Photo credit: Justin Ruckman via Foter.com / CC BY

Clinton Hagiography

I’m sure this has been mentioned ad infinitem if you look in the right corners of the internet.

Bill Clinton still seems to have the sheen of a winner. But is this a reasonable assessment of his elective legacy? In the 1992 election, he was elected with 43% of the vote. In his re-election bid (two years before impeachment) he skated to a 49% plurality vote over the hapless Bob Dole and the barely campaigning Ross Perot. Even an unpopular Bush (or so it was reported) and an unpopular Obama — both enmeshed in political controversy, were able to poll better numbers as incumbents.

Take out Ross Perot in either election and does Clinton win either time?

It’s certainly possible that a percentage of the electorate considers the non-incumbent Bill Clinton as more of a protest candidate that the incumbent in 1992. It’s entirely possible that without Perot, he wins a majority in 1996 as well. But is this an indication that Clinton operated from as much political strength as his hagiographers contend?

After nearly forty years of Democratic control of the House, Newt Gingrich led what was termed a revolution in the 1994 elections, holding on to majorities in both the House and Senate through tumultuous 1996, 1998 and 2000 elections.

Before 2006, the only Congressional majority for Democrats occurred between 2000 and 2002 when Jim Jeffords switched his party association from Republican to Democrat after the election, tipping the 50/50 balance in the Senate that would have otherwise given incumbent Vice President Cheney the tie breaking vote on leadership assignments.

I’m a Patriots fan. (This will seem a bit of a sidestep, but I hope you follow me.) The Patriots have won most of their Super Bowls with last second heroics. The scores were close, but the trophy came home. The two that they have lost in the last decade were also lost on razor thin margins. Winning is what counts, right?

So, from this perspective, Bill Clinton won two times. It doesn’t really matter by what margin he was elected.

It’s difficult to posit the congressional election losses from 94 onward at his doorstep. But if the power of his personal brand and the will of the electorate were entirely on his side, the “Comeback Kid,” might have been able to lend some of that “Comback,” to the DNC in their twelve years of electoral purgatory, couldn’t he have?