At a campaign stop in Kentucky, Hillary Clinton told the crowd that if she were president, she would put her husband Bill “in charge of revitalizing the economy.” The impulse is understandable. The economy of the 1990s was good, or seemed to be prior to the collapse of the dot com bubble.
But Hillary’s promise to bring back Bill and put him “in charge of” the economy is, I think, a horrible blunder. Here’s why.
First, it undermines the entire rationale of Hillary’s candidacy. Donald Trump responded appropriately:
Crooked Hillary said her husband is going to be in charge of the economy.If so, he should run,not her.Will he bring the "energizer" to D.C.?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 17, 2016
That’s right. If Bill is responsible for the economy, the number one priority of most voters, isn’t he the real president? Is Hillary just a surrogate? Doesn’t she have her own ideas about some of the most important matters facing the country?
Hillary’s promise to bring back Bill reminds voters that her career has always been secondary to his. She got her start in public life as a First Lady, initially First Lady of Arkansas, then of the United States. Hillary had no conceivable basis for running for the Senate in New York other than the fact that she was First Lady. She has always ridden Bill’s coattails. Is that the profile we want in a presidential candidate?
Second, the assumption that fond memories of the 1990s are the key to victory is misplaced. Hillary has been forced to disavow most of her husband’s economic policies, which Bernie Sanders supporters–the mainstream of the Democratic Party–abhor. This sets up an ineluctable conflict for the Fall. And more fundamentally, to most voters, Bill Clinton is ancient history. He has been out of office for 16 years, and now is, or appears to be, an old man. It is hard to imagine that the prospect of Bill in charge of economic policy will stir much enthusiasm, anywhere. Is a return to the almost-distant past really the best the Democratic Party can offer? Apparently it is.
Finally, putting Bill Clinton front and center highlights some of the most intractable weaknesses of Hillary’s candidacy. Most people now view Bill as a serial sex abuser. At least one woman has credibly accused him of rape, and it recently came out that he took at least 26 flights on the Lolita Express, operated by Bill’s pal Jeffrey Epstein. The phrase “underage sex slave” will once again figure in the campaign.
In truth, Hillary never could have avoided dealing with Bill’s mixed legacy. Apart from the details of Bill’s tawdry history, Hillary’s vow to put him in charge of economic policy reminds us of the weird nature of their relationship. If Hillary is president, will Bill live in the White House? Will he continue to consort with his various girl friends? What official role will he play? Will Bill be a shadow president? Or will he just, as a private citizen, cash in on Hillary’s success?
These days, the phrase “partners in crime” is almost always used in jest, but it perfectly describes the Clintons. Hillary’s promise to put Bill in charge of the nation’s most important issues only highlights the weaknesses of her qualifications to be president.