THE BLOG
08/05/2009 09:38 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Bill Clinton, the Comeback Cat

If cats have nine lives then Bill Clinton has at least a dozen.

To borrow a phrase from one of my all time favorite Governors, the late, great Ann Richards from my home state of Texas, there have been many times, over many years, where many of us assumed that you could, "Stick a fork in him," because he was done.

But somehow just like a cat, he's always managed to find his way back.

After surviving countless personal, political and legal battles over the years the "Comeback Kid" moniker he adopted after his surprise showing in the '92 New Hampshire primary now almost seems quaint.

It was not so long ago that historians predicted that the impeachment would permanently tarnish his legacy. But again the "Comeback Kid," came back. Through the Clinton Foundation he not only created an organization doing groundbreaking work on issues ranging from AIDS to obesity, he created a post-presidency identity for himself in the process as a global, goodwill ambassador.

Then once more he stepped in a pile of kitty litter.

It seemed impossible that anything, or anyone, could pose a bigger threat to Bill Clinton's legacy than Monica Lewinsky. Then a Senator by the name of Barack Obama came along.

No one was more surprised than me. As one fellow blogger gleefully reminded me, I devoted an entire chapter to my last book, Party Crashing, to arguing that Bill Clinton had left some impossibly large shoes for future Democratic nominees to fill, particularly when it came to... wait for it... connecting with black voters. I did speculate that then-candidate Obama would definitely move, or elevate the bar (in essence carving out a pair of shoes of his own). But I also interviewed and quoted one anonymous source, who knew both Clintons well, who told me that should the primary get tight, no tactic would be off the table -- including those steeped in racial innuendo.

We all know how things turned out.

Tensions had been mounting throughout the primary but Clinton's infamous South Carolina comment in which he dismissively compared Obama's victory there, to those of Jesse Jackson's previous losing bids seemed to mark a turning point for the man who had been affectionately dubbed "The First Black President."

The wounds were so raw that in a moment that would have seemed unthinkable just a year earlier, the former president found it necessary to proclaim himself "not a racist." (We all know that when you have to say that you might as well be answering the question "When did you stop beating your wife?")

I didn't have high hopes that the "Comeback Kid" was going to stage another grand return, particularly after reading the in-depth (and highly engaging) New York Times Magazine profile of him a couple of months ago. In it he seemed to revert to classic Clinton, circa the Bubba years, and not in a good way. Of his fall from grace with some black voters he said, "None of them ever really took seriously the race rap... They knew it was politics. I had one minister in Texas in the general election come up and put his arm around me... This was an Obama supporter. And he came up, threw his arm around me and said, 'You've got to forgive us for that race deal.' He said, 'That was out of line.'"

That statement reminded me that while there are a lot of qualities to love about Bill Clinton, self-awareness and the ability to acknowledge responsibility for his own actions are not always among them. But perhaps the line in the article that most dashed any hopes of another great comeback were the words of one of his former top aides who said of Clinton's post-election role, "Unless Obama messes up, President Clinton is irrelevant."

Then just like clockwork -- just as we were all beginning to think it was not possible -- "The Comeback Kid" did it again. Much like Jesse Jackson helped redefine himself in the eyes of some Americans by becoming a de facto international statesman, negotiating the release of various captive Americans abroad in the 1980s, President Clinton reminded us all just how relevant he still is, by helping to secure the release of captured journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling in North Korea.

First and foremost I am grateful that these two women, who have been in so many of our thoughts and prayers, are finally coming home. But I am also somewhat in awe that yet again, President Clinton rose to the occasion to remind us of the great leader he has the capacity to be when he allows himself.

He is quite a cat.

www.keligoff.com