Politics makes strange bedfellows. And the strangest bedfellows people saw this week in Charlotte, N.C., were former U.S. President William Jefferson Clinton and the current White House occupant, Barack Hussein Obama.
The worst kept secret in American politics is the bad blood between the 42nd and the 44th president.
In his recent bestseller The Amateur, Edward Klein opens the book on Obama with a private meeting Clinton called at his home in Chappaqua, N.Y., in August 2011. It was to persuade Hillary, his wife, to challenge the sitting president for the party’s nomination, as did Ted Kennedy in challenging Jimmy Carter in 1980. Clinton recited the reasons why Hillary could win. And then, as Klein tells the story, he paused for effect, bit his lips, and pronounced: “Barack Obama is an amateur.”
Clinton has said worse, as has Obama in his run against Hillary in 2008. Clinton accused Obama of using the race card against him, and Ryan Lizza, in the latest New Yorker, reports Clinton told Ted Kennedy during 2008 primary, “A few years ago, this guy would have been carrying our bags.”
And yet there was Clinton in Charlotte on prime time Wednesday, hugging the man he loathes after he nominated him, even as Hillary, Obama’s secretary of state, bailed out of the Democratic Party convention by going as far as she could go, to the Cook Islands in the South Pacific.
Set aside policies, statistics and whose facts add up, party conventions ahead of general elections are about spinning narratives and telling stories about one’s team while painting opponents negatively.
But unlike Harry Truman, the straight-talking president and great Democrat whose motto was “the buck stops here,” both Clinton and Obama were and are “pass the buck” presidents. Clinton’s mendacity in public life was nailed by the late Christopher Hitchens in No One Left to Lie To: The Triangulation of William Jefferson Clinton.
He is only the second president in the republic’s history to be impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice, and disbarred.
The adulation of Clinton by the current crop of Democrats reflects poorly on a party that claims to fight for women. And Obama’s choice to have Clinton make the case for his re-election underscored the shrunken, if not failed, state of his presidency.
The voting public is possibly weary of a president passing the buck on the economy.
The 43rd president, George W. Bush, was not heard in public blaming the Clinton years for 9/11 and the massive economic downturn that followed.
But then Obama’s presidency is, as Clint Eastwood portrayed it at the Republican convention in Tampa, an empty chair. In the battle of competing narratives, will it be Eastwood’s devastatingly short empty chair routine, or the 48 minutes of rhetorical overdrive delivered by an ex-president with the reputation of a snake oil salesman?
Sometimes it simply comes down to this.
“We own this country,” Eastwood said.
“And when somebody does not do the job, we got to let them go.”