How and Why Has Bill Clinton Fallen From Grace?

bill clinton
He has become such a small man. Photo: Getty Images


Between the end of his presidency and the beginning of the 2008 presidential campaign, Bill Clinton was the most revered figure in the Democratic Party. In the midst of George W. Bush's failed presidency, many have longed for the days of peace and prosperity, and yes, even the sexy distractions, that we enjoyed during the Clinton administration. Bill set up an office in Harlem, joined forces with that other, more tolerable George Bush, and focused on rebuilding places hit by disaster, and maybe even charming disasters into not happening in the first place. And then came this campaign, where seemingly every time he opened his mouth, something kooky, insulting, or vaguely racist would emerge. The question is, what is Bill Clinton up to, and why has he veered so far off course?

• Ryan Lizza started off the latest round of Bill Clinton chatter by characterizing the ex-president as both angry at and jealous of Barack Obama, who has placed shared blame on the Clinton presidency for the economic woes we presently face. He also depicts Bill as unprepared for the Internet-driven, gaffe-centric 21st-century campaign which he finds himself in now. [NYer]

• David Greenberg takes issue with Lizza's characterization of Bill, writing that Obama is frankly wrong about the impact of Bill's presidency on our economy, and that the Obama campaign did actually play the race card against him, as Bill has claimed. [Plank/New Republic]

• Isaac Chotiner responds to Greenberg, claiming that Obama is not simply saying Bill's presidency was as bad as Bush's, but that many people have suffered over the past 25 years regardless of who was in office. This point could be debatable, but it's not blatantly "wrong," Chotiner writes. [Plank/New Republic]

• Jonathan Darman calls Bill the "most tragic figure of the 2008 campaign," proving himself out of step with the Web age to the point of becoming an "unceasing gaffe machine." The problem, as Darman sees it, is that Bill is simply less likable once he's "stripped of his leader's charisma," with whining the only job left for him as he plays second fiddle to Hillary. [Newsweek]

• Mark Leibovitch wonders exactly how calculating Bill's "distractions" really are. Are they part of a mastermind strategy, as Representative James Clyburn has posited? Nobody is quite sure, but many believe he is sacrificing his political clout and legacy for his wife's presidential prospects as he's "settled into something of a 'bad cop'" for Hillary's campaign. [NYT]

• Al Hunt calls Bill the biggest loser of this campaign. Like many Hunt is bewildered by how a smart ex-president could make so many miscalculations, gaffes, and "paranoid, volcanic eruptions." He'll face renewed scrutiny and criticism if Hillary ends up winning somehow, and an Obama presidency would "drive him crazy." He'd likely stay on the sidelines if McCain becomes president. [Bloomberg]

• Carol Felsenthal, according to Janet Maslin's review of Felsenthal's book on Bill's post-presidency, writes that whatever Bill accomplishes from now on, it will only affect his post-president legacy, failing to overshadow his impeachment and the Monica Lewinsky affair. Which means neither his presidency nor his post-presidency is safe. [NYT]

• Paul Abrams writes that Bill has made an argument against his wife's nomination, because in his past statements he's downplayed the importance of "electability," which is the case Hillary is trying to make for herself. [HuffPo] —Dan Amira

Related: Kurt Andersen: Falling Out of Love With Bill

For a complete and regularly updated guide to presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain — from First Love to Most Embarrassing Gaffe — read the 2008 Electopedia.