"Ladies and gentlemen, this is an interesting race." So said former President Bill at a campaign rally in Independence, Missouri, on Saturday night, while Barack Obama was cleaning his wife's clock in South Carolina. Well, Bill Clinton has done his best to make the contest more interesting—and more down-and-dirty. Campaigning in South Carolina, he drew Barack Obama into a mudwrestle and sucked up plenty of oxygen. Though Clinton failed to stop a much-anticipated Obama win in the Palmetto State—and might have even pushed voters toward Obama—he certainly helped shaped the race to his wife's benefit. Obama has been campaigning as an unconventional and inspirational leader against a conventional and divisive politician. Yet the ex-president managed to turn the contest into a face-off between two acrimonious camps, which undermines Obama's preferred narrative: a transformational candidate versus a Washington rerun. And today—before the vote-counting began—Clinton compared Obama to Jesse Jackson. It was tough not to read Clinton's remark as an attempt to dismiss Obama as the black candidate who cannot win.
Clinton's hit-man role has peeved some Democrats. Two days ago, Robert Reich, who was Clinton's labor secretary, blogged that "Bill Clinton's ill-tempered and ill-founded attacks on Barack Obama are doing no credit to the former President, his legacy, or his wife's campaign." But should the Clintons care if they lose Reich but gain the nomination?
Short answer: no. But there will be recriminations. Clinton's South Carolina rampage will not be forgotten by Democrats and liberals. And it remains to be seen if B. Clinton will continue his anti-Obama crusade in the coming days, as Supersaturated Tuesday approaches. The day before South Carolina Democrats voted for Obama over Clinton by a two-to-one margin, I asked a senior Clinton campaign aide if the campaign had any reservations about Bill Clinton's actions in South Carolina. This aide looked pained. "He cannot be controlled," s/he said. I remarked that it looked as if Clinton had been deployed in a strategic manner. "Not for some of us," the aide said. But the campaign could have decided not to send him to South Carolina, I noted. "Yeah, Mr. President, we have some important campaign rallies for you to attend in Alaska," the aide replied—sarcastically.