Earlier this month, Barack Obama finally made the pilgrimage to Harlem to officially bow before the Temple of Clinton and ask for Bill’s assistance on the campaign trail.  After a brief meeting, an unusually terse Clinton said he would campaign for Obama in Florida and maybe a few other places.  Apparently that didn’t include CNBC, where the former president talked up … McCain and Palin?

Mr Clinton, acclaimed even by his enemies as one of the most consummate American politicians in recent history, said he did not agree with Republican vice presidential pick Mrs Palin on politics, but warned fellow Democrats not to underestimate her.

“She’s an instinctively effective candidate and with a compelling story,” Mr Clinton said in an interview with CNBC.

“I think it was exciting to some that she was a woman,” said Mr Clinton.

“I think she, I get why she’s done so well. It’s a mistake to underestimate her. She’s got good intuitive skills. They’re significant.”

Mr Clinton said he thought Republican presidential candidate John McCain, a Vietnam war hero and veteran lawmaker, was a “great man” and that the election on November 4 would be close, but he predicted Democrat Barack Obama would emerge triumphant.

That’s not exactly on message, Bill.  Democrats have spent the last three weeks attacking Palin’s intelligence, sanity, integrity, sexual ethics, and maternity.  They want to paint her as a country bumpkin unsuited for running a country. And they’ve managed to succeed a little in doing so, although she still beats Biden in favorability and in one poll topped Barack Obama on experience.

Instead, Bill decided to act more like a political analyst than … well, some of NBC’s own political analysts.  Can you imagine Keith Olbermann or Chris Matthews saying anything like this on the air?  Olbermann would have canned a contributor for saying anything this gracious or this accurate.   Bill may be the only person on NBC’s cable shows to have called John McCain a “great man” in two years.

Was it all just graciousness?  Those who have watched the Clintons operate will be rightly skeptical.  Bill doesn’t have a lot of enthusiasm for Obama for at least one reason and likely two.  The first and least conspiratorial is that Obama hasn’t lifted a finger to help Hillary retire her campaign debt, leaving her holding the bag despite her efforts at the convention.  Second, and more conspiratorial, is that an Obama loss in this cycle leaves the field open for another Democrat to run in 2012 — and the buyer’s remorse the party will feel after an Obama failure can only help boost Hillary’s stock.

Update: Andrew Malcom says this is no accident.