The weird Obama-Clinton relationship

I recommend to you an article on that reports on the latest contretemps between the Obamas and the Clintons—a tricky-track of a relationship if ever there was one.

It describes a phone call from Michelle Obama soliciting advice from Sen. Hillary Clinton about how to raise children while living in the most glaringly public fish bowl in the world: the White House. Odd, on the one hand, that Michelle Obama, who never veiled her venom for Hillary Clinton during the primary contest, would now be soliciting her advice. Maybe not, says

“It’s the latest phase in the ruling-class soap opera that is the Obama-Clinton alliance, where the two first families negotiate new personal relationships as Hillary Clinton wrestles with her own ambivalence about Michelle Obama’s husband, a man she once ridiculed as too callow to govern, and then worked tirelessly to elect.

“These tensions have created a somewhat schizoid relationship between Clinton and the Obamas — warm on personal matters, warier on political ones, and downright frosty on the still-unresolved issue of Clinton’s mountainous campaign debt, which Barack Obama had pledged to help reduce.”

Personally, I believe the Clintons are letting themselves be taken to the cleaners: for them it’s all give and no get. goes on to report something I’ve noted several times: Pres.-Elect Obama still has not helped Sen. Clinton to retire any of her campaign debt—something which was widely reported last spring as part of his pledge to her if she would get out of the nomination race. And during the primary contest Sen. Obama never stood up and chastised the media for making outrageously sexist comments about Sen. Clinton. But as soon as his wife’s reputation was treated unfairly, he stood up immediately and shouted she was off limits.

Then again, it’s a free country and the Clintons can let themselves be used, abused and bruised by their own party for as long as they want. reports Sen. Clinton has already written off her taxes the $13 million she loaned her own campaign during the primaries. Ouch! Double-ouch, given the fact Sen. Obama raised hundreds of millions of dollars in his campaign and helping her raise a bit more to pay off her personal debt is a pittance compared to his ability to draw in funds.

Let’s remember, the Clintons didn’t just support Obama, they hit the campaign trail with tsunami-like force and talked him up until Sen. Clinton went hoarse. There’s still the business of $7.9 million she owes to vendors. Maybe he’ll come through and help her raise the money to wipe out that debt. Doing so would not be an entirely selfless act for him.

If President-elect Obama helps Sen. Clinton, it will make him look not only Clinton-friendly, but more importantly woman-friendly. Woman-friendly is not his style, at least not so far. Remember he apologized to a reporter for calling her “Sweetie” during the campaign? Now his wife’s role as first lady will be, in her own words, “Mom-in-Chief.”

Take Obama out of the equation and this type of behavior seems positively retro. The trial balloon floated by the Obama transition team of ousted Harvard President Lawrence Summers as potential Treasury Secretary was yet another slap to Obama’s multitude of female supporters. You will recall Summers was ousted from that ivory tower post for failing to grant enough women tenure and for blaming gender inequities in the fields of math and science on “innate differences.”

Some of Obama ‘s foremost backers are treating Sen. Clinton pretty standoffishly as well. The Washington Post reported this week when she suggested to the ailing Ted Kennedy she’d like a bigger role in his committee to help in formulating health care policy, she was icily and summarily rebuffed. Kennedy, no backer of women’s rights he, should have drawn on some of his diplomatic skills to handle the situation with more respect toward Sen. Clinton and more aplomb.

Sen. Obama owes women big time. They were his biggest supporters. He could start to repay the favor by treating Sen. Clinton with a bit more of the respect she deserves.

(Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and columnist. E-mail bonnieerbe(at)