I am fond of Garry Wills. I don’t always agree with him (heck, I don’t always agree with me) but I think his writing is generally informative, insightful and entertaining. So I found his op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times not just frustrating but infuriating.
Mr. Wills writes that Two Presidents Are Worse Than One, essentially saying that it would be a disaster to have a co-president, and that should Senator Clinton win the White House, Our Previous President, as the spouse of the President would be in effect a Co-President, unelected, unimpeachable and uncontrollable. I do understand that this is a new situation, but it isn’t that new. Mr. Wills gives the bad example of Our Only President and his vice-president; giving the vice-president so much power he sees as detrimental to our constitutional government.
It seems odd, in that context, not to bring up the fact that Our Only President does have someone in his immediate family who held the office. You know, his father. Why is it OK to have an elected President whose father is an ex-president, and would therefore (potentially) act as a sort of unelected, unimpeachable and uncontrollable co-president? Surely a father has as much influence as a wife? Or a husband?
I’m trying to see this column as anything other than pathetically chauvinist. I’m not succeeding. I think he sees Senator Clinton as particularly susceptible to influence; nothing about her other than gender stereotypes seems to bear this out. I think he sees a husband as particularly influential; much more so than a father, or a mentor, or a close friend. I think that, also, is more evidenced by stereotype than fact. The idea that we would have a co-Presidency seems odd to me, too, although of course there’s no question that Bill Clinton has the potential of being as influential and attention-getting as, say, Karl Rove or Eleanor Roosevelt. And of course it is in some sense regrettable that Senator Clinton, her candidacy and her (putative) presidency may be overshadowed by one of the towering political figures of our generation. And it is in another sense regrettable that the former President is caught up in electoral politics again. On the other hand, it was regrettable that Our Only President rode his family into political office, and that his father rode his family into political office; once in office, though, they were their own men (not to say women), for whatever that was worth.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,