One of the things which has always struck me about F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s novel, The Great Gatsby, was that while the protagonist Jay Gatsby had no shortage of guests for the parties he threw when he was alive, he could only draw three people to his funeral. Socialites loved him not for who he was, but what he could do.
I wonder sometimes if the same thing is going on with Bill Clinton. That Democrats only love him because he can win.
Had he lost the 1992 election, would Democrats have treated him like they treated previous losers such as Michael Dukakis? I once saw the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee at the Getty here in LA. Alone and all but unnoticed, he rode the tram from the parking structure to the museum itself, just like any other passenger. A man who once attracted the attention of the free world as he ran for the White House, could not even attract the attention of his fellow passengers.
This idea — about Democrats’ love for Clinton — comes to mind again as his wife’s political fortunes seem to be fading. He can’t seem to translate the adulation he once enjoyed into sustained success for her at the ballot box.
Contrast Clinton’s appeal with that of Ronald Reagan. The Gipper retained his base of support even after he failed to secure the GOP nomination in 1976. I think it’s because his appeal was based only in part on his charisma and political skills. It was also based on his ideas, notions which resonated with many Republicans — as well as with a vast swath of the American electorate.
Clinton’s New Democratic agenda was not based on conviction, but on expediency, a way for Democrats to succeed in an increasingly conservative America. That is, the appeal of the Clintons is that they could win.
Now, with Hillary fading, it seems Bill is fading as well. He can no longer command the respect of the Democratic electorate as he once did. As Hillary’s nomination seems increasingly less inevitable, I wonder how Democrats will regard her should she fail to win their party’s presidential nomination.
Will she enjoy the prominence she once did? Will she be as influential? Or will she become just another Democratic Senator, albeit one who happens to be married to the only Democrat since FDR to win two presidential elections?
We”ll never know how Democrats would have treated Bill Clinton had he failed to win election to the White House. But, it does seem that Democrats love him less for ideas than for his political success. Just as the socialites in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s New York liked Gatsby more for his parties than for his personality.
UPDATE: In line with my sense of Bill Clinton’s fading star, Drudge reports, “NYT Monday: Bill Clinton drawing ‘sleepy, sometimes smallish crowds’ in NH… Developing.” Eager to see how that develops.
UP-UPDATE: And this is how it has developed: In New Hampshire, Bill Clinton Is Finding Less Spark.