The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Mark Z. Barabak, Los Angeles Times

When Bill Clinton left the White House in January 2001, Americans had experienced quite enough of the boisterous Big Dog and his unending dramas, both personal and political.

Republican George W. Bush defeated Clinton’s vice president and preferred successor, fellow Democrat Al Gore, in no small part due to an enervating electoral affliction known as Clinton fatigue.

It hardly mattered that the incumbent was nowhere on the ballot. When Bush solemnly pledged to “restore honor and dignity” to the Oval Office, it was widely accepted as a not-terribly-veiled dig at the adulterous Clinton and his carryings-on with the pizza-delivering intern Monica Lewinsky.

In 1998, the Democrats had managed the rare feat of gaining congressional seats in a midterm election. But that was more a testament to Republican overreach than a tribute to the soon-to-be-impeached president.

When he wasn’t battling to stay in office, Clinton raised money for Democrats but was otherwise of little political utility — in much the same way President Barack Obama finds himself battered and belittled at this unhappy midpoint of his second term.

All of which makes it rather remarkable that today Clinton, as reviled a figure as ever served in the White House, stands as arguably the most popular political figure in America.

It’s not just his desirability to campaign for Democrats who, apart from distant fundraising assistance, want absolutely nothing to do with the current occupant of the White House. (First lady Michelle Obama, however, is still OK to visit.)

A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed that, alone among today’s major political figures, Clinton is seen in an overwhelmingly positive light, with 56 percent approving of the former president compared to 21 percent who disapprove.

Those handsome numbers compare to Bush’s middling 37 percent to 38 percent rating — though he, too, has been rising in the public’s estimation since leaving office — Obama’s dismal 42 percent to 46 percent rating and overall disapproval of a pair of potential 2016 Republican contestants, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, seen favorably by 23 percent and unfavorably by 27 percent of those asked, and Bush’s younger brother, Jeb, a former Florida governor, with a 22 percent favorable to 30 percent unfavorable rating.

Granted, Clinton is the most spectacularly gifted politician of his generation and the economic boom years coinciding with his time in office make him look, in the roseate rear view, all the better and more accomplished.

His globe-hopping good works, doting fatherhood and distinguished corona of white hair all give off the rarified air of a statesman and that, too, serves to enhance his stature.

But in great part the Clinton revival and continued rise in the public’s esteem speaks to the way Americans prefer their politicians, which is to say retired and no longer grasping for higher office or mucking about in partisan matters.

Look no further than Clinton’s spouse, the former first lady, New York senator and secretary of state, whose poll standing has headed steadlily southward the closer she edges to her own expected bid for president in 2016.

The NBC/Wall Street Journal survey found those interviewed were roughly split, 43 percent favorable and 41 percent unfavorable, in their estimation of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

That so-so assessment compares to a 56 percent to 25 percent approval rating when she ended her time as secretary of State in January and 51 percent to 31 percent a year ago, before she embarked on a rocky book tour, began weighing in on developments like Ferguson, Missouri, and began other conspicuous moves toward a second try for president.

It is not just Hillary Clinton, though.

Much of the sentiment behind a third Mitt Romney try for the White House rests on his emergence in the last year or so as a kind of jolly-good-Republican, showing up to endorse GOP candidates with a gleaming smile and self-deprecating his way through interviews while disavowing any interest in another run in 2016.

That’s far different from the rough and tumble of a campaign, and it’s why people come off so much better when they’re not actually running for office. It’s like a new car, which begins losing value the instant it’s driven off the lot; the moment someone declares their desire to win office, everything they do and say is freighted with personal ambition and weighed on the scale of political calculation.

Bill Clinton and George W. Bush made a joint appearance this week in Washington, laughing and joshing like two old pals — Clinton actually has grown close to the Bush family in one of the more improbable post-presidential alliances — and the audience loved them for their bipartisan show of bonhomie.

All of which offers a glint of hope for the embattled incumbent hunkered down in the White House this sour election season.

In a column last spring, Yahoo‘s Matt Bai noted the kindlier light being shed these days on the second Bush presidency and suggested Obama take heart. “One day in 2022 or thereabout, he will get out of bed in Chicago or Honolulu to discover that even those who grew disillusioned now remember why they found him compelling in the first place,” Bai wrote. “There will be the inevitable chorus of, “Say what you want about Obama, but at least he wasn’t … ”

Just ask Bill Clinton, who proves there is such a thing as a sixth, seventh — or is it eighth or ninth? — act in American politics.

AFP Photo/Esther Lim

Interested in U.S. politics? Sign up for our daily email newsletter!


Start your day with National Memo Newsletter

Know first.

The opinions that matter. Delivered to your inbox every morning

James Troupis

On Monday morning, two of Wisconsin’s presidential electors and a voter sued a group of “fake electors” who sought to deceive Congress in an attempt to help then-President Trump overturn the 2020 presidential election results.

The lawsuit, a first of its kind, was filed in state circuit court in Madison, the state’s capital, and named as defendants 10 Republicans and two others "who conspired with, aided, and abetted them," according to CBS News.

Keep reading... Show less

Fox News

Fox News is rubbing its bigotry and volatility in the faces of would-be and current advertisers, leaving them without a shred of plausible deniability as they consider a business relationship with a network that prioritizes the promotion of white supremacist conspiracy theories.

On Monday, Fox held its upfronts presentation, an industry tradition in which networks bring in advertisers and media buyers and pitch them on buying ads for the next year. It was the first time Fox has held the event in person since 2019. In the intervening years, the network has cemented its control over the Republican Party, helped to bring about and then justify the January 6, 2021, Trumpist attack on the U.S. Capitol, run a remarkably effective campaign to dissuade people from taking COVID-19 vaccines; and demolished its “news side” in favor of more propaganda.

Keep reading... Show less
{{ }}