Bill Clinton’s role as First Gentleman: To disappear
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.