Why Bill Clinton Lashes Out

Here’s an interesting bit from Matt Bai’s upcoming New York Times Magazine article (not online just yet) on how Bill Clinton’s legacy has shaped Democratic politics and the current presidential race. Over the past few weeks, Bill has been a bit more aggressivethan usual, most recently telling Charlie Rose that electing Barack Obama would be like “rolling the dice” on America’sfuture. Here’s one reason why:

As he doused his fries in ketchup, Clinton told me that hewas generally more inclined to want to ”pop back’’ at Edwards or Obama thanhis wife was, but he had to remind himself that Hillary was plenty capable of defendingherself. There have been reports in the last few weeks about Clinton’s lashingout at strategists and meddling in his wife’s campaign; insiders say this hasbeen exaggerated, but some of Clinton’s friends and former advisers told methat the attacks from rivals irritate Clinton a lot more now, when they are directedat his wife, than they did when he was running. (”As a candidate, he wasabsolutely bulletproof — it never bothered him,’’ says Paul Begala, one of Clinton’s 1992 advisers.)What he takes even more personally — and should, really — is the unmistakablepremise that underlies the sniping, that somehow his own presidency was bad forthe country and the party.

It’s true: Every time Obama talks about a new generation of leaders or “moving on” or overturning “textbook” Democratic politics, Bill must feel it. That’s why Clinton’s best defense so far has been to say that he was a young upstart once, too: “I was, in terms of experience, was closer to Senator Obama, Isuppose, in 1988 when I came within a day of announcing,” he said in an interview in September. He said he chose not to run that year because “I reallydidn’t think I knew enough, and had served enough and done enough torun.”

In other words, Clinton was the party’s great new hope, too – but he was smart enough to wait. It sounds like he’s defending Hillary. But really, he’s defending himself.