Talking Human Former President Bill Clinton has begun cropping up in the news again lately, alternately defending and trashing President Bush's job performance, and sparking renewed debate in the blogosphere (or at least in the Eschaton comments) about whether he was a good or a bad president.
I personally thought he was a pretty good president, even if he was a little too centrist and corporate. He was articulate and scary smart, had some degree of genuine compassion for the little guy, and he certainly cared about his legacy. He was far more fiscally and environmentally responsible than most Republicans, and presided over an economic boom and a budget surplus. On the other hand, he never really lived up to his promise, and he did some really stupid things: Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the botched healthcare fiasco, some fundraising indiscretions, schtupping an intern, and a flurry of dodgy pardons at the end of his term.
But his foolishness and folly is not what damaged his party - it was his brilliance and savvy that doomed the Democrats to irrelevancy. Clinton was such a skillful and charismatic campaigner that he won two presidential elections while hampered by a centrist, DLC platform and a weak, out-of-touch Democratic political machine. Unfortunately, the Democratic establishment drew the wrong conclusion and reasoned that Clinton had won because of that triangulation and campaign infrastructure. They consequently tried to repeat the same formula in 2000 and 2004, with candidates who were unable to connect with voters or articulate a clear, forceful message. To date, they evince neither inclination nor aptitude to find or cultivate a new generation of fiery, charismatic candidates; indeed, their first instinct is to shove such boatrockers to the side in favor of the more staid, establishment candidates who bore voters to tears. Hopefully Howard Dean's ascension to DNC Chair and Paul Hackett's near-upset in Ohio will lead to some changes, but as always, I'll believe it when I see it.
Note: I should fess up that the idea of Clinton winning despite Democratic ineptitude stems from an NYT op-ed contributor whose name I have lost in the mists of time, who argued that the Republicans had built a solid, multi-tiered pyramidal support structure that can (and did) elect pretty much any idiot to the office of president, whereas the Democrats have to cross their fingers and pray for a home-run candidate. If anyone can point me to that column, I will be happy to cite it - I think it was one of the many 2004 post-mortems, or maybe even older.