Does Bill Clinton Have Coattails?

Thanks to a strong economy and a charismatic personality, Bill Clinton left office with a pretty fair approval rating. But his legacy of course will be marred by the fact that—to be blunt—his serial womanizing caught up with him. One way to make that part of his biography recede quietly in history would be for his list of other accomplishments to command more attention. Thus the 42nd President had added incentive to see his VP Al Gore win in 2000. If Clinton’s coattails were long enough to drag his flawed second in command to victory—the way Reagan’s did with Bush I, and Eisenhower’s didn’t with Nixon in 1960—then there would be one more argument for Clinton supporters in favor of his greatness.

As everyone knows, though, Gore did not win in 2000. True, he got more votes than George W. Bush, but Gore got less than half the popular vote on the way to getting less than half of the electoral votes. Was it a repudiation of Clinton, as some of his foes suggested, or was it a repudiation of Gore, who in addition to being a little awkward on the campaign trail didn’t want Clinton’s help?

The 2008 Democratic presidential campaign is another chance for Clinton to show he is a winner. If Barack Obama can beat Hillary Clinton, however, it will be one more setback for the Clinton legacy. Interestingly, Obama seems more Clinton-esque than the New York Senator he is running against. Obama is the outsider offering a change from business as usual. Obama is the charismatic young speaker in this Democratic race. Bill Clinton was once famously called “the first black President.” Here, too, Obama has the upper hand on Mrs. Clinton and his other competitors.

If Hillary fails to win the nomination, it would have been better for Bill if she had not even tried. If such were the case, the ex-President could have thrown his arms around this younger version of himself (a version that lacks the womanizing baggage) and enhanced the Bill Clinton bio.