The one person whom Hillary thought she would never — could never — have to run against was, of course, Bill. It was Bill, in fact, who consoled her last winter, after she was less than inspiring at Coretta Scott King’s funeral, with the observation that she would never have to face a charmer like himself. He told her — trying to be reassuring, I guess:“You don’t have to be better at this than me. You got to be better than whoever.” But, oh dear, who would have thought the “whoever” she now may face would be so reminiscent of the Bill Clinton who unexpectedly captured the Democratic nomination in 1992.
Obama has several components of the Bill Factor. First of all there is the Great Personal Story. Bill’s was “poor boy from Arkansas makes good,” as he used his smarts to go to Georgetown, Yale, and win a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford. Obama’s is much the same, another tale of “poor boy makes good” that sees the protagonist end up at an Ivy League school. And Obama was the first black president of The Harvard Law Review, which is as impressive as winning a Rhodes.
The personal tales of Obama and Bill have their similarities:Bill’s father died before he was born; Obama knew his African father for only a couple of years. But Obama’s tale, with its multicultural flair, is the more intriguing. He lived in Indonesia for a time, then was raised mostly in Hawaii by his maternal grandparents, who were originally from Kansas. As he told Oprah Winfrey, “Michelle [his wife] will tell you that when we get together for Christmas or Thanksgiving, it’s like a mini-United Nations…I’ve got relatives that look like Bernie Mac and I’ve got relatives that look like Margaret Thatcher.” Hillary is shrewd enough to realize that it’s a hard-to-beat Great Personal Story. (And, by the way, Obama’s wife is lawyer, too!)
The biggest rap on Obama is that he hasn’t got much experience. Similar criticism was aimed at Bill, even though he had been governor of Arkansas, pointing out that he didn’t have much experience on the national scene, especially when it came to foreign affairs. (Also, Arkansas was a very small state. I remember New York reporters coming back from Little Rock stunned at what a small town it was.) Obama has been a senator for only a couple of years, but he made it big on the national scene right from the start with his rousing speech in 2004 at the Democratic convention. In this, he has an advantage over Bill, who gave that never-ending speech at the 1988 convention.
Way back when Bill was the unknown quantity, the press liked his big personality and campaigning skills, but they were more interested in digging up the many scandals that surrounded him and seeing if he could be knocked out. The press now is adoring of Obama and has been building him up with flattering interviews and magazine cover-stories, lauding his appealing personality and campaigning charisma for the past six months. The mini-scandals that have surfaced about him so far are Clintonian at worst:A little real estate problem and the fact that as a young man he smoked marijuana and used “maybe a little blow.” He is assured enough to admit, “When I was a kid, I inhaled. That was the point.”
But perhaps the way in which Obama is most like Clinton is that he too thinks, his supporters say, that he is a man of destiny. And that it is, once again, time for a big change. He is something new and different and reflects and represents a new generation. In 1990, Clinton was the Baby Boomer competing with candidates from the World War II generation. Obama is the Generation X candidate, more multicultural, cooler, more media savvy than a baby boomer.
Yep, Obama is the Clintons’ big and unexpected problem. Since Bill is Hillary’s “Advance-Man-In-Chief,” one wonders what advice he is giving the Missus about how to deal with an opponent who is turning out to be too much like himself.