Bill Clinton’s Rhetorical Follies

Via CBS News: Did Bill Clinton Call Obama Unpatriotic?, Obama Campaign Official Criticizes Former President’s Comments, Comparing Him To McCarthy

The former president told a group of veterans Friday in Charlotte, North Carolina: “I think it would be a great thing if we had an election year where you had two people who loved this country and were devoted to the interest of this country. And people could actually ask themselves who is right on these issues, instead of all this other stuff that always seems to intrude itself on our politics.”

How that statement can be construed as anything other than an attempt to fan the flames of the Wright situation (as well as trying to draw on Michelle Obama’s comments a few weeks back) is beyond me. The thing that I find interesting here, is that such comments play into a narrative that will be of substantial advantage to Republicans should Obama win the nomination. They are also the kinds of comments likely to alienate Obama supporters who may well sit-out the race if Hillary eeks out the nomination.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. yetanotherjohn says:

    Spell it out how this is an insult to Obama? I don’t see it.

  2. tom p says:

    As one who is quick to notice the “soft racism” with which the Clinton campaign is inflicted, I too am hard pressed to find the above statement objectionable.

    Not that there is not an objectionable interpretation, just that one has to be overly sensitve to give that particular interpretation the weight of “truth”.

  3. graywolf says:

    If any campaign is racist, it is Osama (oops, OBama),
    Any criticism of the Obamessiah is met with charges of “racism.”
    Geraldine Ferraro is as racist as Michelle Obama is pro-American.

  4. Actually, I didn’t mention racism at all…

    The issue would be patriotism here, not race.

  5. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Let me see, Steven. Obama has, for 20 years attended a church where a black nationalist preacher cut from the same cloth as Malcom X, honors Louis Farakhan and at least once gave a sermon where he asked God to damn America. Where I come from, that would get your ass kicked. Patriot??? I think Obama is for something other than what America is.

  6. Michael says:

    Spell it out how this is an insult to Obama? I don’t see it.

    Seriously? Okay, if you really need it.

    1.) Bill is campaigning for Hillary to win the Democratic Nomination
    2.) Presumably the “it would be great” implies a Hillary victory, based on #1 above.
    3.) If “you had two people who loved this country” is contingent on #2 above, then the implication is that without #2 above you will not have two people who love this country running for President.
    4.) Since there is no indication that McCain will either not be the GOP candidate or stop loving this country if Obama is the Democratic nominee, and there is no indication that anybody other than Obama will be the nominee if Hillary doesn’t win, then #3 above directly implies that Obama does not love this country.

    Clear enough for you?

  7. Clovis says:

    See Michael, I read it as Clinton saying that the respective nominees would be the two people, whether or not Hillary was one of them, and calling for an issues election.

    Read that way there is no need to presume or infer or deal with contingencies. Frankly, it seems a rather tortuous way to go for very little payoff other than a McCarthy shot.

    Of course, I’m just going by the cherry-picked, out of context statement above. I thought context was supposed to be important, but no one has linked to anything more than that statement. A transcript would be nice, but my lunch :30 is just about over. If you find one and read it, please post again with the context. Thanks.

  8. Michael says:

    See Michael, I read it as Clinton saying that the respective nominees would be the two people, whether or not Hillary was one of them, and calling for an issues election.

    Since the Democratic nominee will almost certainly be one of Hillary or Obama, had Bill actually meant either one he would have said “will be” instead of “would be”. Given how good Bill is at parsing words, I think this was a very deliberate distinction that he’s making.

  9. yetanotherjohn says:

    Michael,

    The only way I can see your interpretation makes sense is if there really was a case against Obama’s patriotism. Do you know something the rest of us don’t?

    If I say that it would be really great to see two people who are truly in love when my son marries, does that perforce mean that if he married someone other than his current girlfriend they could not be ‘truly in love’?

  10. Michael says:

    The only way I can see your interpretation makes sense is if there really was a case against Obama’s patriotism.

    I don’t see how the implications of Bill’s comments would in any way depend on the accuracy of those implications.

    If I say that it would be really great to see two people who are truly in love when my son marries, does that perforce mean that if he married someone other than his current girlfriend they could not be ‘truly in love’?

    If you honestly believed that the current girlfriend was “truly in love” with your son (and vice-versa), you would say “It will be” instead of the conditional “It would be”. If you used the conditional “would be” when discussing their engagement, the implication is that the current situation doesn’t meet the “truly in love” condition.

    To give a slightly clearer example, the phrase “It will be great to have a sunny day tomorrow” tells someone you’re looking forward to a guaranteed outcome. However, saying “It would be great to have a sunny day tomorrow” tells them you’re hoping for a specific, but not guaranteed, outcome.

  11. Clovis says:

    Since the Democratic nominee will almost certainly be one of Hillary or Obama,

    No Gore?

    Seriously, I think this may have struck you in a way that was not intended. Lord knows I like to beat up on former Pres. Clinton, but I just don’t see anything McCarthy-ite in this. In a way, it is pro-Obama by saying that we should go with issues instead of gnawing the closeted skeletons.

    The words hold just as true if Obama takes the nomination, as they do if Hillary ekes out a win. You seem to be looking for a reason to be outraged! and rationalizing it with labyrinthian constructions of what was an off-the-cuff response.

    Take two steps back, have a beer, then re-read it assuming good faith (even though that is difficult to do with the Clintons) and you might understand that some could see it differently.

    Hoping you keep well, Clovis

  12. yetanotherjohn says:

    The question on patriotism would make sense if Obama was sensitive to charges of not being patriotic because he was in fact not patriotic. If so, then you reading an insult where none was given would make more sense. Absent that, you are having to pull the logic out of kilter to make your case.

    Absent any particular election year of candidates, Bill has said a true thing. It would be “a great thing if we had an election year where you had two people who loved this country and were devoted to the interest of this country. And people could actually ask themselves who is right on these issues, instead of all this other stuff that always seems to intrude itself on our politics”. I could apply that statement to every election in my life time and every upcoming election. It would be great.

    At the same time, I don’t think I have seen such an election and I doubt I will truly see it. Regardless of who is running. Now Steven Taylor seems to see bogey men under the rhetorical bed that this is a direct attack on Obama via Wright and his wife. If you believe that, then the reason for the speculative ‘would’ vs ‘will’ is proved there. Some of the ‘other stuff’ has already crept in.

    If Clinton had gone the other route and said ‘will’, then at best he would have been naive and at worse lying (something he knows a bit about).

    To turn this simple truth (‘it would be great if’) into an attack on the patriotism of Obama shows a paranoia that is almost breathtaking.

  13. Michael says:

    The question on patriotism would make sense if Obama was sensitive to charges of not being patriotic because he was in fact not patriotic.

    There has been no shortage of people questioning Obama’s patriotism over petty things like flag pins, you know that as well as I do. Something doesn’t have to be true to be used as an attack on a candidate, your implication that any attack is only an attack if it is true is naive, more naive than I believe you are, so I can only assume you’re being disingenuous.

    Absent any particular election year of candidates, Bill has said a true thing. It would be “a great thing if we had an election year where you had two people who loved this country and were devoted to the interest of this country.

    And it would be great if you could hold an intelligent conversation too.