Published on TheHill.com on July 14, 2015
If Hillary Clinton becomes the next president — and in the process defeats Jeb Bush — the Bush family will only have itself to blame.
Without the active help of both former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, Bill and Hillary Clinton would be on the ash heap of history. It was Bill Clinton’s predecessor and successor who saved his and his wife’s career.
Remember the history: Former President Clinton finished his second term high in job approval but very low in personal favorability. This trend, a reversal of the norm, began when his relationship with Monica Lewinsky became known. His job performance, which included years of balanced budgets, sustained his ratings even as voters deplored his personal life.
Then it hit the fan. As he left office:
• Clinton signed a plea deal with the special prosecutor in which he admitted that he gave misleading testimony in the 1998 Paula Jones case about his affair with Lewinsky and accepted a five-year suspension of his Arkansas law license. In exchange, the prosecutor, Robert Ray, agreed not to indict Clinton on perjury charges. Clinton eventually paid a $1 million fine.
• Clinton left the White House carrying $190,000 worth of gifts the first family had received in office. They had to return $114,000 worth — an attempted burglary gone bad.
• Hillary Clinton signed an $8 million book deal in the period after she was elected New York senator in November 2000 and before she entered the Senate two months later. The deal wasn’t announced until after she was safely elected and before she would be bound by the chamber’s rules prohibiting exorbitant book advances for its members.
• Clinton issued 140 pardons on his final day in office. Some of those pardoned had paid family members of the Clintons for help in securing the pardons. Others were generous donors to the Clinton Library.
Under the media bludgeoning that ensued, Clinton’s ratings dropped precipitously.
When he left office, Clinton enjoyed a favorable rating, in the Gallup poll of Dec. 2, 2000, of 57 percent. But by the time the public learned of his end-of-term fiascos, it fell to 51 percent, on Feb. 3, 2001, and then to 42 percent, on Feb. 19 that same year. Finally, it reached an all-time low of 39 percent on March 5, 2001. He was roadkill.
But his rehabilitation came in 2003 when Bush 43, battered by the Katrina hurricane in August of 2005 and castigated for inaction and insensitivity, reached for his father and Clinton as life preservers. At his suggestion, they teamed up as an unlikely duo to minister to the stricken hurricane victims. Clinton was rewarded with a redemptive rise in the polls, bouncing back to 60 percent favorability on Oct. 21, 2005. Soon the pair were en route to Haiti to visit earthquake victims there. (For the Clintons, it was a heaven-sent opportunity for thievery and plunder.)
The closer Clinton hugged Bush 41, the better he did. And Clinton’s rehabilitation dragged along his wife in its wake.
Inexplicably, the rehabilitation continues to this day. Just last week, Clinton and Bush 41 addressed a class in presidential leadership in Texas. As they exchanged quips and hoped a race between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush would follow the “high road,” the implicit message remained: Bill Clinton is an honest man, worthy of respect from the widely admired former president.
If it were not for this kind of ultimate insider thinking, in which evidence of dishonesty, bribery and concealment by a former president and his candidate/wife are dismissed as “just politics,” we would never even consider elevating the Clintons to high public office again.
The Bushes have breathed new life into the Frankensteins, and the resulting monsters may yet devour them — and us.
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