07/30/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Is Obama Following Gore and Kerry and Keeping His Distance from Bill Clinton?

Despite the harsh words that passed between 42 and the man who would be 44, Obama has said publicly that there is no one -- except, perhaps, Hillary -- whom he would rather have campaign for him than the former president. Really?

In 2000, Al Gore shunned Bill Clinton, and, in 2004, John Kerry followed suit, albeit more subtly. Hillraiser Susie Tompkins Buell told me when I interviewed her for Clinton in Exile, my book on Clinton's post presidency, that she received a phone call from Senator Hillary Clinton as election day 2004 approached: "I'm really worried....They [Kerry and his team] haven't' called us to help them."

Bill, for one, was otherwise engaged. He was, in a sense, campaigning for his own legacy that summer as he promoted his memoir, My Life. It was no surprise to anyone who knew Bill that he missed his publisher's deadline, and so his book was released in June 2004. Hitting the speech and talk show circuit, he stole a piece of the limelight from John Kerry. Then Clinton's emergency bypass surgery on Labor Day, 2004 forced the former president to the sidelines, until late October when Clinton appeared at a rousing Kerry rally in Philadelphia. By then the Massachusetts senator was headed for defeat.

Now comes "The Proper Use of Bill and Hillary Clinton" from Derek Shearer, a close friend of Bill's since Oxford days with a tangle of personal and family ties to both Clintons. The ties are so intimate that it strikes me that Shearer, today a professor at Occidental College, is not simply speaking his own mind in his Huffington Post, but the Clintons' minds as well, when he warns Obama to recognize immediately that the Clintons are the key to his victory. If Obama fails to unite the party -- the Clintons are the superglue -- he could hand the election to John McCain by losing, Shearer writes, "enough working class white votes and perhaps female be such swing states as Michigan, Florida and Ohio."

Shearer almost scolds Obama for not pouncing immediately on bringing "Bill and Hillary Clinton in from the cold" and making them "essential parts of the fall campaign." Obama "waited almost until the last minute to put in his first call to [Bill] Clinton," Shearer writes. He depicts Bill as acting like a mensh, responding with "warm words, letting the hurts of the primary be bygones." (That was not how others described the conversation in which Obama came off as the supplicant and Bill as cold and sulky) Shearer adds that Obama has "not followed up on that lone call with Bill who is already sending signals in the press that he has not heard from Obama nor from the campaign."

Shearer is equally enthusiastic about Hillary: "She demonstrated an ability to motivate not just females, but most importantly, the white working class base of the Democratic Party." After the meeting between the two rivals at Senator Diane Feinstein's house, Shearer reports, Barack and Hillary have not been talking. (How does he know this or the other insider bit in the paragraph above; did Hillary and/or Bill or Sid Blumenthal tell him?) "Obama should be talking to Hillary every week about the campaign," Shearer adds, "and making clear to her that he wants her and her husband fully engaged come the fall."

Shearer suggests giving each of the Clintons a plane and dispatching them into the "battleground states" to campaign. Leaving the Clintons "on the sidelines," Shearer writes, is a "monumental mistake." The message, he concludes, is, "Yes, we Can -- but not without the Clintons."

It seems likely to me that the Clintons are speaking through Derek Shearer, a trusted friend who worked in Clinton's 1992 campaign as an economics adviser, on the transition, in Clinton's commerce department, and as Clinton's Ambassador to Finland. Derek's sister Brooke is a close-since-college Hillary friend and traveled with Hillary full-time during the 1992 campaign. Later she headed Hillary's White House Fellows program and became a senior advisor to the Interior Department.

Wait there's more! Brooke is married to Strobe Talbott, formerly Time magazine's DC bureau chief and foreign affairs columnist. Strobe and Bill were Rhodes Scholars together and roommates at Oxford. Talbott went on to serve in the Clinton administration as the president's special advisor on Russia and as deputy secretary of state.

Finally -- actually there's much more. but I don't want to send readers into a panic at this post's length -- Derek, Brooke, and Cody are the children of the late Lloyd Shearer who, for more than 30 years, wrote "Walter Scott's Personality Parade for Parade magazine. Lloyd also became a FOB and erected a sign over his guest house, "Bill Clinton Slept here."

Stanley Sheinbaum, a Hollywood activist and fundraiser told me that it was Derek Shearer who, in the late 1980s, first brought the eager Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton over to meet Sheinbaum and his wife Betty, daughter of studio magnate Harry Warner. The Sheinbaums were then at the top of the Hollywood left; Stanley was routinely described as a "democratic kingmaker."

Two of the Shearers -- Derek and Cody -- are friends of former journalist turned super-Clinton-loyalist Sidney Blumenthal. Blumenthal has the Clinton's back and their ears. No one who knows the ferocity of Blumenthal's loyalty to the Clintons would doubt that he is working double time to advance the Clintons' interests.

Obama deciding to just keep doing what he's doing -- and that does not yet include using the irrepressible and unpredictable Bill Clinton as a surrogate -- would not serve those interests. For the Clintons, the worst possible outcome is to watch Obama win without their help.