Hillary Clinton was first asked some time ago how the next Democratic administration might best deploy her husband’s talents. She laughed and said he might be sent around the world as a goodwill ambassador, helping to repair the damage that the Bush administration had done to the country’s standing overseas. One wondered whether Mr Clinton would be asked for his view on the assignment before being taken to the airport.
Amid renewed interest in his future, the former president said last week he would be willing. Nonetheless, he remains a problem. As the odds shorten that the Clintons will move back into the White House, the issue of the First Laddie looms large. Mr Clinton is a uniquely engaging man, much admired abroad, with unmatched influence and experience as a global statesman. One could not imagine a better-qualified roving ambassador. Apart from fact that the law forbids her to give him the job (unless they divorce), one could not imagine a better-qualified secretary of state: two for one, and how.
With the magnetic Mr Clinton as ambassador at large, the role of secretary of state would be diminished. One wonders who would want the job on those terms. If Mr Clinton ever became secretary of state, the role of president would be diminished in much the same way. Spouses and ex-presidents are not well-cast as subordinates. Some presidents might find Mr Clinton’s natural authority in a commanding role easier to bear than others. One imagines, though, that Mrs Clinton would not be among them.
Mrs Clinton’s campaign has deployed her husband’s pulling power whenever her support has appeared to flag. With things now going so well, a judicious distance is maintained. This mainly reflects her fear of being overshadowed, but the campaign has other worries too. A Clinton dynasty is unappealing to many – though one could hardly call it unAmerican (think of the Bush or Kennedy families). Widely popular as Mr Clinton may be, a significant minority of voters detests him: best not to stir those passions more than necessary. On top of all this is the never-forgotten fear that the irrepressible Mr Clinton will involve himself in another scandal.
Keeping Mr Clinton at a distance during the campaign seems wise. Once the election is over, the need to repair relations with other nations and show a friendlier face to the world demands that his remarkable talents be used. The Middle East surely beckons – provided that Tony Blair has not brought peace to the region in the meantime.