Published in the New York Post on January 22, 2008.
Why is Bill Clinton courting such intense publicity, inevitably much of it negative?
Is he crazy? Crazy like a fox.
He has two goals and is achieving them both spectacularly.
First, he wants to be the same kind of lightning rod for Hillary that she was for him during his run for the presidency.
As the 1992 Republican convention approached, Hillary ratcheted up her comments and profile precisely to attract GOP fire so that they would leave Bill alone. He and I discussed the plan.
Hillary’s comment, for example, about “baking cookies and serving tea” put her squarely in the Republican Party’s sights as the convention approached.
The Republicans fell for the lure big time and spent their entire convention going after Hillary. Bill was scarcely hit.
And the 1992 GOP convention is one of the few that afforded its party no bounce at all. Now Bill is returning the favor.
In the days before Iowa and leading up to New Hampshire, Hillary was the prime topic of political discussion.
She took shots for misusing Bill’s record and trying to adopt it as her own, for minimizing King’s contribution to civil rights, for crying, for attacking her opponents, and for changing her campaign style to become more likeable.
Now, she rarely gets hit anymore. They’re hitting Bill instead.
Like a red cape, he is attracting the attention of the bull so his wife the matador escapes unharmed.
The other method behind his madness is that Bill wants to suck up all the oxygen in the room and dominate the coverage of the Democratic contest. By doing so, he cuts Obama out of the news, pushes him off the front page, and usurps the headlines.
Of course, he also crowds out Hillary, but that’s OK, given her large leads in the national polls and in all the big states whose primaries are coming up.
If there were a newspaper and television blackout, Hillary would cruise to an easy win, so Bill, by injecting himself into the coverage and hogging it, is accomplishing the same goal.
His tactics now are reminiscent of those he used to black out John Kerry during the lead-up to the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
By scheduling book signings and speeches in Boston, he effectively took the coverage away from the prospective Democratic nominee, a man who would have eclipsed Hillary’s presidential ambitions had he won the election.
Ultimately, the Clintons are playing a game of jujitsu with Obama, using his own strength against him.
By challenging Obama for the black vote – by promising to go door to door in South Carolina in minority neighborhoods, for example – Bill is highlighting the question: Will Obama carry the black vote? Of course, he will. He leads, 4 to 1, among African-Americans now.
But by making that the central question, Obama’s South Carolina victory will be hailed as proof that he won the African-American vote. Such block voting will trigger the white backlash Sen. Clinton needs to win.
Once whites see blacks voting en masse for a black man, they will figure that it is a racial game and line up for Hillary. Already, she carries white voters by 2 to 1.
The Clintons can well afford to lose South Carolina as long as the election is not seen as a bellwether of how the South will vote but as an indication of how African-Americans will go. It’s a small price to pay for the racial polarization they need to win.
So to seize the limelight, take Hillary out of the line of fire, and to call attention to his head-to-head battle with Obama for the loyalty of America’s blacks, Bill Clinton is seeking all the coverage he can get, positive, negative or neutral.