PETERBOROUGH, N.H. -- Bill Clinton doesn't mind if you vote for Barack Obama. He just wants you to realize you're making a mistake if you do.
"You should make a conscious decision for words over deeds, for a feeling over the fact of change," Clinton said early this afternoon. "It's your country, you can do whatever you want, you own it ... You can make a judgment and it's your country, but don't go into this thing thinking there are no judgments and there's no decision to make."
A certain passive-aggressive streak is creeping into the former president's rhetoric the day before the New Hampshire primary, in which polls project Obama will defeat Hillary Clinton for the second contest in a row. It isn't that Clinton thinks Obama's a bad candidate; he's fine, and he's got a lot of young people with him, and, "shoot, it's exciting." But it was hard to listen to Clinton talk to voters for more than an hour without getting the feeling he thinks people are somehow conning themselves.
Or maybe getting conned. Clinton took on what he said was the "central argument" for Obama's candidacy -- the idea that he, unlike other Democrats, had the judgment to oppose the war in Iraq from the beginning. The Clinton campaign, immediately after, sent me a research document quoting Obama saying he wasn't privy to intelligence reports from 2003 and "there's not much of a difference between my position and George Bush's position at this stage" in 2004. Clinton darkly hinted that there was a reason you hadn't heard much about that (even though the quotes don't actually prove Obama supported the war at the time Hillary Clinton voted to approve it). "I think the central argument is not supported by the facts, and the facts have been kept from the voters -- deliberately, in many cases, I think."
That may not really be the central argument of the Obama campaign, but some of the voters listening seemed to agree anyway. The former president took a question from a woman who supports Clinton, but whose children are for Obama, and wonders how "we as adults" could "share with our children the seriousness of what they're voting for." It was right in the wheelhouse of the Clinton campaign's message. "For a lot of young people, they buy [Obama's] argument that since the Bush people were full of experience and they messed it up, the best thing is to wipe the slate clean and start over again," Clinton said. "That's like saying that since 100 percent of medical malpractice is committed by doctors, the next time you need surgery, you should get a non-doctor to do it."
That's not entirely the argument Obama makes either, of course. (On that question, he says there's more than one kind of experience, and that he's got plenty of the sort voters should really care about.)
But never mind that. Go ahead and vote for Obama, Clinton says. It's your country. Do whatever you want with it, it doesn't bother Bill.