Bill Clinton is widely credited with helping to save Blanche Lincoln's primary campaign in last Tuesday's runoff election. But his intervention in the Arkansas Democratic Senate primary hasn't gone down well with some of his top supporters.
On May 28, while campaigning for Lincoln in Arkansas, Clinton used pretty strong language to characterize the labor unions that were backing Bill Halter (who worked in the Clinton White House), accusing them of "manipulating" votes to "terrify membe"rs of Congress and members of the Senate." Clinton has fought organized labor before—namely, when he aggressively lobbied for NAFTA in 1993 over their strenuous objections. But he and Hillary also boast close ties to a number of unions, most notably AFSCME, whose president, Gerald McEntee, was none too pleased by Clinton's remarks in Arkansas. "We were the first union to support him for governor of Arkansas, and we were on the last bus home for Hillary," McEntee told Politico this week. "I guess he forgot that. It was [a] slap in the face."AFSCME spent $3 million on Halter's behalf, so McEntee had reason to vent.
Environmentalists were also puzzled by Clinton's pro-Lincoln cheerleading, noting that she supported legislation that would prevent the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. The resolution, introduced by Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, failed to pass the Senate last Friday, but six Democrats voted for it, including Lincoln, an ominous sign for the prospective clean energy bills moving through Congress. As Joe Conason (a noted Clinton defender) points out in his latest Salon column, Clinton has been an outspoken advocate of combating global warming and reducing C02 emissions. "Whatever [Clinton] and Lincoln discussed before he went into Arkansas on her behalf, she evidently has not gotten his fervent message on climate," Conason writes. "The Murkowski-Lincoln resolution is also a rebuke to Clinton and everyone who shares his view that climate change is the most important challenge facing the world in this century."
Conason suggests that Clinton give Lincoln a talking to on this issue. "Nobody is more eloquent than the president from Hope in explaining why sound environmental and energy policy would promote rapid economic growth and balanced budgets," he writes. "And people in Arkansas apparently still listen to him. So maybe he should spend a little more time trying to persuade them that he knows what he's talking about on climate—and a little more political capital pushing Democrats like Lincoln back toward the scientific consensus and the political center."
Why Clinton got so involved in this race remains a mystery, given that Halter once worked for him and Lincoln was widely viewed as a weaker candidate in the general election and hadn't come around on one of his signature issues. Was he repaying Blanche for her support of Hillary in 2008? Did he really believe she was a better candidate on the merits, and, if so, how did he justify her posture on climate change? Was he standing in as a trusted surrogate for the Obama administration, which is now out to protect Democratic incumbents at any cost? Or did he just want to play kingmaker yet again—wielding power for power's sake? Recent events raise the question…