The first voting of 2016 looms. The line-up of potential presidents is dispiriting, the word line-up seems appropriate. We may wind up with the best of a bad lot, unless we end up with the worst. On the Republican side a field of plain vanilla Republicans, once touted as the strongest in years, turns out to be a bunch of 110-pound weaklings who can’t persuade 10 percent of the Republicans to get excited about them. Not crazy enough in this crazy year.
Instead, the front runner is a bizarre egomaniac, serial bankrupt, reality TV star whose career has been devoted to accumulating trophy wives and erecting repulsive blights on various urban landscapes. Trailing him is a man whose voice, look and politics recall a cross between one of those prison-bound televangelists and Sen. Joe McCarthy. Plain vanilla Republicans to a man loathe Senator Cruz. Several have gone so far as to as to say a Trump loss of the presidency would be preferable to a Cruz win.
On the Democratic side, several challengers to Hillary Clinton quickly fell by the wayside, leaving only a 74-year-old Ben-and-Jerry socialist, Bernie Sanders, standing between her and the nomination. No contest, one would have thought, but he now appears poised to do to Hillary what Obama did in 2008. In case we had forgotten, she’s reminded us what a terrible candidate she is. She lacks warmth, is secretive, suspicious, vindictive, stiff, humorless and gives either a wooden speech or a strident one. It’s as if Nixon had undergone gender and party reassignment.
So, as the primary electorate prepares to nominate extremists at either end of the spectrum, what’s the great, dissatisfied middle to do? They’d like the parties to quit pandering to the donor class, to the worst impulses of their voters, and to no-government zealots on the right and mega-government zealots on the left. They would like a candidate willing to get in the middle, put together votes from each side and try to make the government to work for the benefit of the majority of its people for a change.
It would take someone able to bridge a lot of gaps to pull it off. Such a candidate would need the skills and the temperament suitable to such a task. He’s have to be popular, likeable and persuasive. Someone with the common touch, but clever and tough enough to make a deal. He’d have to be able to schmooze with both good old boys and policy wonks, a country cosmopolitan, a redneck Rhodes Scholar, a dealmaker, a snake charmer, a flesh-presser, a spellbinder.
Oh, wait. It’s Bill Clinton — the big dog, Bubba. He couldn’t save Hillary the last time she ran, some causes really are lost, but as explainer-in-chief he saved Obama’s bacon with a barn-burning nominating speech at the 2012 convention. He’s still the most popular politician of either party in most polls, 28 years after leaving office.
In an ordinary year, at 69, he’d be thought too old. But Trump and Hillary are the same age, and Bernie’s even older. Rubio has tried to make the case for himself as a youthful alternative, but we’re in too much trouble for the electorate to entrust the country to callow youths. Especially since the Republicans have spent eight years attacking Obama on just those grounds.
Bill’s also got enough baggage to cause a Pullman porters’ strike, but when has that ever stopped him? He’s better at getting out of messes than anyone since Houdini. Besides, after heart surgery and becoming a vegan and a grandfather, he may be less likely, or able, to let his inner Elvis loose.
Trouble is, he can’t run. The Republicans jammed through the 22nd Amendment in 1951 to prevent any future Roosevelt from becoming president for life. They immediately regretted it when they would have gladly had four more years from Ike, and later would have accepted Reagan in perpetuity.
Still, let’s be hasty. Desperate times call for desperate remedies. All the 22nd Amendment says is: “No person shall be elected to the office of President more than twice.” But Bubba can be elected to any other office, say Vice President. And the president under whom he serves can agree to be a sort of ceremonial head of state, leaving Clinton free to do the heavy lifting.
So the President would be a sort of Queen Elizabeth, waving from armored cars, attending ribbon cuttings, celebrity funerals, and doing photo-ops of all kinds. That would leave it to the Vice President to run the executive branch, explain policy on TV, cut deals with the cooperative, and humiliate the recalcitrant. The Constitution makes the Veep the President of the Senate, so Clinton would be on Capitol Hill more or less full time, whipping, cajoling and filibustering. It could be déjà vu all over again for Republicans. Remember how Newt Gingrich kept promising to wrassle Clinton to the mat, only to find he’d been hypnotized into making a deal while having his pocket picked?
It could work. It’s what happened when Putin pretended not to be President for four years, while using Medvedev as a stand-in. The difficulty would be finding a presidential candidate willing to go along with the gag. Most presidential candidates are too full of themselves to sign up to play second banana, to be a front, a beard, a stunt double. Despite all the evidence to the contrary suggesting it’s ridiculous, Trump, Cruz, Hillary, Bernie all really believe they are qualified to be president.
Only one candidate available in 2012 who would be a perfect front man for Vice President Clinton comes to mind. He ran briefly and was completely innocuous, a non-entity. He was only mildly ambitious and seemed to be running largely to argue that the United States should switch to the metric system. When he wasn’t being a mild-mannered politician from little Rhode Island, he was an amateur farrier, shoeing horses as a hobby.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the winning ticket for 2016 – Lincoln Chafee and William Jefferson Clinton. Just think of the bumper stickers: LINCOLN JEFFERSON CLINTON. Now the only problem will be getting Hillary to play along. But Bill’s sweet-talked her into putting up with a lot worse than this. After all, she’s been second or third lady for most of their marriage.