[Guest post by DRJ]
Former President Bill Clinton made his first extended public appearance in a whirlwind trip to several African nations to review progress of health initiatives sponsored by his foundation. This Washington Post article described the trip as the beginning of the “rehabilitation” of Bill Clinton after the divisiveness of the Democratic primary.
Clinton was accompanied by daughter Chelsea, Terry McAuliffe, Governor and Mrs. Tom Vilsack, aides, press, and a documentary film crew – the latter of which may be designed to help Clinton reestablish himself as Al Gore did after the 2000 Presidential election.
Describing himself as eager and happy to get back to international foundation work, Clinton declined to discuss his role supporting Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and had little to say about Obama:
“Clinton volunteered very little praise of Obama, beyond describing him as “smart” and “a good politician” when asked about him toward the end of the interview. He did, however, muse at length about the role that race could play in the general election — the issue that some of his former black allies angrily accused him of introducing in the Democratic primaries — as a factor, if not a decisive one.”
On June 30, the Huffington Post quoted Terry McAuliffe as saying Bill Clinton didn’t hold a grudge against Barack Obama and that they planned to meet in early July. Obama and Bill Clinton connected the next day via telephone, after which Obama said “I absolutely want Bill Clinton campaigning for me.”
But in a June 24, 2008, blog post, just one week before Bill Clinton and Obama talked, Marc Ambinder convincingly explained why Bill Clinton would continue to hold a grudge against Barack Obama:
“[T]he former president remains “miffed” for two reasons. One is that he feels that Obama’s candidacy was essentially an anti-Clinton candidacy; that Obama ran against Clinton’s presidential record at times, implying that it was timeworn, divisive, and damaging to the party while adopting policy positions that seemed to flow directly from the Clinton oeuvre. Why should Clinton embrace a guy who spent the past twelve months bashing him and his accomplishments?
Two: Clinton is convinced that the Obama campaign went out of its way to portray the former president as a racist. Clinton wants a private meeting with Obama to sort these things out; he has reconciled himself to the reality of Obama’s nomination and does not want to sit on the sidelines.”
I think that’s a good analysis of what Bill Clinton probably felt and still feels about Barack Obama, and I’m not sure it can be repaired in one telephone call. Two months later, Clinton’s statements in Africa suggest he’s still lukewarm on the subject of Barack Obama.
Does it matter?
I think it does. If Barack Obama wants to portray himself as someone who can unite people and bridge divides, he needs Clinton supporters. It’s hard to sustain the image of a uniter if you’ve fractured your own Party. I think Obama repaired the rift with Hillary and possibly with Bill, but his continued emphasis on race will reopen and aggravate old wounds.
In addition, Bill Clinton could help Obama with blue-collar and rural voters, many of whom consider Bill to be someone who cares about jobs and the economy. It doesn’t look like Bill Clinton is willing to put in that kind of effort at this point but it’s too soon to tell.
Finally, I doubt either Clinton wants Obama to win in November so the question is: How far will the Clintons go to see Obama lose?
UPDATE 8/3/2008: ABC News has posted a video interview in which Bill Clinton insists he’s “not a racist” and was described as “testy” over his wife’s loss.