Opinion

JOAN VENNOCHI

Hey, Bill, exit left

Former President Bill Clinton kissed his wife, Hillary Clinton, on the cheek at a rally in in Hooksett, N.H., on Tuesday.

Matt Rourke/AP

Former President Bill Clinton kissed his wife, Hillary Clinton, on the cheek at a rally in in Hooksett, N.H., on Tuesday.

Stumping in New Hampshire for his wife, Bill Clinton mused that sometimes he wishes he weren’t married, so he could say what he really thinks.

He might not be the only Clinton to feel that way. A gaunt, vegan, and cranky Bill is a problem for Hillary. Separating him from the campaign trail is a good idea.

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For one thing, it’s hard to look at the two of them and start thinking about tomorrow.

Bill Clinton is a huge reminder of yesterday and the centrist policies Bernie Sanders is running against. And while Hillary Clinton benefits from the narrative of a good economy during her husband’s two terms, she also has to answer for the compromises Sanders abhors. It’s a sign of just how much the political landscape has shifted since the Clinton years, when ultraliberalism was an albatross for Democrats.

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Older voters, meanwhile, remember the good Clinton times, but also the scandalous. Younger voters have no memory of past disgraces, but also no recollection of Clinton high points. All they see now is an ex-president who might be trying to help his wife, if he only he would stop undermining her.

It’s an old dilemma, revived by Bill Clinton’s recent appearances in New Hampshire. He remains very popular with Democrats. But there’s always that downside.

When he says, “Sometimes when I’m on a stage like this, I wish that we weren’t married, then I could say what I really think” — it makes news. The second part of the statement —“I don’t mean that in a negative way. I am happy” — makes less news.

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Berating Bernie Sanders on Hillary Clinton’s behalf, as Bill Clinton also did in New Hampshire, doesn’t help his wife. Worse, when Clinton admonishes Sanders’ supporters for sexism, it ultimately revives old news about his transgressions involving women.

In 2008, criticisms that Bill Clinton launched against her then-rival, Barack Obama, also hurt Hillary. Yet he was able to come back at the 2012 Democratic National Convention and win plaudits for a speech he delivered that did a better job of making Obama’s case for reelection than Obama did.

A gifted politician he may be, but a high-profile role for Bill Clinton is even less helpful in 2016 than it was in 2008. That’s political reality with Donald Trump leading the Republican field.

When Hillary Clinton called out Trump for sexism in December, he swiftly turned the conversation to her husband’s history of marital infidelity and alleged sexual misconduct. Trump said Bill Clinton’s behavior was fair game, and alluded to Hillary Clinton’s role as enabler of it.

Trump gets to stand by his third, young, and beautiful wife. His own past acknowledged infidelities have not emerged as a campaign issue. He brushed them away by saying he wasn’t president when they happened. So far, the old political rules don’t apply to him.

Meanwhile, Reuters is reporting that one of the women who accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault is now working for an anti-Clinton political group being formed by a former Trump advisor. Kathleen Willey, who accused Bill Clinton of groping her in an Oval Office hallway in 1993, has agreed to become a paid national spokeswoman for the group, created by Republican strategist Roger Stone.

“This gives me more of an opportunity to get this message out to young voters who weren’t even born or don’t even remember what happened, and to women who have suffered,” Willey told Reuters.

He needs to get off campaign trail

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So Hillary has to answer for her husband’s transgressions and his policies. Meanwhile, she gets no credit for loyalty and doing what it takes to keep a marriage and a family together.

Want to bet she sometimes wishes she weren’t married and could speak her mind?

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.
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