Bill Clin­ton’s role as First Gen­tle­man: To dis­ap­pear

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION - Ruth Mar­cus’ email ad­dress is ruth­mar­cus@wash­post.com.

How do you solve a prob­lem like Bill Clin­ton? More pre­cisely, how does, as is in­creas­ingly likely, Pres­i­dent Hil­lary Clin­ton fig­ure out what to do with First Gen­tle­man Bill Clin­ton and his cargo hold of ac­com­pa­ny­ing bag­gage?

Bill Clin­ton may be an as­set to his wife, but he is also a prob­lem — a sprawl­ing, messy and hard-to-man­age one that en­com­passes the twin mine­fields of sex and money.

Sex first. Don­ald Trump’s mis­be­hav­ior with women is a far more im­por­tant topic than Bill Clin­ton’s, for one sim­ple rea­son: Trump is on the bal­lot; Bill Clin­ton is not.

Trump has tried to drag Hil­lary Clin­ton into the pic­ture, as­sert­ing that she “sys­tem­at­i­cally at­tacked and dis­cred­ited the vic­tims of Bill Clin­ton’s sex­ual ha­rass­ment and as­sault.” This ac­cu­sa­tion would be trou­bling if it had more fac­tual sup­port. It doesn’t. Yes, Hil­lary Clin­ton’s in­stinct was, too of­ten and for too long, to credit her hus­band’s claims of in­no­cence over the ac­cu­sa­tions of his ac­cusers. Still, de­nial is a pow­er­ful psy­cho­log­i­cal force, and her de­ci­sion to stick with a trou­bled mar­riage seems as wor­thy of re­spect as it is of dis­dain.

That does not mean Bill Clin­ton’s con­duct is ir­rel­e­vant. There is no con­don­ing a record that re­flects not just serial adul­tery, but abuse of power. Clin­ton was a suc­cess­ful pres­i­dent who de­served the two terms for which he was elected, but his mis­be­hav­ior would dis­qual­ify him from a third term even if the Con­sti­tu­tion al­lowed it.

Hav­ing him back in the White House if his wife is elected pres­i­dent cre­ates an un­com­fort­able sit­u­a­tion. It shouldn’t stop her from get­ting the job, but it can fairly shape what we want and ex­pect of him as First Spouse. It is in­tel­lec­tu­ally dis­hon­est to be ap­palled by Trump’s be­hav­ior to­ward women and to air­brush Bill Clin­ton’s.

To put it bluntly, any­one else with Bill Clin­ton’s back­ground wouldn’t be hired to work in Hil­lary Clin­ton’s White House.

And about that money: The Clin­ton Foun­da­tion did good works, but the Clin­tons’ un­seemly money chase is re­pul­sive, and it has be­come clear that they can­not be trusted to ap­pro­pri­ately nav­i­gate eth­i­cal bound­aries be­tween their pri­vate in­ter­ests and pub­lic re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

Re­cent Wik­iLeaked doc­u­ments make man­i­fest what has been ap­par­ent to any­one fa­mil­iar with the com­pul­sive money-vac­u­um­ing, com­fort­able nest-feath­er­ing, mu­tual backscratch­ing op­er­a­tion that is “Bill Clin­ton Inc.,” as long­time Bill Clin­ton aide Dou­glas Band de­scribed it.

For the first fe­male pres­i­dent, the fo­cus needs to be on her, not on her ex-pres­i­dent spouse. This would be true even with­out Bill Clin­ton’s sex­ual and fi­nan­cial his­tory, but those fac­tors un­der­score the wis­dom of him be­ing as in­vis­i­ble a First Gen­tle­man as pos­si­ble.

Hil­lary Clin­ton should, tac­itly if not ex­plic­itly, drop the no­tion of find­ing some dis­crete prob­lem for her hus­band to han­dle. It was crazy to sug­gest, as she did in the spring, that she would put him “in charge of re­vi­tal­iz­ing the econ­omy, be­cause he knows what he’s do­ing.” We’re hir­ing her, not him.

No pet projects, how­ever un­ob­jec­tion­able. In­stead, let Bill Clin­ton en­joy the grand­kids. Play some golf, with­out hav­ing to worry about us­ing it to line up speak­ing fees. Time for a new dog.

Re­tire­ment is a good op­tion for Bill Clin­ton — and, with that, a good op­por­tu­nity to re­tire the ar­chaic role of First Spouse.

Ruth Mar­cus Colum­nist

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