Clinton’s DNC Speech: A Savvy Move for Him

The former president's vouching for President Obama was in Bill Clinton's best interests. Here's why.

The Washington Post/Getty Images
The Washington Post/Getty Images

All week the media were abuzz about the uneasy relations — some say hatred — between Clinton and the sitting president, who as junior senator from Illinois defeated the vaunted and highly favored Clinton machine, which featured wife Hillary as presidential candidate but would assure the return of “Big Dog” Clinton to the White House.

The post-nomination-speech photo of the two presidents embracing onstage last night was possible only because of “a carefully orchestrated reconciliation of sorts under way for some time,” according to a smart piece in the current New Yorker.

The ’08 riff erupted openly when Clinton attacked Obama’s promotion of his candidacy as “the biggest fairy tale I have even seen!”

The usually cool Obama publicly construed the remark as racial innuendo about African Americans’ chances of — as well as their qualifications for — getting elected U.S. president. The New York Times, even cooler and more cautious on such matters, said the “bizarre” statement from the former president stooped toward “injecting racial tension.”

The ensuing feud, which split the two camps and sapped away black support from Clinton, was floated on the eve of the Democrats’ convention in the Sept. 10 New Yorker. When Clinton attempted to get Sen. Ted Kennedy to endorse Hillary, Ryan Lizza reports that then-TV host Tim Russert told him that “according to his sources,” Bill Clinton told Kennedy, “A few years ago, this guy would have been carrying our bags.” (Another source reportedly remembered the metaphor as “getting us coffee.”)

“We haven’t been close friends a long time or anything like that,” Clinton told NBC News earlier in the evening of the convention. However, he offered, “I’m actually more enthusiastic about [Obama] than I was four years ago … I’ve seen him dig in the dirt and fight, I’ve seen him make things happen, I’ve seen him criticized, demonized.” Also, he’s seen the president appoint his wife as U.S. secretary of state.

The suspension for one night at least of whatever discord that exists is a testament to Team Obama’s skill at maneuvering — at whatever price — this pesky master of the maneuver. After he reportedly failed to persuade Hillary to resign as secretary of state and challenge the “incompetent” Obama this year, some still insist that Clinton is bent on getting her elected in 2016. An Obama second term, as opposed to Mitt Romney in office, would best suit that possibility.

“We’re not kids anymore,” Clinton told NBC’s Brian Williams yesterday. “I have no idea if she’ll ever run again; she says she won’t. Right now, I want to help [Obama] because I think it will help my country.”

And so, last night a slimmed-down Bill Clinton climbed up onstage at the Time Warner Cable Arena, finger wagging, and heartily declared: “We’re going to keep President Obama on the job!”

Les Payne is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and frequent contributor to The Root.

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