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Obama and Clinton on '60 Minutes': What's the fallout?

An unusual '60 Minutes' joint interview gave Obama and Clinton a platform to talk about each other, rather than the attack in Benghazi, and send a message of Democratic Party unity.

President Obama (c.) and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speak with '60 Minutes' correspondent Steve Kroft (l.) in the Blue Room of the White House on Jan. 25. The interview aired Sunday on CBS's '60 Minutes.'

President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton sat for an unprecedented joint interview that aired on “60 Minutes” Sunday night. If you missed it, it was both jolly and elegiac, like a goodbye party for a valued employee. Which, in a way, is what it was.

Mr. Obama and Secretary Clinton talked about the bond they’d developed over the past four years – “very warm, close," according to the latter. They discussed how their staffs and spouses had taken some time to get over the way they’d fought in the 2008 Democratic primaries. Oh, and they dealt with foreign policy, too – a bit.

Both gave well-rehearsed answers to the inevitable question about the attack in Benghazi, Libya.

“We did fix responsibility appropriately. And we’re taking steps to implement that,” said Clinton, pointing to an internal Accountability Review Board report on the issue.

“It is a dangerous world,” added Obama.

Then, CBS interviewer Steve Kroft asked whether the United States had become too reticent on the world stage. Obama and Clinton easily parried this general question.

“You’ve got to be careful. You have to be thoughtful. You can’t rush in, especially now, where it’s more complex than it’s been in decades,” said Clinton.

Hmmm. “60 Minutes” remains a big platform, and the interview’s getting a lot of attention in Washington today. What’s the fallout from this unusual appearance?

Well, Republicans are not happy with what they think were easy questions. They’re grousing that most of the thing was about the Obama-Clinton relationship, like CBS was talking to two characters from a buddy movie.

Some in the mainstream media had a similar reaction.

“How relaxing was that interview? What a series of softballs. I remember when the scariest words in TV journalism were, ‘I’m from "60 Minutes" and I’m here to interview you,' ” said Bloomberg News columnist Margaret Carlson on Monday morning.

This got us thinking. The interview was the administration’s idea – Mr. Kroft noted that, and said he’d been allotted just 30 minutes for the talk. So what were White House press officials after with this? Given the restrictions, they must have had a specific something they were trying to accomplish.

One, Clinton gets a good send-off. (See “goodbye party," above.) She deserves as much after all those countries she’s visited. One hundred and twelve, in case you’re interested.

“Her conduct as secretary of State has been highly dignified. She does her homework,” judged Brit Hume of Fox News – though he added that he believes the case for her being great in her job is “exceedingly weak.”

Obama should be grateful. By appearing with her on CBS, he ensures that she gets a high-profile interview that is about the two of them, not Benghazi.

Two, the Obama-Clinton appearance may be an attempt to keep the Democratic Party united. Whatever Clinton decides to do as 2016 approaches, she and her ex-president husband represent a more moderate faction. This joint interview gives a picture of unity, dampens any talk that she’s being rushed out the door, and gives an impression that she’s going to continue to advise the administration in the months ahead. That’s all good for her political fortunes.

(Is that Joe Biden stifling a sob? Sure sounded like it to us.)

Third, Obama gets to build himself up. Yes, there’s nothing like appearing on a joint platform with the most popular politician in the country. And right now, that’s Hillary Clinton, not Obama himself.

Clinton’s stature is now such that if she wants to be the next Democratic nominee for president, she will be, writes David Rothkopf, a foreign- policy expert and chief executive officer and editor at large of the FP Group.

“Joe Biden, Andrew Cuomo, Mark Warner, Martin O’Malley and the others in the long list of commander-in-chief wannabes will go about their day jobs for the next couple years, but at the back of their minds will be only one question: Will she or won’t she?” Mr. Rothkopf writes.

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