Clinton’s anger spurs partisan political passions


Former President Clinton’s angry response to questions about Osama bin Laden has partisans of every persuasion certain it will energize voters in the elections and affect a possible presidential bid by his wife.

Conservatives immediately labeled the interview a prime example of the soap opera that would run daily should another Democrat — say, for example, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton — win the White House.

Not so, countered Democrats. They argued the former president’s feisty dressing-down of Fox News’ Chris Wallace is just the wake-up call the party’s liberal base needed six weeks before the election, a pointed criticism of the Bush administration’s bungled search for bin Laden.

Either way, don’t expect the furor to subside any time soon.

"We should replay that interview as often as possible," chortled Republican strategist Nelson Warfield on Tuesday.

"In this election there’s been a lot of worry among Republicans about whether our base is motivated and is going to turn out to vote," Warfield said. "Nothing motivates the Republican base more than some puffy pontification from Bill Clinton. When he has a little fit on TV, it reminds us of the future that awaits if the Democrats should ever win another national election."

In the exchange with Wallace, the former president contended that, unlike him, the newly installed Bush administration ignored bin Laden until the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

"They ridiculed me for trying. They had eight months to try, they did not try," Clinton said in the interview broadcast Sunday. Clinton also attacked Wallace for a "conservative hit job" by asking about his administration’s failure to get bin Laden.

In the wake of the interview, the Clinton camp denied he had lost his cool.

"That wasn’t a question, it was an accusation," said Clinton spokesman Jay Carson. "He knew exactly what he was doing and we knew exactly what we were going to do if he did that, as we suspected he would. But it’s not what we wanted."

President Bush did not respond directly to Clinton’s charges at a news conference Tuesday, saying, "I’ve watched all this, you know, fingerpointing and, you know, namings of names and all that stuff. Our objective is to secure the country."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice challenged Clinton’s claim that he did more than many of his conservative critics to pursue bin Laden and accused the former president of leaving no comprehensive plan to fight al-Qaida.

On the Democratic side, party chairman Howard Dean praised Clinton for taking on "the right-wing propaganda machine."

Sen. Clinton, often mentioned as the leading Democrat for a 2008 run, said her husband’s fire will help Democrats as they try to take control of the House in November.

"I think my husband did a great job in demonstrating that Democrats are not going to take these attacks," the New York senator, who polls show is headed for easy re-election, said Tuesday.

The former president largely is seen as an asset to his wife if she seeks the Democratic nomination, a potential drawback in a general election in which the name Clinton elicits strong feelings on both sides.

Still immensely popular with the party’s base, he is a key draw at fundraisers and a masterful political strategist. In fact, the heated exchange represented something of a departure for an ex-president who, in recent months, has been largely content to boost his wife’s stature.

"I do believe that if elected she would be magnificent" as president, he told the New Yorker magazine just before she crushed anti-Iraq war activist Jonathan Tasini in a September primary.

There is a lack of agreement on whether the former president really did know what he was up to by taking on Wallace with such vehemence.

Conservative columnist John Podhoretz, writing in Tuesday’s New York Post, called it "the Bubba blowup" and "a full-bore tantrum on the small screen."

But fellow conservative William Kristol, writing Monday for The Weekly Standard, suggested Clinton might have been laying out a battle plan for Democrats to fight Republican charges that they are "unreliable in the war on terror."

And, as Kristol noted, "Hillary Clinton has been having problems with the left wing of the Democratic Party. With this interview, Bill Clinton has the entire left wing of the Democratic Party rallying to him."

Still others say Clinton’s outburst could cut both ways.

"I think he knew what he was doing. And, I think he lost his temper," said Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf, who worked on Clinton’s successful 1996 re-election effort.

Sheinkopf called Clinton’s performance "a two-edged sword" for Democrats, reminding voters of charges that the party is soft on terrorism but also demonstrating that the last Democratic president wasn’t against using force.

"Clinton had no option but to defend the Democrats and defend his performance," Sheinkopf said.

If nothing else, the interview served to again put the other Clinton back in the spotlight at a time when much of the attention has shifted to his wife.

No big deal, said Sheinkopf.

"We’re two years away from 2008," the Democrat said.

Warfield disagreed.

"It’s part of this huge collection of baggage she hauls with her into a national campaign," the GOP strategist said. "Do voters really want to go back into four years of the national soap opera that is the Clintons in the White House?"


Associated Press Writer Devlin Barrett in Washington contributed to this report.


  1. Lori

    If the Clinton White House was a soap opera it is largley because the Republican attack squads made it so with a little help from a Republican Congress.

  2. Barbara Peterson

    I watched President Clinton’s interview on Fox and I think he was entirely within his means to defend himself.

    True what he did while in the White House with the Intern, but wait, she was a consenting adult also, President was wrong, but whose business was it? It was between him, his wife and his God.

    Does anyone remember “Ike” had a mistress and every other President has had “some” on the side? The impeachment of President Clinton was a Republican set up to try to destroy him as being a good leader and a great President. But what happened to Newt? If the truth were really known, there is more “hanky panky” going on than we know. Corruption, surely does corrupt and paybacks are wonderful, especially when you get to watch them as they happen.

  3. Teleri

    It amazes me how so many people can be so stupid.
    Conservatives rant like this ALL the time over any little thing. Yet let Bill Clinton effectively defend himself from the smears & lies those fascist Neo-cons are throwing up all over the political landscape, and WHOA! Did a Democrat have the audacity to raise their voice & expose a lie? How dare they!
    My Goddess. Thank the stars that Bill Clinton DOES speak out. I wish ALL the Democrats would, loudly & vociferously, all the time!

  4. Philip Zepp

    We need another Harry Truman. We need Democrats that are angry and willing to say as my Norwegian grandmother used to say,”Up with bullshit I will not put.”

  5. Philip Zepp

    We need another Harry Truman. We need Democrats that are angry and willing to say as my Norwegian grandmother used to say,”Up with bullshit I will not put.”

  6. Judith Anderson

    Amazing how the reactions to Clinton’s “anger” differ depending on what side of the political fence one is on.

    I saw a brilliant and forceful leader who was justifiably frustrated and annoyed by both the petty idiocy that was obscuring the real issue he had come to discuss, namely his Global Initiative, and the far right efforts in recent weeks to literally rewrite history and present fictions as fact.

    Clinton was not at all out of control, easily shown by the interview that was filmed immediately afterwards with Keith Olbermann.


    What has not been widely reported is the fact that President Clinton still enjoys higher polls than any on the bush administration, including bush and rice. The only one with him (don’t remember if it is higher or same or lower) is laura bush.