Does Hillary’s Two-for-One Help?

Back when Bill Clinton was merely an Arkansas governor who wanted to be president, he wanted the country to know that the smart lawyer he married was part of a package deal. Electing Clinton was, Americans were told, a “two-for-one” deal because Hillary Clinton would be an important part of his administration. The line was designed to appeal to female voters eager to embrace a new model of a First Lady as policy maven rather than hostess. In the end, Hillary’s stint as the Clinton administration’s health care czar ended in disaster as her proposal was sunk by critics on substance as well as the secretive nature of the way she operated. But 24 years later the two-for-one deal is back although the roles are reversed. Now it is candidate Hillary who is touting her spouse as a bonus for voters. As the New York Times reported from a Clinton campaign stop in Kentucky:

Hillary Clinton already has an assignment for her husband, Bill Clinton, if they return to the White House next year. The former president, Mrs. Clinton told voters on Sunday, will be “in charge of revitalizing the economy.”

Does this make any sense? In its favor, Bill Clinton is still a very popular figure. Moreover, the 90s interlude between the Cold War and 9/11, during which he governed, is now seen by a lot of Americans as a lost golden age when compared to the subsequent years of war and economic travail. But the Clinton camp’s belief that merely invoking the name of the 42nd president will work to bolster Hillary’s credentials is an assumption that fails to take into account a number of factors. Though Hillary might be well advised to listen to her more politically talented spouse, the talk of Bill as her economic czar brings with it as many problems as it does solutions. Far from energizing Democrats, the prospect of two-for-one, part two will discourage her party’s liberal base and other voters who aren’t interested in recycled ideas in this year of political revolt while also opening her up to more personal criticism by Donald Trump.

Let’s concede that nostalgia for the economy of the 1990s is somewhat understandable. It was the product of the end of the Cold War and the unique juxtaposition of a centrist Democrat in the White House and a new Republican Congressional majority determined to rein in liberal excesses. Bill Clinton’s willingness to work with the GOP produced landmark legislation on welfare reform and crime as well as a balanced budget. Not all of the credit belongs to Clinton, but he does deserve kudos for being willing to work with Republicans as he admitted that the “era of big government is over.” That doesn’t make Clinton an economic genius but, when compared to the woes of the George W. Bush administration that had to deal with the 2008 economic downturn and an Obama administration that has presided over the most anemic recovery in modern American history, it’s no surprise that his stock has gone up in recent years.