One of the disturbing aspects of having two dynastic presidential families - a sign that a republic truly is turning into a corrupt empire - is that a former president can intervene, with all his partisan power, on behalf of a candidate to whom he is related during a critical primary campaign. This week Bill Clinton showed his usual class by accusing Obama and Edwards of "swift-boating" his wife because they dares to challenge a front-runner in a debate. Clinton's comment was a classic hardball political maneuver to repair some of the damage done to his wife's candidacy by the last debate. Here's the money quote:
"We listened to people make snide comments about whether Vice President Gore was too stiff and when they made dishonest claims about the things that he said that he’d done in his life. When that scandalous Swift boat ad was run against Senator Kerry... Why am I saying this? Because I had the feeling that at the end of that last debate we were about to get into cutesy land again."
The Clinton machine's spin was that the former president was referring not to Obama, Dodd or Edwards, but to unspecified individuals after the debate on television. Here we go:
Jay Carson, a spokesman for Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, said Mr. Clinton had not been referring to Democratic candidates’ criticisms of his wife but to Republicans’ criticism of her debate performance.
And there were Republicans criticizing Clinton "at the end of the last debate"? We're back to parsing, aren't we? Get used to it.
But this little flurry of dynastic opportunism has one advantage in this campaign. It raises the important question of whether the Clinton-Clinton relationship/arrangement/partnership/marriage needs to be put more squarely on the table before it's too late. Clinton H, it seems to me, needs to be asked publicly if her candidacy is, as her husband described his in 1992, "two-for-one." Will her husband be given an official position in the administration? Will he be co-president again? Is he running with her? What role would he play in office again? These are completely legitimate questions about the content of a third and possibly fourth term for the Clintons.
That's also why we need to know what is in the sealed records of the Clinton presidency. With the Clintons, we are not dealing with a normal candidacy. They are a power-couple, a team that cannot be understood in isolation from each other, a couple whose private and public lives have long been fused in a mutual pursuit of power. We need to know what the actual, power-sharing deal was from 1992 - 2000, and we deserve to know what the deal will be if they return to power. This need not hurt her candidacy. Many people understandably admire her husband's skills and would be happy to see them used in the service of his country. But his marital and familial relationship to a future president - and the existence of secret or special power - means we need to know exactly what we are being asked to support. This is not a monarchy yet.
Democrats, it seems to me, also have a right to know whether the Clinton team expects another out-break of the kind of scandals that rocked and roiled the country the last time this couple occupied the White House together. Are we headed back to marital psychodrama as public spectacle? Or are things different now? Even if you believe, as I do, that the private arrangements of public couples are nobody's business, the way in which the Clintons merge personal relationships with the exercize of public power makes a clear distinction between public and private life much harder to maintain. And it is simply a regrettable fact that in the current media climate, the 1990s could return with a vengeance - and sideswipe the country in a much more perilous time. If the VRWC has something on the Clintons, are they waiting to unveil it next year? What is the Clinton campaign's planned response? Is there a contingency plan? Do Democrats have a reason to be worried? I don't think it's illegitimate to ask these questions. And it may be reckless for Democrats not to.
(Photo: Mario Tama/Getty.)