President Bush (41) had the line of the day during the dedication of the Clinton Library:
“Here in Arkansas you might say he grew to become the Sam Walton of national retail politics. Simply put, he was a natural, and he made it look too easy. And, oh, how I hated him for that.”
In reality Clinton was probably closer to being the Target (the superstore of choice in the blue states) than the Wal-Mart of politics. But ultimately, one can’t really compare Clinton to a chain of stores or even a political movement that stretches across America. Clinton isn’t Wal-Mart. Clinton is Elvis.
When Sam Walton departed the scene, the Wal-Mart brand and business model were already firmly in place. The movement has only grown in scope since its founder and architect let go of the reigns.
When Clinton left the White House, his movement disappeared. After all, the movement was him and he was the movement. It was a personality-driven movement led by a man who had the natural ability and charisma to win with almost any message against the most extreme odds. The personality-based nature of the Clinton movement was hammered home during his second term when his personal life took center stage.
During the Clinton era, if you were and insider and an activist, you weren’t known as a liberal or a progressive. You were known as an FOB (friend of Bill).
We all still remember the scene when Clinton left the White House. Most networks gave us a split screen of W’s inaugural festivities and Clinton boarding a plane for Little Rock. One could not help but think to oneself: “Elvis has left the building.”
But what did he leave behind? For Democrats, did Bill Clinton build a bridge towards the 21st century or plank?
Personality-driven programs simply cannot be replicated. And the Democratic Party became the Bill Clinton Party. When he left, the Party was lost. And to a large extent it still is. With all of his star power, charisma and natural ability, Clinton never put into place a platform or a vision to lead his Party forward. And now that Party is foundering. What was the big picture vision being pitched by Democratic candidates during the recent campaign season?
During the dedication on Thursday, W quoted the Clinton staffer adage that “If Clinton were the Titanic, the iceberg would sink.” And that’s probably true. But Clinton is not Titanic. The Democratic Party is. And for now, W is the iceberg.
Elvis has indeed left the building. But after yesterday, at least we have a Graceland in Little Rock.