As the story goes, Bill Clinton was chatting up Ted Kennedy, laying on the Big Dog charm in hopes of convincing Kennedy to endorse Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primaries.
And this Barack Obama character?
“A few years ago, this guy (Obama) would have been carrying our bags,” Clinton reportedly told Kennedy, who reportedly repeated the story to the late Tim Russert, who in turn told the story to Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker, who in turn wrote about it.
It’s hard to know if the story is true, since Clinton’s not talking and the other two men involved are now dead. (Back in the ’90s, that alone would have been enough to touch off a conspiracy theory.) But the story does sound plausible; it does sound like something one old pol, seeking common ground with another old pol, might say as a way of dissing a young up-and-comer.
That was what made last night’s speech in Charlotte so striking. Bill Clinton is a proud and at times prickly man. He doesn’t like to feel himself “managed,” and he doesn’t like playing second fiddle to anyone with the possible exception of his wife, Hillary, who played that part herself for many years and to whom he owes a lot.
But at that podium last night, Clinton stepped up and volunteered to carry Barack Obama’s baggage for him. He even went so far as to publicly unpack that baggage, piece by piece, putting each item in its proper place, before returning it, now much lighter, to its owner. And he seemed eager to do it. It wasn’t a dutiful act; he took joy in doing it.
We all know Clinton is a powerful, engaging speaker. That part of last night’s performance wasn’t a surprise. But what made the speech work so well was the full-throated commitment behind it. It was an act of somewhat humble service by a not-so-humble man, an act of service to his party and in his mind to his country.
As he kept telling his audience, “this is important … you all got to listen carefully to this, this is really important.” And it worked because he believed it. Whatever credibility Clinton has with the American people, he put it all on the line, without reservation, on behalf of Barack Obama. That’s the part I did not expect.
– Jay Bookman