Count this among the greatest miscalculations of President Obama’s career: “I’m going to let him speak very briefly,” Obama said Friday, upon introducing Bill Clinton in the White House briefing room for his triumphant, self-adulating return.
Clinton, a former president who still pines for the limelight, did not speak very briefly. He spoke, rather, at length, about the tax cut deal, about Hong Kong stimulus, the Haitian prime minister, green energy investors in Nevada and the number of events he did supporting candidates in the 2010 midterms. “I did 133,” he said.
The idea was to have Clinton come out to show his support for Obama’s tax cut compromise, but Clinton spoke more about himself. Nearly every verb he spoke was preceded by the word “I.” Even his simple statements about his devotion to altruism sounded inappropriately self-referential. “I had quite a good time governing,” Clinton said at one point. “I’m glad to be here because I think the president made a good decision, and because I want my country to do well.” At another point, he put it this way, “I’m out of politics now, except to say I love my country and I want to get this economy going again.”
For the first part of Clinton’s performance, Obama, the current president, who never acts so freely in the briefing room, calling on reporters at will, stood by stoically watching the spectacle. The television cameras cut Obama out of the shot, making it look for most of the world like Clinton was again president, holding forth before the presidential seal.
When a reporter’s question gave Obama a brief moment to take back the microphones, he seemed to move towards them, but Clinton did not give way. So leaning, Obama said that his wife had been waiting for him for a half hour, at a previously mentioned holiday party, and he was going to leave. “I don’t want to make her mad,” Clinton responded. “Please go.” Indeed.
On the substance, Clinton was there to endorse the economic stimulus message that the White House has been sending out in defense of the tax cut compromise Obama has struck with Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell. “This is the best economic result for America,” he said. His arguments had been heard before by everyone in the press room—albeit with less self-referential pronouns—so the historical fact of Clinton’s presence and his clear enthusiasm to back in the briefing room.
“First of all I feel awkward being here,”Clinton said, when he first took the microphone. Nothing could have been further from the truth.