“In the service of my president”

Bill Clinton is campaigning tirelessly because a second Obama term cements his legacy -- and rebukes racism

Topics: Bill Clinton, 2012 election, , ,

Pundits still can’t stop pitting former President Clinton against President Obama. On Fox News Sunday morning, Ed Henry said Clinton might be the one to pull Obama over the finish line on Tuesday, as though the current president was a laggard who couldn’t do the job himself. But Clinton’s embrace of Obama, while genuine, also reflects a strong dose of self-interest. A second Obama term secures Clinton’s legacy. It’s also a defeat for the ugly legacy of racism that the former president spent his career fighting.

I’ve been dismissing media attempts to foment or exaggerate a Clinton-Obama feud since the former president endorsed his wife Hillary’s rival back in 2008. But there’s no denying 2008 was bitter. Clinton did make racially insensitive (at the very least) remarks; some on the Obama team struck back by painting the former president as a backwards racist, unfairly in my opinion.

The two men’s rapprochement in 2008 was a matter of mutual Democratic self-interest: Clinton couldn’t afford to be seen as diminishing Obama’s chances, and Obama couldn’t spurn the popular former president’s help. By all accounts, there’s been a slow thaw between them over the last four years. Still, at a Democratic convention that lacked drama, reporters were able to revive a tale of Clinton-Obama tension, based mostly on the former president’s delay in submitting a draft of his speech to the Obama team. I said it was faux-drama even before Clinton tore the roof off the Charlotte convention with a passionate and airtight brief for the president. They’ve appeared to grow closer ever since.

I think the political forgiveness between Clinton and Obama is good for Democrats, and for the country. There was genuine and regrettable racial tension between the two men and their teams; they modeled how to heal it, in a country that grows more racially diverse by the day. And they clearly need one another. Clinton has been Obama’s best surrogate; Obama helps secure Clinton’s legacy by reminding us daily of the Clinton economy, and the way the former president reversed the trend of accelerating income inequality, however briefly.

Neither has a perfect populist record. Sadly, Clinton signed the repeal of Glass-Steagall banking regulations; Obama was slow to go after the banks who used that license to crash the economy. His administration has done more to help the banks’ victims in the last few months than they did in the first three years.

But both are presidents who did what they could to help the 99 percent, or the 47 percent, or whatever formulation we want to use to describe people who are struggling – maybe Jesse Jackson’s poetry about the folks “who take the early bus.” They didn’t do enough – God willing, Obama will do more – but that’s at least partly because increasingly unhinged Republicans didn’t let them.

One of the biggest lies of this big-lie campaign has been that Republicans just love themselves some Bill Clinton. In the Romney campaign narrative, Clinton was a compromising pro-business centrist who the GOP loved to work with; Obama is an uppity socialist who spurned their advances. When Bill Clinton embraces Barack Obama, literally and figuratively, he proves that’s a lie.

Both men are solid corporate centrists, if you acknowledge the Democratic Party’s left wing, where I stand. And Republicans nonetheless persecuted the centrist Clinton they now purport to love, accusing him of everything from murder to rape to drug-running. OK, that was just the far right. The mainstream GOP merely settled for impeaching him over behavior many indulged in privately themselves.

Clinton also helps Obama narrow Romney’s lead with white voters, particularly working class white men. As I write, Romney has a decisive lead among whites in the latest Pew poll, 54-39, but it’s less than the 60 percent he needs to win, and down from the 58-37 edge he had two weeks ago.

I found it unexpectedly moving to hear a hoarse and tired Clinton tell a New Hampshire crowd last night, “I gave my voice in the service of my president,” because it really means something – and it shouldn’t – to hear an older white man call Barack Obama “my president.” Clinton knows it means something – and that it shouldn’t – and therefore he’s reprising the mind-blowing no-sleep close to his 1992 campaign, this time in the service of another man, his president. Here’s hoping this campaign ends the same way, 20 years on.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>