For a man who successfully campaigned for the presidency twice, you have to marvel at Bill Clinton’s lack of message discipline (or any discipline, for that matter). During the 2008 presidential campaign, Bill was a consistent thorn in Hillary’s side, what with his pronouncement that Barack Obama was “playing the race card” against him and his characterization of the presentation of Obama’s record as “the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen.”
Back then, the pop psychoanalysis of Clinton was that he couldn’t handle the idea of Hillary in the White House, occupying the spotlight that was rightly his, and was thus subconsciously serving up self-destructive rhetoric to dampen her prospects for beating Obama. This theory wasn’t particularly plausible given the Clintons’ joint lust for power and the fact that it violated Occam’s Razor — which would have instructed us that Clinton is simply impulsive and egotistical.
In 2012, the analysis seems to have become inverted. Last week, Clinton praised Mitt Romney’s time at Bain Capital on CNN, calling his record “sterling.” Then, earlier this week, he told CNBC that there is nothing much wrong with private equity, that the country is in “recession,” and that the Bush tax cuts should be extended, even for high earners (he’s walked back that latter part since). Putting Clinton back on the couch (never a safe place to be with the former president), the armchair shrinks are now speculating that Clinton’s eruptions owe to a desire to undermine Obama and set the stage for another Hillary presidential run in 2016.
Allow me to offer another, less convoluted thesis. Clinton knows that his presidency was historically inconsequential. Apart from his impeachment scandal, the only notable occurrence of his time in office was the expansion of the economy — not small ball to be sure, but also largely the product of co-opting Republican ideas on spending and deficit reduction, balanced budgets, welfare reform, tax cuts, and free trade. Still, it’s what Clinton hangs his hat on and it gives him an opportunity to sneer at Obama’s economic shortcomings, a pastime he no doubt has enjoyed ever since candidate Obama gave the Clinton Administration’s legacy short shrift during the 2008 campaign. So, if you’re Bill, why not take your affection for the business world out for a spin every once in a while just to rub it in Barack’s face?
Clinton’s habit of repeatedly undermining Obama is not evidence of a Freudian ego orchestrating a brilliant Machiavellian plot to install his wife back in the White House; It’s simply the product of an id that has broken its leash, relentlessly and uncontrollably attempting to establish Clinton as the alpha dog of the modern presidency. As we should all know by now, the former president is motivated more by desire than by reason.
This is not the work of a grand strategist. This is a sort of cry for help from a man so insecure that he needs constant validation even after eight years in the White House. He is to be pitied.