07/10/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Where is Bill? Wrong Question! - Bill Clinton Doesn't Have to Answer

In the aftermath of the Unity event in New Hampshire with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, much of the media coverage over the weekend focused on the absence of Bill Clinton from the event, and whether Bill Clinton was deliberately holding back his support because of "bitter feelings" over Hillary losing the primary nomination campaign. And often times, the coverage featured blistering commentary taking Bill Clinton to task and laying out his "obligations" etc to do more and prove himself in the upcoming fall campaign.

Before I share my more subjective interpretative observations, let's start with some premises that may help direct the conversation:

1. Bill Clinton was returning from Europe at the time of the Unity event which made it somewhat difficult for him to attend.
2. Bill Clinton is a former President of the United States, and there is a certain deference that should be extended to anyone who can claim that moniker -- only three Americans living today. And in his case, he still remains the ONLY Democrat since Franklin Roosevelt to be re-elected to a second term -- Franklin Roosevelt.
3. Bill Clinton is NOT running for anything at the moment and doesn't have any specific obligations to appear anywhere on behalf of anyone until he wants to -- and in fact, look at how infrequently you see former Presidents making appearances during the Presidential campaign and the point is clear.
4. Bill Clinton was campaigning for his wife primarily, not for his Party's candidate, and the WIFE factor made the most difference. Jimmy Carter didn't even endorse until after the decision was certain, and neither he nor George H W Bush have made more than a couple of appearances on behalf of their Party's respective candidates.
5. Bill Clinton does feel hurt by what has happened in the perception that somehow he is less than committed to civil rights, comfortable with "racist" conduct, anti-black in his actions and statements, and tarnished in his image among African-Americans -- these perceptions about the President who did more for African-Americans and Hispanics than any President since Lyndon Johnson.

In reality, we should remember that Hillary Clinton was the candidate, and if anyone had an "obligation" or requirement to enthusiastically get behind the presumptive nominee and show support, it was the candidate who actually received almost 18 million votes. And indeed she did -- despite all the second guessing.

Second, this was Bill Clinton's wife -- of course it hurts. We hear people saying "he should get over it." And what is their stake? If Barack was not in the race, Hillary is the Democratic nominee, and she definitely wins in November. Barack Obama can win in November, but it is not definite, and race is a much more significant component of that circumstance than the media or Obama supporters are willing to acknowledge. Bill was very proud of Hillary, and thought she would be the best candidate for President. And many accused him of hurting her campaign rather than helping it -- true or not, the charge itself would hurt any husband in the same circumstances.

Third, Bill Clinton was accused by the media, and subsequently by the African-American community, of "playing the race card." In fact, Clinton believes that this label is unfair, and perhaps even more hurtful, he thinks as others less quiet do also, that the "race card" was played by the Obama campaign and ignored with no repercussions for them while they were accusing Bill Clinton of fomenting it. He may have a point. But for this discussion, if you are in that position you certainly might feel hurt and less than ready at this stage to jump to the front of the parade for the other guy in the race.

The focus should be on Hillary's actions and how enthusiastic she demonstrates her support for Barack Obama, and in both her formal campaign suspension speech and in the Unity event in New Hampshire, she proved both her commitment, her enthusiasm, and her dedication to the proposition of electing Barack Obama as President of the United States. Don't try to examine her heart, or her motivation, or consider what she really feels -- that's none of our business as long as she does the right thing -- and she is doing it.

And as for Bill, don't think for one second that he won't be there on the front lines doing whatever he can and whatever he is asked to do to elect the Democratic candidate as our next President. But it will be because he wants to, and because he feels his stature can help. But it will not be because he has to, or needs to rebuild his image.

On a discussion on the Campbell Brown show on CNN recently, radio talk show host Ed Schultz said that Bill Clinton still has "work to do." Pardon me Ed, but I thought it was Barack Obama who still had work to do to win over Hispanics, White Women, working class white families, rural Democrats - and Barack is the one running. Bill Clinton has already won over those groups - he did it twice - and he's not the candidate in November. Who in fact has the work remaining to do?

In that same discussion on the Campbell Brown show, an observation was made that Bill Clinton has to do some "legacy rebuilding here." Not so fast. Whatever one may think of Bill Clinton's conduct in the current primary campaign, his "legacy" is set.

That legacy is one of prosperity for most Americans, poverty rates lowest ever, more jobs created than in any administration, more benefits for middle class Americans than ever before, unprecedented wealth creation, a booming economy, no war, unprecedented Presidential popularity approval ratings even at 65% when leaving office, and the best relationship and progress for African-Americans politically and economically since the 1960's. No, we don't need to rebuild that legacy. We need to repeat it.

And anyone who fails to honor Bill Clinton's legacy as it stands, or who fails to give him time to deal with the personal hurt he has felt here knowing that he will be there in full force when needed because that's what he believes, does so at his or her own peril -- and at the risk of further alienating those very same groups where Bill Clinton has already completed his "work to be done." Now let's hope his successors can repeat that success and begin their work to be done!

Carl Jeffers is a Seattle-and Los Angeles based columnist, TV political analyst, radio talk show host and lecturer. E-mail:

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