Bill the biggest loser, not Hillary

Stryker McGuire

The Bill Clinton who showed up in April at the Grove, a luxurious countryhouse hotel in Hertfordshire, England, was not the force of nature the world has come to expect. His potent reputation automatically confers star status on him; in that sense, he easily outshone the others who were on hand for the Progressive Governance Summit, from Gordon Brown, the host, to Kevin Rudd, the Australian PM. But the ex-President who came summiting was a spectral presence compared to the tower of charisma I’d seen in the past.

He was badly jetlagged, as you’d expect of a 61-year-old who spends a good portion of his life airborne. His back seemed to be bothering him and he moved about with less grace than usual. His face was blotchy, his voice raspy, his words sometimes slurred; apparently because he was sucking on lozenges to soothe his throat.

But the real cause of his ailments was surely the ferocious, burn-the-village-in-order-to-save-it presidential campaign being waged by Hillary Clinton back in the US. Surely, with his political sense, he would have seen what was coming. In the end, two Clintons lost last week. Hillary, the presumed Democratic nominee a year ago, lost her bid in a desperate, determined and ultimately disastrous effort to expose Barack Obama as a lesser candidate. But also Bill, whose often counterproductive behaviour during Hillary’s crusade did lasting damage to his reputation. If the question about Hillary in recent weeks was “What does she want?”, the question about Bill was “What in the world is he thinking?”

On the eve of the New Hampshire primary, Bill all but called Obama a liar over Iraq. When Obama’s victory in the important South Carolina primary later in January was a foregone conclusion, Clinton engaged in foul race-baiting, suggesting Obama would win there because of his skin colour.

Looming beyond the Grove was Pennsylvania. By the eve of that primary — 22 April — his role in Hillary’s campaign had been downsized to protect her from anti-Bill fallout. In a radio interview, he sought to deny that his comments in South Carolina were racially charged. What’s more, he said the Obama team “played the race card on me... you gotta go something

to play the race card with me — my office is in Harlem.”

Next day, a reporter asked Clinton what he meant by saying the Obama campaign “was playing the race card”. Clinton was furious: “No, no, no, that’s not what I said...” This past week, he was at it again, incandescent about a bitchy and gossipy 10,000-word indictment of the Clinton post-presidency in Vanity Fair. These outbursts and others are archived on YouTube and elsewhere.

In legacy terms, imagine what it must have been like a year ago for Bill as he contemplated Hillary’s then unstoppable-looking march on the White House. With his mastery of all things political, Bill would have burnished his legacy a little more and chewed up a little more history in her company. They were after all, despite their dysfunctionality, a formidable team, the greatest power couple of them all. Neither had lost an election since 1980. Just entering their sixties, they had plenty of political life and good works, left in them. And now... they’ve both ‘the Comeback Kid’; they will no doubt strive for yet another political resurrection. Just imagine.