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

Clyburn On Bill Clinton: African Americans Have Lost A Lot Of Respect For Him

On the Thursday before the Pennsylvania primary, Bill Clinton spoke to a crowd of college students at a gymnasium in Lock Haven. The event was typical of the stops--forty-seven of them--that the former President had made in the state during the seven weeks leading up to the vote. Lock Haven is a small town (pop. 9,000), hours away from Pittsburgh or Philadelphia, and the crowd was modest (half the gym's floor space was empty). Within the campaign, Clinton's enthusiasm for rustling votes in these remote corners was a source of amusement. When I asked what he was doing on Election Day, a Clinton campaign adviser said, "I think he's leading a caravan of Wal-Mart greeters to the polls."...

When Hillary Clinton's Presidential campaign was launched, in January, 2007, her supporters feared that Bill would overshadow her, as he had when they both spoke at the funeral of Coretta Scott King, a year earlier. Now the constant fear is that he will embarrass her. When he makes news, it is rarely a good day for his spouse. Whether he was publicly comparing Barack Obama's primary victory in South Carolina to Jesse Jackson's campaigns in the eighties or privately, and apoplectically, complaining that Bill Richardson broke his word by endorsing Obama, every story has seemed to reinforce an image of Clinton as a sort of ill-tempered coot driven a little mad by Obama's success. "I think this campaign has enraged him," the adviser told me. "He doesn't like Obama." In private conversations, he has been dismissive of his wife's rival. James Clyburn, an African-American congressman from South Carolina, told me that Clinton called him in the middle of the night after Obama won that state's primary and raged at him for fifty minutes. "It's pretty widespread now that African-Americans have lost a whole lot of respect for Bill Clinton," Clyburn said.

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