Thank you, Bill Clinton.
I say that as a FOX Newser, and as a Democrat.
What more could we ask for from the former president?
The FOX News angle is not just ratings, although the best "FOX News Sunday" in three years is nothing to sneeze at. No, Bill Clinton did something more than give FOX a ratings boost on the occasion of its 10th anniversary.
I was brought up in the school of politics that holds to the rule that 90 percent of life is just showing up. Possession is nine-tenths of the law. Bill Clinton did something most Democratic “leaders” don’t have the guts to do when it comes to FOX News — he came on.
And it doesn’t matter if he attacked FOX’s legitimacy while he was there, because he affirmed it by being there. It was on FOX News that he took charge of the national debate.
As for Democrats, we have nothing to complain about and much to be grateful for in this episode. It doesn’t matter if you think Chris Wallace’s question was fair or unfair; certainly the subject matter was fair game, and it was precisely what the former president appeared to be itching to talk about.
And when it comes to the media, Bill Clinton is a very big boy — more than capable of holding his own and handling anyone in a fair fight. He gives as good as he gets, and he got as much out of Sunday as FOX News did.
Think about it this way: There’s almost nothing Bill Clinton could do to better excite the Democratic base than get in a good fight on FOX News with George Bush about Usama bin Laden. Read the liberal blogs and they’re convinced Bill Clinton has seen the light. Again.
It is a reminder of just how much room the former president occupies on the national stage that all it took was one appearance on the Sunday show for him to take over the national debate, to put the hunt for bin Laden at center stage and the comparison of his record and Bush’s as the central question — a comparison that he could lose but Bush could not win. After all, the failure to catch bin Laden has become for Bush a symbol of the distraction of the Iraq war — or at least, in the right hands, it should be.
The fact that the two most powerful women in America — Condi and Hillary — then entered the fray only added to the spectacle, making it all irresistible as political theater.
Given the presence in Washington of the feuding leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan, a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq offering negative conclusions (for Republicans) that brightening economic news and falling gas prices can't offset, plus the relentless media questioning why bin Laden is still at large and whether the conflict in Iraq has left us more vulnerable, one would think Democrats finally are well positioned to take on the administration.
Yet in report after report from the field, it becomes clear that Democrats are still not closing the sale with voters, even — perhaps especially — with voters who are disillusioned with the war. The President is still staying a course the country neither understands nor supports. This obviously creates an incredible opportunity for the opposition party.
Yet here we are, five weeks before the election, and there is still a sense that the Democrats have yet to articulate an alternative. If there were a new generation of leaders, would the former president be so welcome at center stage? If there were a clear message, would the party be leaving it to a former president defending his record to excite the base?
Bill Clinton is doing his part. It might have to be enough.
Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California and a member of the Board of Contributors of USA Today. She writes the "Portia" column for American Lawyer Media and is a contributing editor of The Los Angeles Times. She was appointed by the president to serve on the National Holocaust Council and by the mayor of the City of Los Angeles to serve on that city's Ethics Commission.
Estrich's books include "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System," "Dealing with Dangerous Offenders," "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women" and "Sex & Power," currently a Los Angeles Times bestseller.
She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel.