Published on TheHill.com on August 27, 2008
Barack Obama would do well to remember the lines from Hamlet: “Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.” Bill Clinton’s strategy is to take refuge in his carefully cultivated reputation for being undisciplined and borderline-eccentric to drop bombs on Obama in such a way that Hillary can escape blame.
Bill and Hillary do not want Obama to win. If he does move to the White House, Hillary will be unable to run for president until 2016 (Obama would run again in 2012), by which time she will be closing in on 70 years of age. But Hillary cannot afford to be seen dumping on Obama.
She alienated the party faithful – in particular African-Americans – by staying in the race too long, attacking Obama too often, and using race too much. So she needs to be on her best behavior. If her ardent support for Obama and her loyal and eloquent words on his behalf fans resentment among women that she was passed over for vice president, so much the better.
But, in public, she has to watch her step.
Enter Bill. All through the primaries, he played the role of a negative Greek chorus, dropping attacks on Obama in opaque and eccentric language whose very vagueness permitted him to dance away from the blame for going negative when it suited him. Did Bill Clinton attribute Obama’s victory in South Carolina to race? Well, he did point out that Jesse Jackson carried the state. Did he say that Obama was not ready to be president? Well, he did say that he didn’t think anyone was ever ready to be president (after his wife’s slogan was “Ready to Lead”).
And now is he saying that Obama can’t get things done and McCain can? Well, he did say that a hypothetical candidate X espouses positions with which he agrees 100 percent but can’t get anything accomplished and candidate Y is only 50 percent right but he can get it done. Was he talking about Obama and McCain? He sure wasn’t talking about chromosomes.
Don’t think that Clinton’s droppings are random or not well-planned. He probably scripts them in his head as he goes to sleep at night. He gets it that if he couches his aspersions in odd language and keeps his allusions sufficiently vague, he can get away with it. And Hillary? She can just shrug her shoulders and say with a smile, “That’s just Bill.” If pressed, the Clintons can move away from the accusation that they dissed Obama by saying Bill was misunderstood.
Bill’s antics are the harbinger of how he will act throughout the whole campaign. In public he will support Obama while delivering remarks that, somehow, are always misunderstood!