ’16 polling shows her racking up absurd advantages over her prospective foes.  The biggest obvious threat she faces is Joe Biden, but she runs well ahead of him, and the smart money says he won’t run if she does. After Biden, the next biggest name in the mix is Andrew Cuomo – and there’s also reason to doubt he’ll run if she does.

The best parallel for where Clinton now stands might be found in George W. Bush, who was the overwhelming choice of his party’s political, financial and activist base in 2000 – so much that most of his opponents ended up dropping out before the first primary was held. Bush did get a brief scare that year from John McCain, but it was only because of McCain’s support from non-Republicans, who could participate in some primaries (including New Hampshire). Within the GOP, Bush was the early consensus favorite. If she runs in ’16, Hillary is poised to play a similar role. If she wants to.

Steve Kornacki

Steve Kornacki writes about politics for Salon. Reach him by email at SKornacki@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @SteveKornacki

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>