1. E. J. Dionne Hand-Wringing. I'm not sure whether Talking Points Memo or E. J. Dionne is worse. But here's Dionne bleating in the Washington Post about Bill Clinton:
Let's further stipulate that Obama's formulation -- he said Reagan "changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not" -- was guaranteed to enrage the former president. In Democratic circles, associating someone with Nixon is akin to a Roman comparing an emperor
None of it justifies the counterproductive behavior. Does anyone doubt that if Hillary Clinton wins the nomination, she will need the votes of the young people and African-Americans who have rallied to Obama -- and that what she's doing now will make it harder to energize them? Doesn't calling in Bill Clinton as the lead attacker merely underscore Obama's central theme, that it's time to "turn the page" on our Bush-Clinton-Bush political past?
What the hell does Dionne want? Obama took a sneaky shot at Bill Clinton's presidency by saying that Ronald Reagan had more significant ideas and that the Clinton administration was more like the Nixon White House in not really changing the conversation.
What was the Clinton campaign supposed to do--just take it? That wouldn't make her look very strong would it? If fact, favorably comparing Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton during the heat of the 2008 Democratic primary was a dumb thing for Obama to do. Bill Clinton is still popular with Democrats while Ronald Reagan looks even worse over time because many of Reagan's excesses are being pursued in an even more determined way by George Bush.
Much like Hillary's awkward MLK comment left her open to lots of criticism, Obama's Reagan comment practically invited an energetic counter-attack from Hillary Clinton and her N0. 1 surrogate. She delivered first, then Bill piled on. Both of them would have been stupid to ignore the opportunity.
Dionne emphasizes that Clinton himself said favorable things about Reagan in 1991 as a way to get beyond the "brain-dead partisanship" of the 80's. But times have changed. Partisan lines have become a lot harder as the Republicans have become the party of endless war, determined waterboarding, privatizing social security, gay bashing, and SwiftBoating. By the time Bill Clinton ended his two terms as president, he understood that the only way to combat Republican hyper-partisanship was for the Democrats to become much more partisan themselves. The fact that Obama doesn't understand this is the main reason why he shouldn't be nominated for the presidency.
Dionne gets the point precisely wrong. Bill Clinton learned the partisan lessons of the 1990's. To the extent that Obama still believes he can transcend partisanship, he is very far behind the times.
In other words, Hillary should tell Dionne to stick it.
2. I usually have a lot of respect for Talking Points Memo, but they've lost their way in relation to Bill Clinton. Last Sunday, editor-in-chief Josh Marshall wrote about how disturbed he was by the aggressiveness of Bill Clinton's attacks on Obama:
Yesterday I wrote that I was troubled by the intensity of Bill Clinton's attacks on Barack Obama. A number of readers thought I meant that I didn't like seeing bare-knuckle politics. But that's not it. What troubles me is seeing the man who is in many
respects still the de facto leader of the Democratic party, certainly its elder statesman, inject himself as an attack dog into a intra-party contest. I think it's damaging to him and more importantly I think it's damaging to his party.
I've been more troubled that Bill Clinton's attacks on Obama have sometimes been undisciplined and ineffective. What exactly does being "the de facto leader of the Democratic party" actually mean in terms of Bill Clinton's role in the party. Precisely nothing. Until the primary season started in earnest, the most important leader of the Democratic Party was Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. To be de facto leader, you have to be in the center of the action, and Bill Clinton stopped being near the center until after Hillary's Iowa defeat.
To go to the deeper political point, why shouldn't Bill Clinton campaign hard for Hillary. She campaigned hard for him when he ran and Michelle Obama is certainly doing everything she can for her spouse. The main difference is that Bill Clinton is a superb politician who can accomplish a lot more politically for his spouse than Michelle Obama can for hers. Far from making the Democratic Party weaker, I'm somewhat reassured that Bill Clinton will be an aggressive surrogate for Hillary during the general election and during a Hillary administration. That's what Democratic presidents need, surrogates who are just as aggressive as the Republicans attacking them.
Hillary should tell Josh Marshall to stick it too.