Thursday, February 14, 2008

V-Day for Bill and Hill

Daniel Hay writes:

All across the world this week, men will be scrambling through outlet malls and jewelry stores trying to find that special something for that special someone. Even Bill Clinton.

Yes, it’s easy to forget that beneath all the scandals, affairs, and political prominence of the Clinton power pairing lies a marriage. You know, a normal marriage, one with a first date, a “Will you marry me?” and a pair of “I dos.” The two probably went on a honeymoon, teared up when they first saw little Chelsea, and perhaps even painted her room together.

The Clintons are a couple rarely described as a part-and-parcel product, but rather byproducts of one another—Hillary candidacy a byproduct of her husband’s legacy, Bill’s reemergence a byproduct of his wife’s campaign. But before there were state dinners in the East Room, there were candlelit dinners in the dining room. Before there were motorcades and standing ovations, there was a family station wagon going to the family reunion. Before they were the First Family, they were just a family.

We don’t normally think of the Clintons in such a Rockwellian manner given their collective Machiavellian persona, but they’re still husband and wife, are they not? And as husband and wife, will they not be celebrating the most romantic holiday of the year together? (Ex-presidents don’t get interns, right?)

While it may be hard to tell from his well-publicized debauchery, hubby Bill is allegedly quite the romantic. Recently, when Hillary went to the dentist for a quick oral surgery, Bill got the Senator a Chanel watch with a bracelet made of white cubes—“He said it reminded him of teeth.” He’s also been known to surprise his queen and potential heiress with gifts from his travels, such as a giant wooden giraffe from Africa.

But even Cyrano de Clinton must be stumped for V-Day gifts this year. After all, reports seem to suggest that the Clintons have spent less time together than ever before. President Clinton is too busy off campaigning for Senator Clinton, and on the rare occasion their paths cross—normally for the former to introduce the latter at a campaign rally—their interactions are limited to a handshake and a kiss on the cheek. Unless she’s dropping hints in her stump speech, Bill’s on his own this year.

The Clintons are far too atypical of a couple for Bill’s gift to be anything pedestrian or commonplace. It needs to be unique and extravagant, perhaps even priceless. You really think the former leader of the free world is going to give the self-appointed leader of the Democratic Party an iPod or a pair of earrings?

Many of these practical and conventional gifts won’t do anyways, since they are largely seen as part of a larger misogynistic, bourgeois stereotype. Home appliances, Sunday dresses, even fancy jewelry would contribute to the image of a weak weepy wife she has been trying (albeit, since New Hampshire, unsuccessfully) to outrun.

One also has to assume his gift needs to have an atonement factor for the You Know What Incident. The Clintons’ return to the spotlight has brought with it all of the ugliness of 1998. The rumors, the lies, the impeachment, the trial—all of the most embarrassing stains (pun intended) on the Clinton legacy brought up on a daily basis by the likes of Chris Matthews, Carl Cameron, and even Barack Obama. How does a guy possibly make up for that? A new mink, maybe?

But the mink won’t work because she can’t jeopardize losing the animal rights groups’ endorsement. (A perfect example of Clintonianism at its finest: even a Valentine’s Day gift has to be filtered through some political implications algorithm.

It was looking for a few months there that Bill had finally found the perfect gift for his not-so-perfect compliment. It was the one thing Hillary wanted this Valentine’s Day, and the one thing Bill was uniquely able to give her. It was in no ways patronizing or maternalistic, could only help her political career, and would be the ultimate mea culpa: the White House.

Everything was set: superdelegates were pledged, funds were raised, a strategy was mapped out, and an infrastructure was in place. This was supposed to be the weekend she locked up the nomination: a series of mid-February primaries to deliver the final body blow to her opponent, already crippled by a devastating Super Tuesday.

The democratic nomination: wrapped up and delivered to his other half by Valentine’s Day. The plan was perfect. Bill was about to give his wife the ultimate gift, cement his legacy, and finally live down Monicagate…until a floppy-eared community activist from the South Side of Chicago had to get in the way.

Now that Senator Clinton’s nomination is not only uncertain but unlikely, Bill is left, like so many men, within days of Valentine’s Day without a gift or a plan.

Governor of New York? Senate Majority Leader? Secretary of State? Maybe the mink wasn’t such a bad idea after all…

-- Daniel Hay studies Politics, Philosophy and Economics at The King's College in New York City and is a guest writer today at Principalities and Powers.

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