Bill Clinton's Soft Sell for Obama

10/25/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

There's been some concern in Democratic circles about how tepid Bill Clinton has been in his support of Barack Obama. However, as this diary on MyDD observes, there's a method to the madness.

The diary makes several important observations. Consider the role of the former President, his target audience, and how he can best reach them. In the primaries, Bill Clinton learned to his cost that being an attack dog is demeaning to his former office. His support of Obama is more nuanced. Instead of raging at the dying of the light, Bill Clinton is the dispassionate elder statesman, who constructs a reality that makes sense to independent voters in the balance.

He's not appealing to still embittered Clintonistas--who are now limited to Rush Limbaugh agent provocateurs and the Democrats naive enough to swallow their talking points hook, line, and sinker--but rather to independent voters. These are people who are not deeply into politics, don't have deeply held beliefs, and who don't know much about the candidates. How does he speak to them?

Why yes, says Clinton, as Americans we are truly blessed to have two great candidates in this race. McCain is a man of character and integrity and his support on tough issues was of personal benefit to me. And Obama is a great guy too. We all expect the hard sell on Obama's virtues at this point. But Clinton doesn't give it.

This infuriates Obama fans who remember Clinton's aggressive advocacy of Senator Clinton during the primaries. We're all set to fall into the circle firing squad of accusation. OMG, Clinton is still hungry for 2012. Nonsense.

Instead of bluntly stating Obama's superiority over McCain, Clinton makes the case that the times call for Obama. Viewers walk away with the feeling that Obama is the inevitable candidate because of what's going on with the economy and the war and so on. As the diary concludes,

"Bill Clinton is giving Americans permission to vote for Barack Obama, even if they admire John McCain. And that is exactly THE message some voters need to hear."

They may even promote this meme to their friends. "Hey, look, I like McCain too, but the fact is, what with the economy being what it is, Obama's the right guy for the job."

Brilliant stuff, really. Trust me, no one was more angry at Bill Clinton during the primaries than myself. But he's doing Obama a big favor here. And we want him to keep doing it in all these soft media venues like The View and like Letterman. Bill Clinton wants to make Barack Obama President. And if he keeps doing what he is doing, I'll be glad to give him the credit.

KING: We're back with President Bill Clinton. Some people, particularly hard core Obama backers, think that you're not strong enough for him, that you're sort of quasi for him, and also that you praise McCain too much. How do you respond to that?

CLINTON: Well, if you look at the speech I gave in Denver and the speech Hillary gave, I think it would be hard to question the depth of our feeling and the fact that we gave good reasons for why we were supporting Senator Obama and Senator Biden.

You know, I also would like to say that if you look at what Hillary has done, she has already done more for him, notwithstanding the unusual circumstances of this primary, than any runner up has in a nominating process in 40 years.

I think you can argue that she has done more than all other runner-ups have in the Democratic Party in 40 years. We have been quite clear on this. We're not party-wreckers, and we believe that the country needs to take a different course.

Now some of them, as we all know, are so enthralled, as all of our strongest supporters are, that they don't think you're for them unless you're dumping on somebody else. I personally think that is not a good strategy to win this election.

That is, everybody wants Hillary or me or, for that matter, Senator Obama or Senator Biden just to say bad things about Senator McCain or Governor Palin. Those people are already for us.

We've got to go get some votes here of people who voted for Hillary in the primary and are undecided, or people who didn't vote in the primary.

By and large these people are not political junkies. They are having a hard time paying their bills. They want a change. And they are listening very, very careful.

I saw an amazing special on television on the home mortgage foreclosure crisis. And they were just interviewing middle class people in neighborhoods where there are a lot of houses that have been foreclosed on. And it was amazing what they said.

They said, I don't want to see the attack ads, I don't want to hear that you're on my side, I don't want to -- I want to know what you're going to do.

So my position here is that what I'm trying to do is to help him win, because I do believe that he would be better to restore the American dream and he has got better economic and energy and health care policies, and I think he would be better for America and the world.

KING: Why?

CLINTON: And I just don't believe that, you know, getting up here and hyperventilating about Governor Palin or Senator McCain, for that matter, is a product use of a former president's time, and is not a vote-getter.

KING: You genuinely like Senator McCain, though, right?

CLINTON: I do. I admire him. I like him and I admire him. And you know, he helped me normalize relations with Vietnam. He has been out front sticking up for the little folks in Georgia, for the whipping they've taken over there and trying to stand up for them.

He has got a lot of -- he helped me stand up against ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Kosovo. But I think that I disagree with him about Iraq. And I really disagree with him about the economic policies of the last few years.

I think -- and strong disagreements on health care, Senator Obama's plan is much closer to what I believe should be done and what Hillary has advocated. And I think his energy plan is better.

And I think energy is the key to national security through energy independence to fighting global warming, and most important of all to the people that are listening to this, to more jobs and higher incomes.

So I'm for Obama and would I say that if I -- just because I'm a Democrat? Yes. But I also really believe this. I give the reasons that I think are relevant to the American people. That is far more important than having one more guy sitting at the television with a lot of badmouthing the other person.

We should be able to like, admire, respect the contributions of people and still vote in another way.