Bill Clinton’s Missed Opportunity

Bill Clinton’s Missed Opportunity

In August 2011 Bill and Hillary Clinton were with several guests at their home in Chappaqua NY. Bill was trying to persuade Hillary to challenge Obama for the nomination in 2012; Hillary resisted the idea.  One of those present later reported that Clinton bashed Obama at length, saying “I have no relationship with [him]. He doesn’t know how the world works. He’s incompetent.” Then he added, “Barack Obama is an amateur.” The story is told in Ed Klein’s best-selling book, The Amateur, whose title was borrowed from Clinton’s reported comment.

What makes Klein’s report of the meeting credible is that Clinton’s low regard for Obama’s skills has been no secret. In December 2007, for example, Clinton said in an interview with Charlie Rose, “I mean, when’s the last time we elected a president based on one year of service in the Senate before he started running?     . . . “In theory, we could find someone who is a gifted television commentator and let them run. They’d have only one year less experience in national politics.”

Clinton’s bad-mouthing of President Obama stands in sharp contrast to what Clinton said in his 2012 Democratic National Convention speech:

  • “One of the main reasons America should re-elect President Obama is that he is still committed to cooperation.” (What a whopper! It is common knowledge in Washington that Obama is one of the least cooperative presidents in modern history, a man who largely ignores not only Republicans, but also most Democrats, including his Cabinet. And no one is more privy to Washington insights than Bill Clinton.)
  • “If you want a country of shared opportunities and shared responsibilities—a ‘we’re all in it together’ society, you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.” (Another whopper! No knowledgeable person would deny that Obama’s approach of pitting rich against poor and Wall St. against Main St. has fostered division rather than togetherness. And Bill Clinton is very knowledgeable.)
  • “If you want a future of shared prosperity, where the middle class is growing and poverty is declining, where the American Dream is alive and well, and where the United States remains the leading force for peace and prosperity in a highly competitive world, you should vote for Barack Obama.” (Yet another whopper! Prosperity is clearly on the decline. By almost every measure the middle class is shrinking, poverty is on the rise, and American leadership in the world is fast fading. It is hard to imagine how someone as astute as Clinton could say this with a straight face.)

Since the convention, Clinton has continued in the same vein. For example, at an Orlando rally on September 12, he said: “It is my opinion that no president, not Barack Obama, not Bill Clinton, not anybody who served before us… nobody who had this job could have repaired that much damage to this economy in just four years.” Repaired it completely? Maybe not. But every president from Truman to Bush the younger (excepting perhaps Carter) would have made progress toward repairing it, and no president would have significantly worsened the problem, as Obama has. Clinton surely knows this as well as anyone.

How can such a departure from reality by as intelligent and informed a person as Clinton be explained?

Clinton-haters will say, “He’s always been a liar. Remember how he wagged his finger at the world and said sternly, ‘I did not have sex with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” I find this explanation unpersuasive. The lie in the Lewinsky matter was a desperate attempt to hide a personal transgression. Although it was not justifiable, it was at least understandable. Clinton’s praise of President Obama is not.

Could the explanation instead be that President Obama’s handling of domestic and foreign policy over the last twelve months has so impressed Clinton that he changed his mind about the man? Hardly. Nothing that has occurred could conceivably have changed Clinton’s 2011 assessment that Obama does not know the way the world works and is an incompetent amateur. If anything, recent events have reinforced that assessment. It is now clear that instead of changing policies that have proved counterproductive, a response Clinton himself made during his presidency, Obama is inclined to double-down on failed policies. This inclination alone is enough to suggest that a second term for Obama could be disastrous for the country.

Clinton clearly had three choices concerning Obama’s bid for re-election:

  • The choice he made, publicly endorsing Obama, which was both inconsistent with his reported beliefs about the man and heedless of the danger Obama’s re-election poses to the country. (It did, of course, gain good will among Party leaders that could benefit Hillary in 2016.)
  • The choice of declining to speak on Obama’s behalf but making no public statement about his decision.
  • The choice of candor, making a public statement like the following: “I have been a life-long Democrat and I still believe in the Party’s principles. But I believe we have a crisis in leadership. Therefore, I cannot support President Obama in the forthcoming election.”

The third choice could have caused hard feelings among some Democrats. On the other hand, it would have had the virtue of being consistent with Clinton’s earlier assessment, serving the interests of his fellow citizens and the country, and offering a profile in courage and statesmanship. It is a pity he didn’t make that choice.

Copyright © 2012 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved

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Vincent Ryan Ruggiero