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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

WASHINGTON — Presidential history books tell the stories of a select few pairs: Abigail and John. Eleanor and Franklin. Jack and Jackie. Yes, Bill and Hillary are on the shelf, too.

Indelible partnerships make memorable presidencies. Abigail and John Adams relied on each other’s Yankee work ethic and shrewd advice. The Kennedys scattered stardust a thousand ways in a thousand days.

But it’s the Roosevelts, Eleanor and Franklin, that Hillary and Bill Clinton aim to take after. The Roosevelts lived in the White House for a dozen years. The Clintons plan to stay a total of 16.

On a new page, weary Americans may welcome two Clintons minding the store again at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Hillary’s failed health care initiative and Bill’s sins with Monica Lewinsky are Whitewater over the dam.

In their marriage, Barack and Michelle Obama aren’t locked in a laserlike political duet. Too bad. Mrs. Obama could have saved the president from rudely cutting a senator of his own party, Elizabeth Warren, speaking of her in public anger by her first name. The talk of the town isn’t just trade anymore; Obama’s faux pas disrespected a female lawmaker. When Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), called out the personal outburst, the White House demanded an apology, stirring the tempest.

As the 2016 election churn gets going, Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton is sure to play strings of shared memory. President Bill Clinton presided over peace and prosperity, with plenty of help from her First Ladyship. The 1990s were pretty golden.

The 21st century, since 9/11, has been pretty dreary. That sad fact is in plain sight, from the streets of Detroit to Baltimore. The tragic train wreck in Philadelphia is an object lesson in life falling off the tracks.

If history repeats or rhymes, the deep bond between Eleanor and Franklin Delano Roosevelt sets the stage for Hillary and Bill Clinton. In each case, the presidents were rock stars, with perfect pitch. Bill Clinton’s appearance on David Letterman’s Late Show brought back his disarming demeanor in a rush. That Huckleberry Finn smile.

Franklin D. Roosevelt exuded cheer, competence, and confidence. A nation in despair badly needed that when he took office. The Great Depression was the crisis that he faced and solved by trying new things, like creating government work programs. Conservation was one; another was a writers project for preserving folklore. Building bridges and civic buildings also became part of his lasting repertoire.

A jaunty patrician with a common touch, Roosevelt was a stellar president. My father’s boyhood was brightened by the father-like FDR, until age 12. Families in Chicago and New York kept his picture in the kitchen and huddled by the radio to hear his fireside chats as if he were speaking directly to them. The voice had a magical reach.

Of the famous presidential couples, Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt were the most consequential during their time together in the White House, from 1933 to 1945, through the Depression on the home front and then the Second World War. The nation trusted and believed in both Roosevelts.

Mrs. Roosevelt acted as her husband’s “eyes and ears” all over the country as a kind of ambassador, from the coal mines to the bread lines. (Few knew the president could not walk unaided.) She returned to the White House filled with stories and ideas for social programs that would help poverty and lift morale.

According to author Doris Kearns Goodwin, idealistic Eleanor knew what should be done, while Franklin knew what could be done. They were extraordinary. Their personal relationship foundered over an affair of Franklin, but they had an unwavering pact to shore up the common good.

As for the Clintons, give them this: never a dull day. They met as equals at Yale Law School, and always presented themselves as a team, for better or worse. Grand jury testimony one day, ending the war in Bosnia the next. They refused to let impeachment do them part, over a slight affair. Their bond proved unbreakable, proving the cynics and critics wrong.

Was it a co-presidency? Close enough so that voters will associate Hillary Clinton with the good times of the 1990s. Her ringing declaration in Beijing, that women’s rights are human rights, also showed her solo on the world stage before she became a senator and secretary of state. Everyone knew she was speaking for President Clinton.

And one day, Bill may be speaking for President Clinton.

Photo: Karen Murphy via Flickr

  • Dominick Vila

    Hillary Clinton is not running for office because she, and Bill, want to emulate former Presidents, but because she understands that the country needs her, and that she can help at a time when visionary, committed, politicians are conspicuous by their absence.
    Considering the qualifications, record, and lack of vision of the Republicans running for President in 2016, I think it is fair to say that Hillary Clinton is like a breath of fresh air in an otherwise rotten field of greedy or crooked Republicans, sometimes totally unqualified for the office they are seeking.
    No wonder the GOP is stopping at nothing to destroy Hillary’s reputation with one “scandal” after another. The problem for them is that the more fabricated scandals they come up with, from e-mails to charity, the more foolish and desperate they appear, and the more obvious it becomes that they are incapable of challenging an opponent using facts or providing solutions to the challenges that lie ahead.

    • FireBaron

      Dominick, while you and I agree on most issues, I still have a problem not so much with Hillary, but with her candidacy being still run as if she will be the inevitable candidate. To me, she still needs to run as if her candidacy depended on it. Granted, her current crop of opponents seem to be either “not Joe Biden” or “Joe Biden Lite”, because our Veep is still on the fence regarding his own candidacy (i.e. Hubert Humphrey in ’76).
      Should some populist emerge as a legitimate challenger, she could “enjoy” another 2008. While I do agree that the country needs her for her experience, wisdom and knowledge, she really needs to return to the basic Illinois Political Roots she grew up with (even if they were Republican), and run the race like it was a local ward election – in every precinct and ward.

  • Clifford Terry

    This author paints an interesting picture of the Clintons. Unfortunately, I do not believe for a moment that Hillary Clinton is running for office because she believes the country needs her, but instead, she seems to feel as if the office is her destiny – despite the more than adequate information about her ties and fealties to Wall Street, big businesses such as Monsanto, her accumulation of wealth that has come (at least of late) in some very questionable ways, her history of action in her position as Secretary of State as well as her position as a US Senator from the State of New York, ALL of which appear to clearly indicate that her Presidency would be as bad – if not worse – than the presidencies of George W. Bush and his alter ego Barack Obama. Of those two I had actually voted for Mr. Obama in 2008 because he offered in words the kind of hope that FDR actually brought to the US during those times of crisis. Unfortunately, as events unfolded, his words were little more than blinders for the US public in an attempt to obscure the truth that Mr. Obama was philosophically George W. Bush’s partner in crime. Each offered grains of goodness but in exchange for much devastation of the US political systems, culture, and economy in return. Tweedle Dee/Tweedle Dum.

  • exdemo55

    The year isn’t half over, and already more than a few things in the Democratic political world have left me puzzled—and in some cases downright mystified.

    My perplexity starts with former President Bill Clinton. How has such a talented man become so tone-deaf? When NBC’s Cynthia McFadden asked him about potential conflicts of interest raised by large contributions from foreign governments and companies to the Clinton Foundation, the former president answered, “All I’m saying is that the idea that there’s one set of rules for us and another set for everybody else is true.” He wasn’t self-aware enough to know that’s precisely the problem, though in exactly the opposite way he intended.

    Mr. Clinton’s rhetorical mistakes didn’t end there. He justified his continued acceptance of speaking fees up to a half-million dollars while his wife is running for president by saying, “I gotta pay our bills.” That isn’t likely to go over well with Americans whose median household income each year is one-tenth of what Mr. Clinton earns with one speech.

    When he tried to further the “we’re just ordinary Americans” image by claiming he and Hillary had taken “almost no capital gains” since leaving the White House, did he not know or care that financial documents filed by Mrs. Clinton when she was a senator show that to be utterly false? Tax returns filed by the Clintons from 2000 to 2006, the most recent available, report $371,000 in capital gains.

    Talk about losing your fastball.

    Then there’s Hillary Clinton, who has answered all of eight questions from the press in the 32 days since her April 12 campaign announcement. The last question she took came around 3 p.m. on April 21. How long does she believe that she can answer questions only from preselected supporters without creating suspicion in voters? Does she really think campaigning in a cocoon now will make her a better candidate later? If so, she has a surprise coming.

    On immigration, Mrs. Clinton could easily have said that she would work to pass comprehensive reform legislation and defend President Obama’s existing orders forbidding deportations. Instead, she told a Las Vegas crowd last week that “if Congress refuses to act, as president, I would do everything possible under the law to go even further.” Mr. Obama’s going beyond the law on immigration is already quite problematic, and her eagerness to go further than he has is alarming. The answer to lawlessness is not greater lawlessness. Unless you’re a Clinton.

    As for President Obama: I’m baffled by his attack on Sen. Elizabeth Warren in a Yahoo interview last weekend over her opposition to granting him trade-promotion authority. Mr. Obama claimed “her arguments don’t stand the test of fact and scrutiny,” rejected her logic by snapping he would “have to be pretty stupid” to do what she alleges, and then dismissed her by saying, “the truth of the matter is that Elizabeth is, you know, a politician like everybody else.” By having her intelligence, judgment and motives questioned, Ms. Warren is getting a taste of what it has been like to be a Republican in the Obama era.

    More important, the president’s harsh language made no strategic sense. It certainly contributed to Senate Democrats’ decision to block (perhaps temporarily) trade-promotion authority on Tuesday. Beyond that, his assaults elevated Ms. Warren while needlessly weakening the president’s standing on Capitol Hill. Mr. Obama poisoned his relations with congressional Republicans through personal attacks, and he now is doing the same thing with congressional Democrats. Why?

    And why have no young Democratic governors, senators, mayors or representatives geared up to run against Mrs. Clinton? They could enter the race admitting they would lose, but saying they wanted an opportunity to offer a new agenda for a rising generation of Democrats. They could significantly influence their party’s direction and lay the foundation for a future bid. No one thinks Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley or former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb represents the Democratic Party’s future. Why doesn’t someone who might jump into the arena?

    I can be counted on to disagree with Democrats most of the time but not usually to be baffled by them. This year, I am. It’s one thing for Democrats to be wrong; it’s another for their political heavyweights to be so wrongheaded. Maybe this is a sign of deeper problems to come for the world’s oldest political party.

  • Whatmeworry

    Fortunately for this country Hilary is the most corrupt politician that they Dem’s have ever ran and has no chance of being elected

    • Daniel Max Ketter

      Ms Clinton is an honest lady, and will make a fine president.

  • Fortunately for this country Hilary is the most honest politician that they Dem’s have ever ran
    and has a good chance of being elected

  • booker25

    Bill and Hillary don’t have a marriage, they have a corporation compact.