Wednesday, August 06, 2008
The knives are out for my friend Bill Clinton. Again.
There he is in Rwanda, not one of the top spots for August vacations, trying to do something to stop a few million Africans from dying of curable diseases. Far as I can tell, no one wanted to discuss that, or at least report what he had to say about it.
No, it was his refusal to simply say "yes" when asked whether he thinks Barack Obama is ready to be president that resulted in one of the most viewed stories this week.
In fact, if you look at what he did say, it was almost certainly true. "You can argue that nobody is ready to be president," the former president told ABC News.
"You can argue that even if you've been vice president for eight years, that no one can be fully ready for the pressures of the office," Clinton said Monday from Rwanda.
You can argue it, for sure, and you'd be right, looking at history. But if you're Bill Clinton, apparently you're not supposed to say it. News reports quoted Clinton "backers" as saying the president couldn't give the politically correct answer because he's still smarting from his wife's loss. And that's what Clinton backers were saying. My e-mails from Obama backers cannot be printed.
What was Clinton doing?
Maybe he was just being honest.
Is anyone really ready on Day One to be president? Was Bill Clinton? I think he and Hillary would be the first to admit they made mistakes in the early days -- think White House Travel Office and Billy Dale, not to mention that secret task force to come up with a national health insurance plan.
Was John Kennedy? Clearly not, or he wouldn't have gotten rolled, as it were, into approving the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion.
Was George W. Bush? The short answer is no, or he wouldn't have ignored that intelligence report about the possibility of al-Qaida hijacking airplanes or kept reading children's stories when he first heard the news.
The question is not whether you're ready, but whether you have what it takes to rise to the occasion. On that score, President Clinton had nothing but praise for Obama: "He clearly can inspire and motivate people and energize them, which is a very important part of being president. And he's smart as a whip so there's nothing he can't learn."
What more do you want from the guy?
What the McCain camp wants, what conservatives want, what I fear the press wants as well, is the kind of fight between the Clintons and the Obamas that had all of us paying attention from January to June. Into every comment made by Bill or Hillary Clinton they will try to read a backhanded slap at Obama. They will report, as they did this week, on how few times the president has spoken with Obama since he clinched the nomination (once is what someone is saying), as if that is a measure of the former president's support for the Democratic nominee.
It might sell newspapers. It might give people something to talk about. But it doesn't put votes in Obama's column. It doesn't matter if it makes Bill Clinton look bad: He isn't running. Obama is. If Sen. Obama and President Clinton have only spoken once since early June, that is no reason for Obama supporters to be peeved, as they reportedly are.
There is an easy solution, literally at their fingertips. Bill Clinton is not going to refuse calls from Obama or his top aides. He will do whatever they ask. He will give whatever advice they are willing to hear. Nobody loves politics more. For all the failings of Hillary's campaign (how do you spell "no caucus strategy"), there is no one who understands winning presidential elections quite as well as the only Democrat since FDR to win two of them.
This should be simple. Obama and his supporters can try to make Bill Clinton look bad. They can try to keep him on the outs, whisper behind his back, point to his mistakes, attack both Clintons as if the primaries had never ended. Or they can try to get Obama elected president. It should be an easy choice.
COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.
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See Other Commentaries by Susan Estrich
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