Former presidents have taken on all kinds of jobs after leaving office, but the Clintons offer a rather unique set of circumstances. If Hillary Clinton’s campaign fares well this year, Bill Clinton will be blazing a trail that, historically speaking, would have been hard to even imagine: a former two term president, back in the White House, taking on the ambiguous duties of a ceremonial office.
For the Democratic candidate’s campaign, it creates a tricky dynamic. On the one hand, Bill Clinton remains a popular national figure, and Hillary Clinton generally benefits from the association. On the other hand, Bill Clinton is not a candidate, and if Hillary Clinton prevails in November, her husband will have few official responsibilities.
What exactly would Bill Clinton do in a Hillary Clinton administration? As the Washington Post reported overnight, the former Secretary of State told a Kentucky audience about some of her plans.
“My husband … I’m going to put in charge of revitalizing the economy because you know, he knows how to do it,” Clinton told supporters in Northern Kentucky. “And especially in places like coal country and inner cities and other parts of our country that have been really left out.”Hillary Clinton has long made it clear that she looks to her husband’s presidency as a model for how to manage the economy. She often notes the job creation and increases in median household income during his administration.
In a case like this, the details would obviously matter, and at yesterday’s event, Clinton didn’t get into specifics. At some point soon, however, she probably should.
It’s worth noting for context that Hillary Clinton was speaking in Kentucky, which hosts an unpredictable primary tomorrow, and where her husband has fared quite well. Indeed, while President Obama lost badly in the Bluegrass State in 2008 and 2012, and Al Gore and John Kerry fared about as well, Bill Clinton actually won Kentucky in both of his national elections.
This matters to the extent that Hillary Clinton, hoping to win tomorrow’s primary, is likely hoping to piggyback on her husband’s popularity among Kentucky Dems by talking up an economic role for Bill Clinton on her team.
That said, Hillary Clinton, if elected, will have a White House Council of Economic Advisers, a Treasury secretary, and a small army of economists to help guide her policies. If Bill Clinton is “in charge of revitalizing the economy,” does Hillary Clinton envision him playing the role of chairing the Council of Economic Advisers? Or some kind of equivalent position?
Perhaps it was just an off-hand comment yesterday. Hillary Clinton is no doubt aware of the fact that many Americans consider the 1990s an economic boom period, and it’s likely she’s hoping to capitalize on those memories by touting a policy role for her husband in the future. That would certainly make political sense.
But as the campaign progresses, comments like yesterday’s are a reminder that the public will need to know more about what kind of role Bill Clinton would have in a Clinton administration. That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing – the former president is generally held in high regard – but if he’s going to hold a key economic position in the White House, I suppose we’ll need to hear more from him directly about his agenda?