Why Bill Clinton may cheer John McCain

ABC’s Good Morning America caught up with Bill Clinton this weekend while the former president tours Liberia.  They discovered that Clinton still has not recovered from the bruising primary.  It didn’t take much prompting to get Bill to insist that he got smeared in the primaries in a manner that sounds very similar to what happened this week:

In his first broadcast interview since his wife dropped out of the Democratic presidential race, former President Bill Clinton said he still has regrets, and insisted he’s “not a racist,” despite controversies surrounding his comments about Sen. Barack Obama’s win in the South Carolina Democratic primary.

ABC only has a short clip of the interview on line, but here is a longer transcript of Clinton’s response:

Q: Do you personally have any regrets about what you did campaigning for your wife?

A: [Pause, shakes head] Yes, but not the ones you say, and it would be counterproductive for me to talk about it.  There are things I wish I’d urged her to do, things I wish I’d said, things I wish I hadn’t said.  But I am not a racist, I never made a racist comment, and I didn’t attack him personally.

Democrats should take this as a hint that party unity will not be forthcoming, at least not beyond the superficial.  Bill Clinton, at least, has not forgiven his treatment as a racial pariah during the latter part of the primary campaign, nor has his mood improved much.  Neither he nor Hillary have rushed to Obama’s assistance yet, and except for the most cursory of statements of support, the Clintons have almost cloistered themselves over the last two months.

Ironically, Bill may find vindication in John McCain’s pushback on Barack Obama’s race-card play this week.  McCain pounded Obama for the last several days after Obama accused McCain and Republicans for attacking him because he doesn’t “look like all those presidents on the dollar bills … and [he has] a funny name”.  Even his own advisers were forced to acknowelege that Obama wasn’t talking about powdered wigs, and a majority of voters in a Rasmussen poll blamed Obama for smearing McCain.

McCain’s victory on this point should suggest a re-examination of the Bill-as-race-card-player meme of the primaries.  Obama’s attack now looks like a pattern.  He wants to pose as a post-racial candidate, but whenever anyone criticizes him too effectively, Obama retreats behind a my-opponents-are-racists defilade.  Bill can hope that McCain’s victory and exposure of this strategy will retroactively give people a chance to reconsider their previous condemnation of his own behavior.

And the reverse is also true.  Bill’s continued and impassioned defense against these charges help bolster McCain’s efforts this week.  That’s why Clinton told ABC that the conversation would be “counterproductive”, but he couldn’t restrain his anger for very long in the event.  The “post-racial” pose is collapsing, and it benefits both McCain and Bill Clinton.