The Slick Genius of Slick Willie
"When your enemy is angry, irritate him."
There are differing versions, even different attributions, of that dictum, probably because of its timeless truth. An angry enemy makes mistakes. An annoyed and angry enemy will flip out. And nobody was better at annoying the angry than Bill Clinton -- even if he had to first make them angry himself. While president, Clinton thrived on making conservatives and Republicans angry. Red-faced, spittle-covered mad. Clinton, written off for dead at the end of '94, coasted to reelection just two years later, thanks in no small part to his ability to irritate the Right.
I watched him do it to the GOP -- to me! -- almost daily for eight years. I knew exactly what he was doing, and why. And yet I still fell for it. Every time. Almost all of us did. You gotta bow to the master.
You can imagine then that the West Wing must be reeling this week, after a series of irritating little shivs Clinton slid into their backs over the last few days.
It's no secret that Clinton isn't exactly a big fan of President Obama's. Clinton might be the master of making other people mad, but he himself was red-faced pissed off after Team Obama accused him of racism during the 2008 primary fight. And for good reason, too. My personal take is, that was the moment the Race Card lost its trump. Playing it on Clinton, our "first black president"? Dumb move, Barack.
And now comes the payback.
Obama attacked Mitt Romney's record at Bain. Clinton said his record there was "sterling." Oh, Clinton said it ostensibly in the course of explaining why Romney shouldn't become president -- but the real message was heard loud and clear.
Obama wants us to believe that the economy is improving, that we're on track, that we must move "forward." So Clinton said we're already back in a recession.
Obama wants the Bush tax rates for the wealthy to expire. Clinton wants to extend all the Bush rates for a year. He later "clarified" and explained he only wanted to keep the Bush tax rates for everyone but the wealthy -- but the clarification never carries as much weight as the original statement. And Bill Clinton doesn't make a whole lot of misstatements during an election fight.
After all that, Clinton is brash enough to claim ignorance. About that "sterling" comment, he had the chutzpah to tell Judy Woodruff, "I didn't have any idea, when I was giving that answer, that I was wading into some controversy in the campaign, because I haven't seen the ads, and I'm not following it, and I'm not really part of it." The man who rivals Michael Barone for the breadth and depth of his up-to-the-minute knowledge of politics and policy doesn't know of Obama's main line of attack?