Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

25 January 2008

What’s Happened to Bill?

Let’s face it. A big part of Hillary’s appeal is Bill. Many of us still love him.

Some voters look forward to a co-presidency. Some African-American leaders remember Bill for appointing more African-Americans to high office than any previous president. For voters worried about the economy, Hillary incessantly recalls Bill’s halcyon days of budget surpluses, healthy growth, and above-average job creation. (She neglects to note that the seeds of the 2000-2001 bust were sown on Bill’s watch; you can’t blame that on Bush.)

Hillary leaning on Bill is inevitable. Despite her endless self-serving references to her “experience” and her “35 years” in politics, she hasn’t really done much on her own.

Really listen to her own speeches, and you’ll know. The only specific things she mentions regularly are her failed health-care plan, some early work as a children’s advocate, and a few votes in the Senate for things that passed. She has never made an executive decision because she has never been an executive. She has been trying—so far quite successfully—to build the illusion of vast experience by repeating vapid generalities.

It’s not surprising that she hasn’t done very much. Junior senator from New York is the only elective or appointive public office she has ever held.

Junior senators seldom accomplish much because the Senate is a creature of seniority. Notwithstanding her incredibly successful propaganda, Hillary is in the very same class with Barack and John, insofar as experience is concerned. As compared with Obama on total years in elective office, she is four years short.

Yet neither Barack nor John is married to a widely beloved ex-president. So neither can claim the kind of vicarious executive experience, plus supposed influence on a healthy economy, that Hillary seeks to claim through Bill. That’s why her campaign depends on Bill.

Before electing our first female co-president on her husband’s popularity, skill and record, shouldn’t we give him a close look now?

People change. They get older. They have heart disease and triple bypasses.

All that has happened to Bill. He had his triple bypass in September 2004, three years and four months ago. According to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine, “Among [coronary bypass] patients studied, the incidence of cognitive decline was 53 percent at discharge, 36 percent at six weeks, 24 percent at six months, and 42 percent at five years.” (emphasis added.) In short, more than two in five bypass patients experienced a loss in brain function five years after surgery.

Is there any evidence that Bill is among those two in five? I don’t know him personally, but look at his recent on-screen behavior. He called Barack Obama’s early opposition to the Iraq war a “fairy tale,” despite solid documentation and widespread admiration for Obama’s courageous stand. His own wife had to clarify his words in last Tuesday’s debate, explaining that no one questioned Obama’s opposition to the war five months before it began.

But don’t just read transcripts, look at the clip of Bill. Hear his tone of voice and watch his expressions.

I’m no medical doctor, but if I saw one of my friends acting like that, I would suspect the onset of senile dementia. I would have that suspicion even if the person involved were not an ex-president for whom diplomacy and understatement were once a way of life. And if the “fairy tale” outburst is not enough to convince you, read about another Billish rant reported Wednesday by the Washington Post.

One of the things we need most in our next president is self-restraint. Despite his so-called “conservatism,” Dubya as president has been a study in the absence of self-restraint—in spending, in going to war half cocked, in pronouncing sovereign nations and their leaders “evil,” and in taking simplistic ideological nostrums for analysis of real-world problems.

As l’ affaire Monica testifies, Bill Clinton never had much self-restraint. He was one of the smartest people on the planet, but he couldn’t even refrain from eating himself into a triple bypass, despite decades of public medical warnings. In contrast, Barack Obama quit smoking in the middle of a grueling presidential campaign. Who has more self-discipline and self-restraint?

I can understand why folks still love Bill. He was a brilliant, all-too-human president who understood economics, cared about people and tried hard to promote interracial harmony.

But that was then, and this is now. Now we are looking at a co-presidency of an aging, once-brilliant Boomer whose last vestige of self-restraint appears dissolving in onrushing senility. He is to co-lead us with a woman who voted for war without doing her homework and whose greatest political triumph is getting people to believe—without a shred of specific evidence of executive decision making—that she’s much more than a mere second-term junior senator from New York.

Won’t putting these same folks back in the White House now really be “rolling the dice”?

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