Bill Clinton looms large at Obama’s party
His prime-time speech Wednesday is an opportunity to heal a Democratic rift.
(Page 2 of 2)
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Throughout the 2008 primary season and beyond, Clinton has made no secret of his exasperation with Obama’s success. He called Obama’s anti-Iraq war message a “fairy tale,” and after facing accusations that he had played the “race card” in the run-up to the South Carolina primary, Clinton later accused the Obama campaign of “playing the race card on me.” When asked in a recent ABC-TV interview if Obama was ready to be president, Clinton replied: “You could argue that no one’s ever ready to be president.” Clinton has since steered clear of the media.
Representatives of both camps say that the two men have spoken in the past week and that the conversation went well.
Still, there’s no doubt that the longstanding friction between Obama and both Clintons has emerged as one of the dominant story lines of convention week and is in danger of being overblown. With so many media on hand – 15,000 credentials have been issued – in constant search of stories, the Clintons (and their die-hard supporters) have been an obvious focus. When Obama offered both Clintons prime-time speaking roles and the opportunity to have Senator Clinton’s name placed in nomination, he may have thought that would satisfy the need to honor the Clintons’ status as the party’s premier power couple.
But with the Clintons speaking on separate nights, that generates two days of headlines instead of one. And with Clinton speaking the same night as Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the former president threatens to overshadow Obama’s running mate.
Former Clinton aides have also kept the story line going – both in blind quotes to the press and publicly. Privately, the Clinton camp suggests that Obama has not done enough to help Hillary Clinton retire her campaign debt. Last week, in the New Republic, former Clinton aide Howard Wolfson wrote that “there is still work to do on the Bill Clinton front.
“He feels like the Obama campaign ran against and systematically dismissed his administration’s accomplishments,” Mr. Wolfson continued. “And he feels like he was painted as a racist during the primary process.”
Typically, ex-presidents ascend to a status of elder statesmen, doing good works. Clinton is the first ex-president to get back into the rough and tumble of the political game on behalf of his wife, and the risks have now become self-evident.
But he is not the first young ex-president to be seen as making mischief in his own party after leaving office.