WASHINGTON – Hillary Rodham Clinton’s return to the living was almost flawless. Almost.
She unveiled her Twitter account (young and with-it), and referred knowingly to the pantsuit (mature and self-aware). She seemed rested (that’s what almost six months of downtime will do for you) and ready (returning to her animating issues of girls and early childhood).
The rollout uploaded Hillary 2.0 to the cloud. Now, she’s just one more regular person getting up every morning doing her job (as a partner in the Clinton Global Initiative) along with good works.
Her re-emergence had just one flaw. She didn’t keep her dog on the porch, a mistake so serious it could be disqualifying. She, of all people, knows how good Bill Clinton can be, and how bad. So why did she choose to revive her brand during the weeklong annual celebration of his Global Initiative, surrounded by his cast and on his turf?
It was inevitable that Bill Clinton was going to be heady with all the attention and thus bound to make his own headlines. One of the former president’s weaknesses is to love the one he’s with. He got carried away: Appearing with his wife’s nemesis, Senator John McCain of Arizona, the former president volunteered that President Barack Obama looked like a wuss and a fool, and was being lame with his inaction on Syria.
Even George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have more respect for the office. Is Bill Clinton still angry about 2008? Worse, is Hillary? She worked hard to become the loyal secretary of state who put away hard feelings to serve her country and president. Is she secretly still harboring resentment over her defeat, which her husband can’t help but express?
Clearly, Hillary Clinton needs not only to manage expectations but also to show she can manage her husband, a manipulation that makes dealing with Vladimir Putin look easy by comparison.
The Senate was the intermediate step she needed to make the unprecedented journey from FLOTUS to POTUS. But will it be enough? Bill Clinton didn’t help her become president in 2008, and he won’t be much help in 2016, except as a warm, supportive presence who, in our imagination, will inhabit the East Wing as a benign elder statesman, giving gentle advice only when prodded.
Alas, there’s no sign he would go along with the script, and any ad-libbing would hurt. We elect one person, not two, Nancy Reagan and Hillary Clinton’s high White House profiles notwithstanding. Bill Clinton is now beloved – achieving a comeback no one thought possible. If he meddles in his wife’s 2016 campaign the way he did in 2008, he could lose his hard-won halo. If she lets him meddle, she will go down with him.
He will always loom. What didn’t drive them apart made their marriage stronger. But one thing he hasn’t learned is how to stand by his woman without standing in her way.
So thank you, Bill, for all you’ve done. Now for all womankind, and for the sake of the TBD at the end of Hillary’s Twitter profile, could you go where no man has gone before, except perhaps Denis Thatcher, and take one step back and to the side?
She can’t do this with you.