Published on
the San Francisco Chronicle

Shame on Him


One might think a man who struggled with the definition of "is" and wagged his finger while lying on national television would not be in a position to accuse others of "fairy tales."

But humility and statesmanship are nowhere to be found in the Bill Clinton who attacked Sen. Barack Obama in underhanded and unseemly ways.

The last straw was Clinton's attempt to marginalize Obama's South Carolina victory on Saturday night by pointedly noting that another African American candidate, Jesse Jackson, won there in 1984 and 1988. Funny, when a reporter had asked about the racial dynamics of politics in the state days earlier, a sanctimonious Clinton had snapped, "Shame on you!"

There are signs the former president's attack-dog act may be backfiring. It appears to have helped sway Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., to come off the sidelines to bestow his coveted endorsement on Obama.

Sen. Hillary Clinton admitted her husband may have gotten "a little carried away," blaming sleep deprivation and his commitment "to me and my campaign."

But Bill Clinton's excesses went well beyond one little slip of the tongue. His shots at Obama were sustained, and they were unfair.

He described Obama's characterization of consistent opposition to the war in Iraq as the "biggest fairy tale I've ever seen." He twisted Obama's very accurate characterization of the way Republican ideas dominated the national agenda into suggesting "since 1992, the Republicans have had all the good ideas." Clinton not only distorted Obama's words, the former president conveniently overlooked the fact that, as a candidate in 1992, he had been at least as effusive in his praise of the Reagan legacy.

Bill Clinton also charged - without offering evidence - that Obama had commissioned a "hit job" on him.

Yes, the heretofore soft-focus memories of the Clinton years are coming back in sharper relief for many Americans. Many Democrats could forgive the Clintons' ruthlessness when it was aimed at Ken Starr or Newt Gingrich. Now it's a fellow Democrat in the way of their path back to power.

Most likely, Clinton will dial back his venom out of strategic necessity. But the damage has been done to his stature as an elder statesman. Questions have been raised about what role he might play in a Hillary Clinton administration.

"Buy one, get one free" was a Clinton campaign line of 1992.

It doesn't sound like such a bargain in 2008.

© 2008 Hearst Communications Inc.

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