Just like old times. Bonnie and Clod are back, with all the sturm, drang, thunder and lightning that made the Clinton years such good and not-so-clean fun.
Politics lost their X-rating when Bill and Hillary departed Pennsylvania Avenue with their considerable baggage piled high on the wagon. Only wars and arguments about boring stuff followed, about guns, taxes and whether two little men could fit together on a wedding cake. Monica’s thong and Hillary’s lamp-throwing titillated, but Barack Obama’s fear and trembling in the shadow of the mosque frightens everybody.
Hillary is trying to shape her 2016 presidential campaign, if there is one, as an international adventure high above the fray, where mere mortals sweat out campaigns. She will soon learn, as Republican strategist Mark McKinnon says, “there is no ‘above the fray’ in politics anymore. There is only the fray.”
Bubba can’t wait for the bang bang to start. He predicts the targeting of the wife will intensify as she moves closer to 2016. “It’s just the beginning,” he tells Gwen Ifill of PBS, “and they’ll get better at it.” Bubba purely loves the game, and that’s why he’s so good at it.
Whether Hillary likes it or not, everything will be about Bubba. Younger voters have no memory of him, and he relishes the opportunity to introduce himself, baggage and all. His raffish good ol’ boy charm makes him irresistible to voters. Who else could have won a second term with impeachment on the way? Charm, raffish or otherwise, is something no one has ever accused Hillary of. She’s not much like Lurleen Wallace, whom George Wallace installed as governor of Alabama when he was no longer constitutionally eligible to run himself, but the Wallace precedent will inevitably be applied. Bubba will apply it himself if no one else does.
This week Hillary took her first public policy steps as a neo-candidate, telling the American Jewish Committee that the United States must be “tough” and “clear-eyed” with Iran over its nuclear works, which would be a relief for Israel after eight years of timidity and vacillation by an administration that she was an important part of. She expressed polite League of Women Voters scorn for Washington gridlock — “I would like to see our own democracy work more smoothly” — and sounded more like she was ready for a well-mannered campaign for the Student Council than as a candidate for the White House.
This leaves the issue of the hour to someone else. Bubba elbowed everyone out of the way to jump into the furor over Hillary’s health and Karl Rove’s suggestion that she was brain-damaged after taking a fall in her home 18 months ago. Chuckling (appreciatively) at a question at an economic forum in Washington, he aimed a load of birdshot at the Republican campaign manager once called “George Bush’s brain.”
“First they said she faked her concussion,” he said, “and now they say she’s auditioning for a part on ‘The Walking Dead,’” a television series about zombies. “If she does have brain damage, then I must be in really tough shape, because she’s still quicker than I am.” This was a real accolade since Bubba learned to respect Hillary’s throwing arm in the White House, dodging lamps.
He took a husband’s proper offense at Mr. Rove’s claim, similar to the damaging claims of Republican candidates Mr. Rove chastised so severely in 2012, but he understood what “Bush’s brain” was up to, putting Hillary’s fragile health squarely into the conversation. Relishing the fight means admiring your adversary’s right hook.
Democrats have taken to calling Mr. Rove “Doctor Rove” for his early diagnosis of Hillary’s health issues as “traumatic brain damage” — now called, as his second opinion, “a serious health episode.” He retreated to the familiar and lame “I was misquoted,” and maybe he was. Sometimes the press makes mistakes, too.
Bubba was a little loose with his own words, suggesting that Hillary’s health may be more fragile than she has let on. “She certainly seems to have more stamina now,” and said she had done six months of “very serious work” to get over her concussion and blood clot. “She never tried to pretend it didn’t happen.”
He knows, even if Hillary is trying not to think about it, that her health and her age (66 now, 69 on Inauguration Day) will be the focus of partisan attacks as November 2016 draws nearer. “You can’t be too upset about it. It’s just part of the deal.” Or as Hillary might put it, “What difference, at this point, does it make?” Maybe a lot.
Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.