Stuart Rothenberg: Clinton actions hurt friends and help adversaries
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- By now, everyone is aware of former President Bill Clinton's less than auspicious exit from the White House. He caused a flap with some of his pardons (particularly the one to Marc Rich), his taking of White House furniture and his indecision about the location of his office.
Clinton's behavior since George W. Bush's inauguration has turned almost every Democrat against the former president. Embarrassed and outraged, particularly by the Rich pardon, Democratic elected officials around the country (including former President Jimmy Carter) have pulled few punches in their criticisms of Clinton.
But while all of the controversy has undoubtedly damaged Clinton's long-term reputation and historical standing, the biggest casualty may actually be former Vice President Al Gore.
While we don't know whether Gore will seek the Democratic presidential nomination for 2004, he certainly should be taken seriously as a credible contender. After all, he won the popular vote, and he has national fund-raising contacts.
The problem for Gore is that while Democrats are likely to want to forget Bill Clinton in 2004, even the mere mention of Gore is a reminder of the former president.
I'm not suggesting that Gore is somehow implicated in Clinton's misdeeds, but rather that he may suffer from them anyway. Clinton and Gore will forever be linked in the minds of voters, and it will be impossible to mention one without thinking of the other.
Gore's biggest problem for 2004 initially looked to be the fact that the public is always enamoured with new faces. That is now compounded by the fact that Democrats may well look to nominate someone who constitutes a clean break from the Clinton years.
If he seeks his party's presidential nomination next time, the former vice president will still be in something of a bind when it comes to his former boss. African American leaders have continued to stand by Clinton, making it difficult for Gore to criticize the former president without alienating a key, core party constituency. On the other hand, if he avoids criticizing Clinton, Gore will alienate most other voters, including many other Democrats.
Instead of helping Al Gore, Clinton has turned out to be an albatross, and that is likely to continue for the near future.
The former president has also become a massive migraine headache for his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. While Mrs. Clinton would have preferred to launch her Senate career on her own terms, she has been forced to answer questions about her husband. And she has been put in the obviously awkward position of having to say that she has no opinion about her husband's pardon of Rich. (The furniture problem, however, is not merely her husband's.)
Finally, the former president's problems have been a huge help to President Bush. Clinton's behavior has helped make Bush look measured and serious in contrast, and the widespread criticism of Clinton has denied the Democratic Party, at least for a while, of a potentially powerful fund raiser and spokesman. That has helped the GOP and Bush.
Don't let the new president's statement that it is time to "move on" fool you. Bush has to love the embarrassing situations that Clinton has forced himself into.
For all his problems though, I'm not counting Bill Clinton out permanently. The former president has a way of resurrecting himself, and he may well do so again. But even that may not help Al Gore, whose fate was once -- and is still -- tied to Clinton. That may not be fair, but it's politics.
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