Bill Clinton’s back, and it isn’t a pretty picture. In his post-heart-surgery incarnation, now shed of his Burger King baby fat, he’s as lean as he is mean. His more sharply chiseled face, his tighter jaw line, his taut neck, his thinning snow-white head of hair, his unusually long and pointed fingers, his icy blue squint all better reflect the more jagged shards of his political soul.
Slick Willie, hell. This is more like Bill the Nut Cutter. More like the Clinton I first met in ’92 on the campaign plane out of New Hampshire. Having survived his on-camera lying about Gennifer Flowers and shortly after executing a mentally retarded Arkansas prisoner to show his political toughness, Clinton had the chutzpah to proclaim himself “the comeback kid” after finishing second — with 25 percent — in the Granite State primary. But on the plane out of Manchester, heading south, there was none of the schmaltzy graciousness that he would ladle onto the American people for the next eight years. Behind those closed doors on the 737 — never mind the press filling half the seats — he angrily raged at and berated his campaign staff for some mistake or other I can no longer recall.
That was Bill Clinton the candidate, mercilessly fighting for political survival. Now it’s Bill Clinton the ex-president, ripping out the hearts and kidneys of anyone littering the bumpy path to Hillary’s nomination.
So there he was last Friday night on The Charlie Rose Show, now fully untethered, wildly captaining the Hillaryland torpedo boat on what was hoped to be a final search-and-destroy mission. With an intimidated Rose rendered impotent and unable to control or even blunt Clinton’s verbal fusillade, it was an unabashed hour of political bashing aimed directly at Barack Obama, who was last seen in Iowa about four to five points ahead of Hillary.
Everything about that hour with Bill reminded me of my visceral disgust with the Clintons. First and foremost, there was the shameless fear mongering. To ask whether America was ready to nominate Obama, Clinton warned as he wagged that infamous finger at Rose, was to ask if America was ready to “roll the dice.” Clinton continued, referring to Obama, “It’s less predictable, isn’t it? When is the last time we elected a president based on one year of service before he’s running? What do you want to do — whether you think it matters that, I mean, in theory, no experience matters. In theory, we could find someone who is a gifted television commentator and let them run. They’d have only one year less experience in national politics . . .” Which also means Clinton, per usual, was lying.
Obama has held elected office since 1996, first serving as a state senator. It’s true he only came to the U.S. Senate in 2004. But Hillary, by contrast, wasn’t elected to any office until 2000 — and only because she rode the coattails of her then-chubby hubby (or, perhaps more accurately, her hubby with a chubby).
That was all merely the warm-up for the full-size whopper Bill then threw on the table. “Even when I was a governor and young and thought I was the best politician in the Democratic Party, I didn’t run the first time. I could have . . . ,” Clinton said, referring to the 1988 campaign. “I knew in my bones I shouldn’t run — that I was a good enough politician to win, but I didn’t think I was ready to be president.”
What we all know now, after an avalanche of Clinton biographies, is something quite different. Indeed, Bill was dying to run in 1988, but his handlers were too worried about the inevitable “bimbo eruptions” and had not yet devised a counterstrategy. And at the time, Clinton was 42 years old — four years younger than Obama is today. And while he had served multiple terms as governor of his backwater state, Clinton had little if any national profile. What exactly was it about ordering around Arkansas state troopers to arrange one’s afternoon trysts that adequately prepared one to be commander in chief? Indeed, it’s a looming question whether Clinton would have ever been elected in ’92 if Ross Perot hadn’t bitten so deep into the Republican electorate by eating up 19 percent of the vote.
But back to Big Bill’s main point. His statements on Charlie Rose disclose a much more intimate knowledge of rolls in the hay than rolls of the dice. I don’t want to get too technical here, but a dice throw is actually one of the safest bets in any casino. The house has only a razor-thin, 1 percent advantage in craps, a great deal for the player compared to almost any other casino game. What Clinton should have said, if he wanted to really spook the viewers, is that nominating Obama would be a dangerous “spin of the wheel,” as it is roulette that offers odds five times more perilous to the player than an innocent game of craps.
But Clinton’s use of his dicey metaphor ought to allow us to compare the risks of electing Hillary with trying to hit an eeyoo-11 on the come-out roll. Is she really better than a 50-50 chance not to embroil us in another war? Not to fail again on health care? Not to succumb to the power of special-interest lobbies? Are you convinced enough to put some money down? I’ll let you decide which level of risk you’re more comfortable with. I, for one, would rather roll the dice.