Clinton reinvents himself with all-American image

With an election next year, the President takes a leaf from Reagan's book

A NEW t-shirt on sale in Washington shows two mug shots of President Bill Clinton, one head-on, one in profile. "Wanted for impersonating a president," it reads. "Considered dangerous to the American way of life."

How well Mr Clinton manages to escape the perception that he is simply not up to his job will determine, as much as anything else, whether he keeps it for a second term beyond the 1996 presidential election.

The question has acquired new urgency this week following announcements by Jack Kemp and Dan Quayle, Republicans both, that contrary to speculation they would not be running for the presidency because they could not bear the indignity of going cap in hand around the country scrounging funds from big business.

The buzz now among Washington's professionally opinionated classes is whether Newt Gingrich, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, will take part, challenging Bob Dole, the Senate majority leader, for the Republican nomination. As is customary in America, the presidential race has been on since the presidential inauguration. But with only 91 weeks to go things are hotting up.

Across the Atlantic Ladbrokes on Friday offered odds of 5 to 2 on Mr Clinton winning, 3 to 1 on Mr Dole. Within the bubble that is Washington the punters are watching the incumbent's form with ever keener interest. Every public appearance President Clinton makes, every word he utters, every White House initiative is subjected to the keenest electability test.

A columnist in Sunday's Washington Post humbly acknowledged that the pundits had failed miserably to judge the mood of the nation in rubbishing - as they almost unanimously did - Mr Clinton's folksily inconsequential State of the Union address on 24 January. In fact, as the inevitable day- after polls showed, the people loved it. Undeterred, the Post columnist went on to volunteer the thought that Mr Clinton's handling of the thorny financial crisis in Mexico, when he bypassed the Republican-held Congress and drummed up $20bn (£13bn) in loan money from the White House coffers, had made him look "presidential" - a word the author went on to use twice more in the same piece.

And an important word it is too for American electionologists, especially in the post-Cold War era. For the demise of the evil empire has diminished the importance of the American presidency, whose greatest powers have traditionally resided in defence and foreign policy. The president is no longer the centurion at the gate, defending the American Way of Life against the barbarian threat. As far as most Americans are concerned, Washington is a far-off place whose vain, Byzantine power games bear little relevance to their everyday concerns. It is the state or local governments which guide policy on the real issues, on schooling, health, crime prevention, garbage collection.

All of which means that when ordinary Americans vote for a president next year they will vote, above all, for a symbol. Of course, the state of the economy matters too. Not so much in the end the abstruse question of the federal deficit, which animates Mr Gingrich so much, as whether Americans are feeling more or less prosperous, whether they have more or less disposable income. Barring an unexpected economic downturn, the biggest problem Mr Clinton will face is persuading the American people that he looks the part.

"He must look decisive, courageous, as a man of vision, as a winner, as a strong leader," says Lenny Glynn, one of Mr Clinton's speechwriters during the 1992 election campaign. "He should come across as the dad of the American Dream, solid, amiable and righteous." Mr Clinton needs, in short, to act more like Ronald Reagan. In contrast to Margaret Thatcher's standing today in Britain, Reagan is regarded by the fine minds of the chattering Washington establishment as "a great president", no matter that he manifestly lacked Mr Clinton's substantial intellectual gifts.

Clinton "the policy wonk" must vanish from the public eye, say the Democratic Party's presidential image makers. As must Clinton the ditherer; Clinton the gay rights advocate; and Clinton the henpecked husband - an image which went down particularly badly with the "angry white males" who, as the polls and the statistics showed, were chiefly responsible for the anti-Clinton vote swing which gave the Democrats their hammering in November's mid-term congressional elections.

In his task of reinventing himself as an all-American man's man, Mr Clinton is, paradoxically, assisted by the Republicans' seizure of both houses of Congress. "The painful lesson is that you define yourself by who you fight," he was quoted as saying in Bob Woodward's book, The Agenda, four months into his presidency.

The partnership with Congress now over, he has an opportunity to veto Republican measures, to stand out as the unchallenged voice of Democratic leadership in the capital city, to appear clear-minded and tough.

In recent weeks he has started doing these things. His bold action on the Mexico bail-out and the popular State of the Union address edged him closer towards the apple pie ideal. As did his intervention last week in the baseball dispute between players and team owners which threatens to deprive Americans of their second baseball season in a row: he proposed that Congress pass legislation allowing a neutral, binding arbitrator to step in; Messrs Gingrich and Dole, doing themselves scant electoral service, said no. Withdrawing Hillary Clinton, "the Wicked Witch of the West Wing", from the public eye has also helped assuage white male anger.

"Every impression between now and November next year will count towards the election result," says Mr Glynn. "It's like the build-up of a coral reef. If you get the impressions right, everything crystallises on election day."

To that end, Mr Clinton has arranged a game of golf in Palm Springs, California, on Wednesday with Bob Hope and former presidents George Bush and Gerald Ford. Win or lose, President Clinton won't mind so long as the choreography turns out right, so long as some of the old stagers' gravitas rubs off on him and the television pictures fix an image in American minds of a man who can stand alongside real presidents and look like a president himself.

News
newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10
News
people
News
people
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsA Welsh town has changed its name - and a prize if you can notice how
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
News
Destructive discourse: Jewish boys look at anti-Semitic graffiti sprayed on to the walls of the synagogue in March 2006, near Tel Aviv
peopleAt the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are seeking Trainee Recruitmen...

English Teacher, full time, Broadstairs school

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: We have an urgent requirement fo...

Science Teacher, full time, Medway school

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Randstad Education urgently seek...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?