THE BLOG

Bill Explodes But Then Apologizes

06/03/2008 11:41 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

So in Milbank, South Dakota on the day before the primary there Bill Clinton grabbed the hand -- and wouldn't let go of it -- of Huffington Post "Off the Bus" blogger Mayhill Fowler. He exploded in a tirade of invective against Vanity Fair writer Todd Purdum -- a "scumbag" -- for his "slimy" article about Bill Clinton's life post presidency in the magazine's July issue ("Bubba Trouble: The Comeback Id").

By so doing, Clinton proved one of Purdum's points: that the former president has an anger management problem; that he seems to suffer from persistent rage. He also shows that, as usual, he thinks first about himself. Wouldn't it have been better for Hillary, if, on the eve of the last two primaries, as practically everyone -- except her spokesman, Mo Elleithee, her superdelegate counter/enforcer, Harold Ickes, and Clinton spinner/toady Lanny Davis -- has her finally quitting the race for Bill to have just kept his mouth shut.

But when it comes to trying to scrub the tarnish from his legacy, Bill just can't be quiet. He just keeps adding fuel to the fire; calling attention to the fact that the memo released on Sunday from the "office of President Clinton" -- likely written by Clinton's former "butt boy" Doug Band, one of the targets in Purdum's piece, and not a very attractive character in my book either -- ignores the most incendiary of Purdum's insinuations: that Bill Clinton is still philandering.

The former president told Fowler that he had not read the Vanity Fair article. The truth is probably closer to this: one of his aides printed it out for him -- Clinton does not use a computer and, as I describe in detail in my just-published book, Clinton in Exile: A President Out of the White House, aides print out emails and blogs -- and Clinton read it in the middle of the night, likely turning red-faced and furious and doing as he often does; calling FOBS and yelping about the unfairness of it all and refuting the story point by point where possible or even where not possible.

Of course the president broke the cardinal rule of PR 101: don't call attention to an article that rehashes a lot of what was is already out there and would have died on its own. Had Clinton not reacted, Todd Purdum would not have been talking to Wolf Blitzer on CNN. He would not have been repeating the meat of the piece, including the controversial assertion that Bill's bypass surgery on Labor Day, 2004, in essence, messed up the former president's head, and that aides worried about rumors that Bill had been "seeing a lot of women on the road."

Jay Carson, a spokesman for Bill and later the traveling press secretary for Hillary, trashed the article on Sunday night as a "tawdry...attack piece...includes numerous errors." But a day later Carson was conveying apologies for the president's "inappropriate language," including, presumably, the use of the word "scumbag." That was not a great word choice for a man whose biography will always have attached to it the colorful phrase, "bimbo eruption," coined by an Arkansas aide as Bill considered running for president and aides worried abut his alleged zipper problem.

When Bill grabbed the hand of Mayhill Fowler one wonders if he realized that she is the same blogger who recorded Obama at a private fundraiser in San Francisco referring to working class folks who cling to their guns and religion out of frustration. Did Bill think he had a friendly audience?

And is that why he seemed again to stick his expensively clad foot in his mouth, just as the possibility that Hillary could be on Obama's ticket surfaced again. (The attention span in national politics is short; wasn't it just recently that Hillary's comments on Bobby Kennedy's assassination in June 1968 outraged Obama and made it impossible for this ticket to ever come together?) Now comes Bill hitting Obama the Inevitable over the head with Father Pfleger, the Catholic priest and Obama friend from Chicago who mocked Hillary during a sermon/tirade at Obama's now former church, Trinity United.

Did Bill just dash his latest strategy -- that Hillary gets on the ticket as the surest route to the White House. Again, Bill Clinton proves one of my book's central points: that it is always about him.

Showing a tin ear when it comes to himself, he even repeats in his outburst to Mayhill Fowler words that apply precisely to him throughout his public career: Purdum "...ought to be ashamed of himself. But he has no shame."