The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Opinion

November 8, 2013

Building a better president

WASHINGTON, D.C. — If only some mad (political?) scientist could build a creature combining Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Frankenstein, meet Obamaton, except this version would be an improvement on the originals. With the best attributes of each, you could create the near-perfect president.

The two Democratic presidents have a famously fraught relationship, as Mark Halperin and John Heilemann remind us in “Double Down,” their book on the 2012 campaign. That the golf-loving Obama could not make it through a full 18 holes with his golf-loving predecessor says it all.

Obama reported to aides, of Clinton, “I like him ... in doses.” Clinton considered Obama luckier than an anatomically improbable dog.

The club of presidents is small and often chummy, but there is an inevitable element of elbow-jabbing competitiveness among its members, especially those of the same party. With Obama and Clinton, those frictions are magnified by the essential personality differences between the two men. Like pieces of an improbable jigsaw puzzle, one president’s strength is the other’s weakness.

There are similarities, expected and surprising. Both presidents are the self-made products of determined single mothers. Both are smart, analytical, immersed in the details of policy. The notion of Obama as a bystander president reliant on the teleprompter for his talking points is nonsense.

Yet Obama is disciplined and self-contained where Clinton is free-form and sprawling. Obama is a man who waves away dessert; until recently, at least, Clinton never saw a Big Mac he wasn’t tempted to eat off your plate. Obama is clipped and cool, Clinton hot-tempered and prone to public rages.

But the downside of discipline is insularity. Obama is aloof; Clinton is the ultimate extrovert, a sponge for people and the adulation that accompanies them. Obama finds relationship-building tedious; Clinton revels in it. The man never saw a rope line he didn’t want to work. Obama’s dream outing would be to browse about a bookstore unmolested; Clinton’s (the PG-rated version, anyway) an all-night game of hearts.

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