What Bill Clinton and Jeb Bush Have in Common
Bloomberg View columnists Ramesh Ponnuru and Margaret Carlson met online earlier today to chat about Hillary Clinton's future and the House of Representatives' new abortion bill. Below is a lightly edited transcript.
Ramesh: It's funny, Margaret, how Bill Clinton is always discussed as a liability for Hillary Clinton in presidential races -- much as the Bush family name is discussed that way when talk turns to Jeb. But Bush would probably never have become governor of Florida without that last name, or Hillary a senator and secretary of state. You acknowledge the point in your get-out-of-her-way column today, but I think you underestimate how hard it would be for him to move to the sidelines. Many adjectives have been used to describe Bill Clinton over the years, shy and retiring not among them. And she will presumably be touting the record of his administration if she runs. He was right back in 1992: It's a 2-for-1 deal, as it always was.
Margaret: He wasn't always a liability and remains only an intermittent one. Without him, she wouldn't have become a national figure. Sorry to the sisterhood for that. There are a lot of great female lawyers doing good works whose names we don't know. Then the ultimate liability -- Monica Lewinsky -- became an asset. Impeachment got Hillary a job of her own as senator. Now that she is thinking of running for president again, she has to get him managed or it will be a repeat of 2008. I'm not saying she should try the Hillary Rodham gambit again, just spin in her own orbit. Being a Bush got Jeb to the governor's mansion but it's also kept him from the White House. Jeb will be keeping his last name, of course, but I bet you a key-lime pie he doesn't refer to his brother's accomplishments, such as they were. Dear Old Dad is the only Bush you will hear about.
Ramesh: I'd bet Jeb doesn't run, actually, though I also think he wants to. His political profile and donor base has too much overlap with his fellow Floridian, Senator Marco Rubio, for both to run. Rubio's the hermano who really dooms him in the primary. As for Bill Clinton, let me say a word in his defense: He was right about Syria. Declaring red lines and game-changers that don't lead to anything squanders U.S. credibility -- or to put it in Clinton's terms, makes Obama look like a "wuss" or a "fool."
Margaret: Bill Clinton was right to think it, but not right to say it. Former presidents observe certain protocols. As a parent, I've drawn so many red lines that I then had to ignore, it's maternal malpractice. But I expect more from Obama. He has cooler heads around him, ready with temperate and strategic language to avoid an international incident -- unlike your average parent, who pops off about keeping little Annie home from the soccer match if she doesn't eat her spinach.
Ramesh: What has been going on in the House, meanwhile, makes me wonder if the Democrats are going to start regretting their abandonment of one of Bill Clinton's innovations: the mantra that abortion should be "safe, legal and rare." Right now, Democrats think this issue is doing well for them -- that they can keep running against former Representative Todd Akin, or whatever other Republican says something dumb about rape. The House has just voted to ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, though, with almost no Democrats crossing lines to support the bill. If the abortion debate becomes a referendum on late-term abortions, I don't think it's going to go in Democrats' favor -- nor should it.
Margaret: Ramesh, I can't bear to agree with your stupid party, as some of the bright lights within have called it, but the White House's veto threat of this bill is shortsighted. Democrats abandoned the Clinton mantra to the point of removing it from their platform. They're not the party of abortion-on-demand, as the GOP would have it, but are at risk of being seen as the party of abortion at any time. It's too bad Republicans did all that stuff about pain, within-the-womb masturbation and rape not resulting in pregnancies, because they have a legitimate point about when viability begins. It isn't when Roe v. Wade said it did. Forty years later, walk into any maternity ward and you will see infants the size of a peapod surviving in intensive care. It might not be at 20 weeks, but viability is shortly thereafter. There have to be more Democrats beyond the handful of very conservative ones that voted for the bill (which should have had a life of mother exception strictly drawn) who can see that there's a point earlier than we thought when a woman doesn't have a choice.
Ramesh: Hillary could do her party a favor if she made this point. Or Bill!