The Corner

Politics & Policy

A Lengthy Portrait of a Presidential Marriage That We Didn’t Need to Hear

Darn it, Jonah, I think our assessments will largely overlap… 

Bill Clinton is the Cal Ripken of convention speeches; he’s spoken at the past ten of them. Going into tonight, we knew Bill’s speech was going to be well-delivered, full of detail, probably extremely long, and likely to hit all the emotional notes. He didn’t get that nickname “Slick Willie” for nothing.

The first thirty or so minutes felt like an interminable slog through the courtship and early years of the Clinton marriage – less a compelling sales pitch for the nominee than Grandpa giving a long and meandering story about how he met Grandma at their anniversary dinner. Considering what we know about the Clinton marriage, this was a potentially supremely awkward course for Bill to take. Out of all the aspects of Bill and Hillary Clinton that Americans admire, I suspect very few would want to be married to either one of them. We know he was a relentless womanizer during those years, and quite possibly much worse than that. We know names like Juanita Broderick and Paula Jones and Gennifer Flowers.

But clearly Bill Clinton felt he needed to “humanize” Hillary Clinton, and so he tried to show us all the little moments of their lives that the public never got to see. (Robert Caro would have said there was too much detail.) He conveniently skipped from 1997 to 1999, ignoring the year when his troubles and the state of his marriage consumed a year of his presidency.

Dennis Miller used to joke that the Clinton marriage couldn’t be any more about convenience if they installed a Slurpee machine. But she obviously chose to stick with him through all the grief and aggravation, and he never, as far as we know, decided he wanted to divorce her. This is a mutually-supportive marriage based upon mutual presidential ambition. That’s what makes the Clintons tick and maybe some folks will find that romantic and inspirational; some will find it a twisted reflection of what a marriage ought to be.

That relentless, transparent ambition is, I suspect, one of the things that adds to her low approval ratings and low trustworthy numbers: these two will lie about anything in order to get what they want. Will tonight help Hillary Clinton? Well, what undecided voter out there was waiting to see if Bill thought electing her was a good idea?

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