That being said, this is not about whether Bill Clinton should be out on the campaign trail for his spouse – as many spouses do when their husbands run for President. There is a big difference between campaigning for your spouse and crossing the line - especially when you are a former President.. For better or for worse, Bill Clinton is still, to many people, the face of the Democratic Party and the one person who many people think of when they think of “the Democratic Party, personified”.
He is the immediate former President, he is the only Democratic President in more than 25 years, and he has used his time since leaving office doing some very high profile humanitarian work. A lot of this recent work has actually raised the view of him by people whose view was not so favorable while he was in office as well as people who had already viewed him favorably.
That all being said, as a former President and the de facto face of the Democratic Party (to a good number of people), he does have a bigger responsibility than “just a spouse who is aggressively campaigning” for their husband or wife. Yes, there is loyalty to your spouse, but for Bill Clinton, there should be a loyalty and a responsibility to the Democratic Party as a whole.
Sadly, he is failing miserably here, and his “aggressive campaigning” is not only making him look bad, but it is making Hillary look bad (possibly hurting her campaign), making Obama look bad, and fracturing the Democratic Party.
I received an email right after the New Hampshire primaries from someone that I have been in regular contact with for the past year or so. This individual was involved in a number of campaigns, political organizations (both on the Democratic and republican and “bipartisan” side), and knows former and current Congressional officials, staffers and consultants that he used to work with who are still “in the business”. While he is not necessarily a fan of Hillary, he was impressed with the way that she was running her campaign.
He met with some PR people who were also working with Mark Penn, and the relevant text of his email to me is below (take it however you want, but he has proven to be pretty reliable in the past and the part I snipped out talked about Hillary in the diner, and the “Iron my shirt” idiots):
I was meeting 2 days ago in NJ with a PR firm I am working with who do a lot of work for Corzine and also do a lot with Mark Penn - Hillary's top strategist. Before the meet we were just talking about what happened in New Hampshire.
The Bill Clinton speech where he not so subtely used the race card against Obama was not planned - he winged it - and the campaign is extremely concerned over repercussions from it.
These guys said that if they were advising Hillary they would tell her to keep Bill home because he is no longer an asset.
Again, this is just one individual’s opinion who I happen to agree with on this issue. But even since NH, Bill has made a fool out of himself in Nevada on a good number of issues, and there has been more than a bit of hand-wringing by prominent Congressional Democrats as well as Hillary campaign “insiders”:
In recent weeks, Sen. Edward Kennedy and Rep. Rahm Emanuel, both currently neutral in the Democratic contest, have told their old friend heatedly on the phone that he needs to change his tone and stop attacking Sen. Barack Obama, according to two sources familiar with the conversations.
The Newsweek article goes on to indicate that while Kennedy is not yet endorsing Obama or Clinton, he is pointing the finger at Bill for injecting race into the campaign, and Hillary’s campaign had some concerns that this could lead to Kennedy endorsing Obama over her.
What makes this even more concerning to the Democratic Party is that the “win at all costs” approach that some have accused the Clinton campaign of running shows through in comments made by people connected with Bill:
"History will judge the impact on the Clinton legacy, not daily or weekly political reporters," says Matt McKenna, Bill Clinton's press secretary.
While this isn’t necessarily the same situation, George H.W. Bush stayed out of the fray and didn’t get nasty during the 2000 republican primary – even though his son was in the race – one small thing to actually give Poppa Bush credit for.
When a former President cares more about his legacy than the long term goals and path of his party, it is a big problem. When he is damaging the campaign of his spouse by taking the spotlight – and in a negative way that unfairly (and in some instances willfully inaccurately) attacks another candidate –that damages the party as well.
A former President – especially one that was the only President from that party in the past 25+ years, and is still generally the face of that party has a much bigger legacy to look out for than his own – the legacy of what he (or she) can do to keep that party moving in the right direction and also to achieve electoral victories.
Bill Clinton has proven that he can’t do either and is more concerned with his own “family legacy” than the one of the party that got him elected in the first place.