Peter B. Young: Two-for-one sale rebuffed

Peter B. Young

The year was 1992, and campaigning for the U.S. presidency in the snows of frozen New Hampshire that year was an obscure pol from Arkansas named William Jefferson (Bill) Clinton. Mr. Clinton had been elected governor several times by his down-home neighbors, and he was understandably fond of giving wife Hillary much of the credit for his unlikely success.

Out on the campaign trail, Bill Clinton liked to say that Hillary was "really smart." And, then, connecting the dots, came the punchline. "You vote for me, you get her also!" Then, to the clincher: "You get two for the price of one!"

What an irresistible deal.

More scholarly Democrats than the visceral Bill immediately noted that this particular Clinton doctrine might herald a new era of "co-presidents."

Except that now, some 16 years later, the Democratic voters of South Carolina this past weekend have turned their party inside out and upside down by repudiating once and for all what should have been clear from the very beginning: The American presidency must rest firmly on the shoulders and the conscience of one strong person, be that person male or female, white or black or brown or yellow.

It is now quite possible that many, many voters in South Carolina, with more to come in other states, wanted to tell the Clintons, "No mo' co!" Which, of course, translates to, "No more co-presidency."

Driving that fundamental lesson home last Saturday was a well-churched black male from Chicago, presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Barack Obama. Weary voters in South Carolina, and prominent Democrats from across the country including our own John Kerry and Ted Kennedy, tried their best to get the message across to Bill Clinton that he should rein in his exuberant sales pitches for Hillary.

But Bubba Clinton responded to these entreaties by turning the proverbial deaf ear.

As with so much of what Mr. Clinton does, his participation in Hillary's campaign was so over the top, so out of control as to call into serious question her own competence, common sense and strength, as well as his.

To use a coinage much beloved by therapists, Bill Clinton's campaign behavior in behalf of his wife, and not only in South Carolina, has been "self-destructive." Ironically, this served to confirm Sen. Obama's frequent point, in a somewhat different context (the war in Iraq), that those who persist in following the same old policies and procedures "should not be surprised when they get the same old results."

A Mike Luckovitch cartoon from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, reprinted in the Boston Globe this past Sunday, makes the point perfectly. The cartoon shows the Clintons, Hill and Bill, standing side-by-side. The dialogue balloon above Hillary Clinton says, "If I'm elected, this will NOT be a co-presidency." The dialogue balloon above Bill Clinton says: "That said, I'd occasionally welcome her input."

So now Sen. Obama heads into "Super Tuesday," a week from today, with primary contests in more than 20 states, including New York, California and our own Massachusetts. Clearly, he has lift-off, or "traction," as the pols like to say.

Just as clearly, Sen. Clinton has been seriously wounded. She is no longer, if indeed she ever was, "the inevitable" Democratic standard-bearer. Nevertheless, she still carries the endorsement of literally hundreds of Democratic office-holders across the country. We will soon see how much those endorsements are worth, as the implications of her fading "co" campaign with Bill trickle down to become more fully appreciated.

But against those hundreds of Democratic office-holders, Barack Obama unveiled this past weekend two endorsements of his own that just may trump all the more routine endorsements from Democratic Party functionaries going to his opponent.

Under a headline that said, "A President Like My Father," a distinguished lady named Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the martyred John Fitzgerald Kennedy of Massachusetts, weighed in with her reasons for choosing Barack Obama. And in addition to Caroline's endorsement, U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy was reported on Sunday afternoon to be readying for an appearance yesterday at a college campus in Washington, D.C., on stage with none other than Barack Obama!

Here is the way that Caroline Kennedy concluded her profoundly moving indorsement of the man from Illinois: "I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them. But for the first time, I believe I have found the man who could be that president - not just for me, but for a new generation of Americans."

Well said, Caroline, well said.

And now let's see what Ted has to say, before we send Bubba Bill to his room . . .

Peter Young writes from Marlborough.