A report surfaced today that Bill Clinton is frustrated as heck that the Dems can’t manage to get a coherent or persuasive message together for the midterms. And he’s even doing what he can to get together good talking points for candidates and stump in all the right places to help save the Democratic majorities even if the current leaders can’t manage it themselves.Now, before saying anything else, let me say that there’s never been a bigger fan of Bill Clinton’s than me (though I had some wavering in 2008). And I’ve never doubted his intuitive political skills, which make him — whatever else you think of him — one of the consummate, defining political players of the 20th century. And, as you’ve seen if you’ve read what I’ve written over the last three months, I’ve been distressed by the Democrats’ inability or unwillingness to grasp hold of what winning political issues there are in such a rough climate.
But let’s not be born yesterday. Anyone over 35 has a good adult memory of the 1994 midterm. That’s when Stan Greenberg was telling congressional candidates to run away from President Clinton, just two years after Stan helped engineer his election. Clinton was considered toxic politically in broad swathes of the country — swathes that anyone around then has to remember look an awful lot like the swathes where President Obama is toxic today. And even though the country was then in a comparatively mild economic funk rather than a full blown catastrophic and persistent recession, for all his political skills President Clinton couldn’t do anything the stem the tide. He was impotent, diminished, helpless, crushed and all the rest.
Being president is hard. Being president two years into your first term is hard. And being at the center of the polarizing political storm — as Obama is today and Clinton was 16 years ago — tends to wipe the political genius and midas touch and all the other good stuff right off of you. 10% unemployment doesn’t make you look that good either.
This isn’t justifying any mistakes. But I’m surprised how short the memories are of many people who do this political analysis thing for a living.