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Bashing Bill Clinton (Again)

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Howell Raines, formerly the New York Times' executive editor, and, before that, the paper's editorial page editor, has hit Bill Clinton, again; this time, according to Politico's Jonathan Martin, at an awards banquet in Washington for The Week magazine--blasting Bill as a drain on Hillary's campaign, as the source of the Clinton fatigue that diminishes her chances, and as a race baiter who slyly pushes voters to notice that yes Barack Obama is a black man-- in case they hadn't already noticed.

Just as Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton had a nasty history, and that history contributes to Carter's adoring words about Obama, so do Howell Raines and Bill Clinton have a history that has come back to haunt Hillary.

Pundits have tended to focus on the boost Hillary gains from Bill's deep network of the politically connected who owe him. They have focused less on the many politicians and journalists who nurse grudges at Bill Clinton that have festered for years and are now erupting.

Raines was fired from the top job at the Times by the top guy at the Times, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. (Pinch to his many detractors, to distinguish him from his generally admired father, Punch), after readers and reporters recoiled at the journalistic crimes of serial plagiarist Jayson Blair.

The younger Sulzberger, who had lionized and promoted Raines, controls a paper that endorsed Hillary in advance of the New York primary. Rumors abounded that Pinch pushed Clinton when others preferred Obama. The rumors were denied and Hillary is, after all, the senator from New York. (One might be forgiven for forgetting that Hillary, Barack Obama and John McCain are all actually U.S. Senators, as opposed to professional campaigners.)

Critics and conspiracy theorists pointed out that Steve Rattner, former Times reporter, current finance guru, and his wife, Maureen White, are among Hillary's most avid and generous supporters. Rattner, who is said to want to be the Robert Rubin of Hillary's administration, is Sulzberger's best friend and gym buddy.

So it's possible that Raines is moved by revenge at Pinch, his one-time champion turned hatchet wielder, but it's also important to consider the impact of the bitterness between Bill and Howell, both southern boys (Raines from Birmington, Alabama). Raines' ascension to the editorship of the editorial page matched Bill's tenure in the White House, and Raines' page was relentless in its lambasting of Bill, especially during the Monica scandal, the impeachment, and Gore's loss to George W. Bush in 2000. In its columns Bill Clinton was portrayed as a big old sloppy sex addict, an undisciplined adolescent, a liar. Reading the paper in those days, one almost expected that Raines would compare Clinton unfavorably to Warren Harding, whom Alice Roosevelt Longworth famously declared, "not a bad man; he's just a slob." (Raines presumably would have left out the first half of the characterization.)

When I was interviewing for my forthcoming book, Clinton in Exile: A President Out of the White House, one source repeated a conversation he had with Bill Clinton in which the former president said it would take Faulkner to understand the dynamic between him and Howell Raines--the implication being that Raines could not abide the fact that another brilliant, audacious southern boy had leapfrogged him to become the most powerful and, at times, respected man in the world.