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?
In the space of less than a week, Clinton deftly undercut Obama on Bain, the economy, and taxes. All he has to do now is question the timing of the end of the Afghanistan surge or point out the billions taxpayers lost on GM, and then all Obama will have left is, "I killed bin Laden with my bare hands. Gutsy call, I know."
But what can Obama do? Call Clinton out? Ol' Billy Boy is still a team player, dutifully campaigning in Wisconsin where even Obama dared not tread. The president needs Clinton's fundraising prowess going into the fall, too. And then there's that little issue where Mrs. Clinton still serves as Obama's own secretary of state. Clinton is a thorn in Obama's side and there's no way to pluck him out.
Since I brought her up, let's speak a little more about Hillary. She says her days in politics are over, and I believe her. But that might not be the fate Bill has in mind for her. So, let's assume that Bill is setting up Hillary for another run at the White House in 2016. Would she make a better follow-up act to another failed Obama term? Or would she fare better against Romney, who could end up presiding over an economy not much better than Obama's?
Marital conspiracy theories aside, I think Clinton understands the damage Obama has done -- is doing -- to the Democrat brand. Another four years of this SCoaMF behind the Resolute desk, and it might be a generation before the Donks are trusted by the voters again with anything more complicated than a shoe horn.
Clinton is the master of irritating his enemies. It just so happens that right now Clinton's main enemy is Barack Obama. Romney could win the White House for the Republicans for four or eight years, sure. But Obama has already pissed away "the permanent Democratic majority." He's caused millions of voters to stop identifying themselves as Democrats. His hard-left policies have led to big Republican gains in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New York and many other bedrock Democrat constituencies. There's no telling how much more damage Obama could do, given four more years. I was only half-joking back in 2009, when I called Obama "the Manchurian President." Even people on the Left agree.
Don't look for Obama's irritation to go away any time before November, because that's just Clinton doing what he thinks is best for his party. And don't forget to point and laugh every time that irritation flares up and turns red.