During the early George W. Bush years, when a boy king seemed to be inhabiting the White House, Bill Clinton appeared as sage as King Solomon, minus the latter’s 700 wives and 300 concubines (although it might depend on how you count), and people sought him out as a shepherd. In 2008, however, Barack Obama made Clinton lose his cool, in more than one way, and, today, people are suggesting that Clinton has lost the magic entirely. This Wednesday, he defended his support for tough crime measures in 1994 and welfare reform in 1996, putting on a spirited and sincere show, but one that earned him accusations of being condescending and tone-deaf and “very dehumanizing.” Just a couple of weeks ago, he spoke of the “awful legacy of the last eight years,” a complaint probably uttered with Republican opposition in mind, but one that could not have pleased the current White House. Some have now urged Hillary Clinton to bench her husband. “She can’t divorce him,” Michelle Goldberg wrote recently in Slate, “but she can fire him.”
Picking on the Clintons is not without its rewards, campaign stumbles aside. Their habit of approaching the line of vulgarity (or illegality), like a drunk trucker swaying almost (but not quite fully) out of his lane, can drive even their fans crazy. But while Clinton’s mind may be as disorganized as ever, it is still strong; his unvetted remarks are excusable; and his voice — for all its foibles — remains valuable. In fact, it might be insidiously valuable during this particular election cycle.