The Return of the King: Bill Clinton in Limelight as Democrats Struggle

He's hitting the campaign trail, hard. What's in it for him?

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The Washington Post today features a big story on Bill Clinton--apparently, he's "baffled." Why? "In the closing weeks of the midterm campaigns Democrats have failed to articulate a coherent message on the economy and, worse, have allowed themselves to become 'human pinatas.'" Cue Bill to the rescue:

Clinton is deploying himself on a last-ditch, dawn-to-dusk sprint to rescue his beleaguered party. ... If there was any doubt that Clinton remains the Democratic Party's North Star, it has been erased over the past few weeks as he has packed legions of supporters into basketball arenas, college quads and airport hangars. He is the Democrats' most in-demand messenger and, unlike Obama, he is summoned everywhere--no matter how hostile the territory.

Okay, we get it--Democrats like him, as does the Post ("Clinton's pitch is rooted in empathy and delivered off the cuff," writes the story's author, Philip Rucker). Let's turn to the heterogeneous blogosphere. Has Clinton's endgame intervention been effective? Here's a look at some different takes from across the political spectrum.

  • He's Part of a Broader Strategy Against Fear  Clinton is now suggesting "that fear and anger can cause voters to make unwise decisions," observes Carrie Dann at First Read. That "appears to go hand in hand with President Barack Obama's warning to Democrats that some voters are reluctant to accept rational political arguments because fear and anxiety are clouding their judgment."
  • He's a Hail Mary  Conservative writer Bill Whalen's thoughts on Clinton are revealed as he talks about California in the National Review: Republicans are emphasizing "a strong ground game in California (registering voters, targeting independents, maxing out GOP turnout)," he writes, whereas "Democrats ... are struggling at organization (that's why Bill Clinton was out here last week)."
  • He Simply Has More Sway  "In case you were wondering why Bill Clinton is in such heavy demand on the campaign trail this year," writes The Washington Post's Greg Sargent, " Gallup finds, remarkably, that a Clinton endorsement commands more weight among Democratic voters than one coming from the current occupant of the Oval Office."
  • But With Whom?  Sargent says "it's another reminder how powerful nostalgia is for the Clinton economy, and why Clinton is indispensible in making the case for Dem economic policies ... among Democratic swing voters who are disillusioned by Obama's stewardship amid the sputtering recovery." But Politics Daily's Bruce Drake notices that "the bigger difference is with independents, among whom 21 percent say they would be swayed by Clinton, compared to 12 percent for Obama."
  • Why Clinton's Still Strong  The question is what power Clinton has with Democrats and independents that Obama doesn't, says Earl Ofari Hutchinson at The Huffington Post. He ventures that "to start with he's not a sitting president who has been pounded from pillar to post from the instant that he put his toe in the White House." The years between him and his last political position have given him the "image ... [of] a wise, elder statesman," while "the even tougher truth to swallow for the White House is that Clinton is still fondly even rapturously regarded as the Democrat who got things done." Unburdened by war or a tough economy, "he was a cash cow for Democratic candidates and incumbents" and "did a course correction with the Democratic Party." He is still seen "consummate professional, charismatic Democrat that can deliver the goods." Also, adds Hutchinson, Democrats are desperate. Annie Groer at Politics Daily adds that Clinton's draw for many candidates may have to do with money:
It's not just Clinton's star power in front of thousands that quickens the pulse of candidates locked in tight races. It's his allure at comparatively intimate fundraisers, where Clinton can make every single attendee feel like the only person in the room when he locks their eyes into his laser-gaze, or regales the check-writers with political war stories in that signature Arkansas drawl.
  • But Why Is He Doing It?  "Some say Clinton is just being a good party man, using his enduring popularity to help his party, even it boosts Democratic candidates he doesn't particularly care for," writes Groer at Politics Daily. "Some say he can't live without the limelight. Others suggest he is collecting favors should his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, mount an encore White House run in 2016, or even 2012." But "to hear him tell it, he is repaying those who backed her against Obama in the 2008 primaries." Groer quotes him as saying he'll "'do about one stop for everybody that helped Hillary run for president." In the end, she thinks the explanation is that he's "addicted to adulation."
  • Is Obama Taking a Leaf from the Clinton Playbook?  "The pre-heart-condition Clinton loved junk food and was known to duck into doughnut shops while campaigning to meet and greet and sample the wares," observes Politics Daily's Tom Diemer. "On Thursday in Seattle, that's exactly what President Obama did in an unscheduled stop at Top Pot Doughnuts."
  • The Administration Knows Clinton Is an Asset  Robert Costa at the conservative National Review notices that in one press briefing, "Gibbs ... took care to praise former president Bill Clinton, who is hitting the campaign trail hard this month. Clinton, he says, remains an 'effective voice' for the party and a 'tremendous advocate' for the administration."
  • Gag--I Hate This Guy  National Review's Jay Nordlinger notices other conservatives' odd nostalgia for Clinton--more moderate, they say, than Obama--and responds: "count me out. ... Watching Bill Clinton on the campaign trail this year has brought back the revulsion I once felt, those years ago, when Clinton was president. The bullying, the arrogance, the dissembling, the lying, the defaming." He doesn't like Clinton's suggestion that one only votes Republican when scared or deranged, and decides that, given a choice between Clinton or Obama, he'd take Obama: "I think he probably has more honor, heaps more."
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