For many months now we have been treated to Bill Clinton’s intermittent displeasure with Barack Obama. Sometimes it has been overt, sometimes covert. Most recently, while being fawned over by the ladies at The View, he allowed as how Hillary did not really want the vice-presidential nomination after all. (This makes sense to me, by the way.) At the Democratic Convention, he delivered a far better speech than the candidate, showing up the less experienced Illinois Senator without really doing anything for his presidential campaign. In fact, he seems to speak more postively of McCain–especially off the cuff–only the other day lavishing praise on the Arizonan and defending his decision to skip the first debate to work on the financial crisis with an obvious fact most of us had forgotten - McCain had previously asked Obama for repeated, even constant debates, which the Democratic candidate refused. (The mainstream media made nothing of this, needless to say.) Indeed it seems Clinton wants Obama to lose.
The explanation for this behavior, says the conventional wisdom, is that Clinton wants McCain to win to give his wife another shot at the presidency in 2012. I wouldn’t doubt there is validity to this. But I submit there is a second reason, perhaps equally important: Clinton genuinely wants McCain to win for the good of the country.
I have no proof of this, I know, other than my instincts watching the man. But we all have a lot of experience of Bill Clinton - the good Bill and the bad Bill, the charming, brilliant politician and the liar. When Clinton is at his most relaxed and spontaneous, he appears–and possibly is–the most truthful. When he is enraged and tense (as in the Monica finger-wagging episode), he has Pinnochio beaten around the block. There is also a middle ground, when Bill puts on a show, as in his speech praising Obama at the Convention. It was well done, but I didn’t believe a word of it. Since then, he hasn’t had much at all to say in favor of Obama.
Of course, I am not the only one to observe this. Katherine Seelye of the New York Times Caucus blog wrote today:Clinton Continues to Praise McCain - Barack Obama might be forgiven for wondering which side Bill Clinton is on.
All week, beginning with an appearance on “The View” and then on The Late Show With David Letterman, the former president has seemed to praise John McCain, while giving short-shrift to Mr. Obama.
It was just a month ago when Mr. Clinton lavished praise on Mr. Obama at the Democratic National Convention, asserting he was ready to be president. But now, as the campaign intensifies, Mr. Clinton seems to be taking every opportunity to promote his rival.
This morning, Mr. Clinton continued the pattern, giving a platform to Mr. McCain at the Clinton Global Initiative conference.
"I am personally, profoundly honored that Senator came here today,” Mr. Clinton said, then went on to praise Mr. McCain’s environmental record.
Seelye goes on, but you can read it at the link. Coming back to my “second reason,” we must remember that Clinton is a centrist (like Bush and, even more, McCain). No one knows, perhaps even Obama himself, what Obama is. Maybe, like many of us, Bill Clinton is genuinely worried. He would know, wouldn’t he?