SEPTEMBER 2, 2012
Because Ryan Lizza’s terrific piece in this week’s New Yorker is filled with such good anecdotes, you might not notice something until you are finished reading it. I certainly didn’t. Lizza reports on the long rapprochement between Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, as the White House sought to bring Clinton into the tent and utilize him in this year’s election campaign. Bad feelings, stemming from Obama’s lack of respect for Clinton’s two terms in office, and the nasty 2008 primary campaign, still linger. Thus the need for a concerted West Wing wooing effort.
What is so startling about the piece, which quotes several people close to Clinton, is the underlying assumption among seemingly everyone in his orbit: of course the former president would never jump headfirst into this campaign for the, er, sufficient reason that he thinks it would be good for the country. Instead, heaven and earth must be moved to make poor Bill feel loved.
Patrick Gaspard, the former White House political director...approached Douglas Band, Clinton’s closest political adviser and longtime gatekeeper, with some suggestions about how the former President might help. Band, who, by reputation, has an acute sense for moments of political advantage, tried to explain that you don’t just call up Bill Clinton and tell him to raise money and campaign for you. Band recommended that the two presidents begin by playing golf.
Since that time, Lizza goes on to report, Clinton has indeed been much more helpful. A little later in the piece, Lizza notes:
Regardless of Bill Clinton’s personal feelings about Obama, it didn’t take him long to see the advantages of an Obama Presidency. More than anyone, he pushed Hillary to take the job of Secretary of State. “President Clinton was a big supporter of the idea,” an intimate of the Clintons told me. “He advocated very strongly for it and arguably was the tie-breaking reason she took the job.” For one thing, having his spouse in that position didn’t hurt his work at the Clinton Global Initiative. He invites foreign leaders to the initiative’s annual meeting, and her prominence in the Administration can be an asset in attracting foreign donors. “Bill Clinton’s been able to continue to be the Bill Clinton we know, in large part because of his relationship with the White House and because his wife is the Secretary of State,” the Clinton associate continued. “It worked out very well for him. That may be a very cynical way to look at it, but that’s a fact. A lot of the stuff he’s doing internationally is aided by his level of access.”
Again, and not to sound like a wide-eyed innocent about how politics works, there is not a hint here that Clinton pushed for his wife to take the job because, oh I don’t know, she’d be good at it, and would therefore be an asset to Obama and the country. The only person who suggests Clinton might have pure motives is a senior Obama official who notes that the former president probably saw Obamacare as a good thing. Later on, Lizza adds that “the price” of Clinton’s involvement was Obama’s help in retiring Hillary Clinton’s campaign debts. This might be how Washington functions, but there is no sense from Clinton that, for him, politics is about anything else.
And it’s Hillary’s campaign on which the piece ends. Not this one, but the next one. Doug Band, described above by Lizza as Clinton’s “closest political adviser and longtime gatekeeper” is said to be voting for Romney, apparently because Hillary will have a higher chance of success that way. In the meantime, we are all honored that Bill Clinton has found the current presidential campaign worthy of his time.