I get what he was going for, I think — he knows it would seem disingenuous for Bill Clinton to pretend he was rah-rah about Barack Obama from the beginning, knows that in order to be credible he needs to build a bridge from his former dismissal of Obama as the lightweight challenger to his wife and his legacy to his whole-hearted endorsement of Obama for the presidency. I also get that he's trying to give thoughtful answers here, to bring his understanding of the political world as a whole to bear here, and that he quite rightly has noted that it's not the people who love Obama already who he has to worry about. I also get that he's already endorsed Barack Obama, plenty of times, particularly in a big happy speech in Denver where he swore up and down to a group of cheering Democrats that "Barack Obama is ready to lead America and to restore American leadership in the world" and "Barack Obama is ready to honor the oath, to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States" and "Barack Obama is ready to be president of the United States."
But still, it is REALLY unfortunate that Clinton gave such a lukewarm endorsement of Obama yesterday on "Meet The Press" even while he enthused about how great John McCain was — right on the heels of a "Saturday Night Live" spoof of him giving a lukewarm endorsement of Obama yesterday on "Meet The Press" even while he enthused about how great John McCain was.
From "Meet The Press":
MR. BROKAW: Would you use the same words for him that you have used for Senator McCain, that you admire him and that you think he's a good...
PRES. CLINTON: I certainly...
MR. BROKAW: ...and that he's a great man?
PRES. CLINTON: What I mean by saying that about McCain is, you know, most people would've been broken by what he went through. Oh, we would've been happy just to give him an "atta boy" and a medal and let him wander through life. I, I think his greatness is that he keeps trying to come back to service without ever asking people to cut him any slack or feel sorry for him or any of that stuff because he was a POW. But I, I genuinely, you know, I am developing a really good relationship with Senator Obama and I certainly admire him. And I know he saw and imagined the way this thing could develop, this political year and this, and this economic situation in a way that is left him in a position of leadership that he's in now. And I think that the rest of us should admire that. That's a big part of leadership, being able to sense, as well as see the future.
MR. BROKAW: But I get the sense that you think that he has the potential for greatness, but he's not yet arrived at that station.
PRES. CLINTON: Well, he would probably agree with that.
CLINTON (played by Darrell Hammond): Barack Obama is the only democratic nominee for president!
SETH MYERS: That doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement.
CLINTON: I don't think I could be any more clear. I belong to the Democratic party. Barack Obama is also in the Democratic party. I'm not a party wrecker...I love parties!
MYERS: So you support Barack Obama for President of the United States.
CLINTON: Let me just lay it out: I support Barack Obama...is something I've heard from people all over this country. What this country needs is change - come January, we cannot have the same president.
MYERS: Well, it would be a change whether it was Obama or McCain.
CLINTON: That's right! I didn't even think of that!... But I'm not here to bash John McCain...just because he's a Republican or a war hero or a great friend who's hilarious or cool.
I will say it again: Oy.
What is especially painful here is that SNL aired before MTP, but MTP was taped before SNL. In other words, Clinton couldn't change it following that SNL sketch — but what it does mean that he should definitely have seen it coming. It's been a big week for news, but one item that didn't get lost in the bailout/debate drama/Couric-Palin interview shuffle was Clinton's appearance on Letterman Monday — followed by Chris Rock. Chris Rock wryly observed that Clinton reeeeaaally didn't seem like he wanted to endorse Obama. It was a clip that dominated the internet the next day, so much so that when Jon Stewart told his studio audience the next night that Clinton was his guest, he made a joke about the Chris Rock appearance and the entire audience laughed. Then he asked Clinton about it. So, really, there was no reason for Clinton not to know, at the very least, how it was playing.
Now one can argue that Clinton stuck to his guns the whole way through, asserting his support for Obama clearly, saying tha yes, he'd do anything the Obama campaign asked him to do, but acknowledging that Obama had grown and learned over the campaign process so as to allow him to reconcile current support with past derision One can also parse through what he said at various stops along the way, and point out his clearly-stated endorsement. It's just that when you surround the clearly-stated endorsement with lukewarm, hedging language topped off with praise for the honor, story, selfless sacrifice and "greatness" of your guy's opponent, then, well, it doesn't look good.
And this morning on "Meet the Press" — thanks to the previous week, and especially to SNL, it didn't look good.
The sad thing is, not only will this "Clinton doesn't support Obama" meme continue to fly around, it has and will distract not only from the insight he has to offer, but it has and will distract from the Clinton Global Initiative, which effects real change for good. Clinton noted that it's hard for Americans to care about Africa when they're distracted by not being able to pay the bills — but it's also hard when they're distracted by yet another Clinton drama. In this case, it was one that was easily anticipated, and avoided.
Good thing we're dealing with a man who has an endless supply of political lives. Let's hope, for Obama's sake, that he won't need to dip into his own reserve come November.
"Meet The Press"
SNL - "Weekend Update":