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Editor's letter: A wary friendship

Four years ago, Barack Obama publicly disdained Bill Clinton’s small-beer politics, vowing to be boldly “transformational” like Ronald Reagan.

They don’t like each other much, yet are bound together by a plot worthy of Shakespeare. Barack Obama: the reluctant politician who loves mankind but, according to other Democrats, finds most people irritating. Bill Clinton: the most natural politician of our era, a flaming extrovert who radiates warmth, craves attention, and leaves any gathering only when he’s dragged away. Four years ago, Obama publicly disdained Clinton’s small-beer politics, vowing to be boldly “transformational” like Ronald Reagan. It was one of the many wounds Clinton nursed after Obama came out of nowhere to edge out his wife in the 2008 primaries. But as Ryan Lizza reports in The New Yorker this week, these two proud, headstrong men have recently developed a wary friendship. Humbled, and with his presidency on the line, Obama asked Clinton to make the critical nominating speech at the convention this week, hoping he could work his old magic with white, middle-class voters.

The Big Dog’s satisfaction must be deep. Shortly after he left office, in 2001, his approval rating plunged to 39 percent; the pardons he issued to donors and cronies appalled even those who defended him during Monica. But after a dozen brutal years of recession, war, and deficits, the Clinton years gradually took on the gauzy glow of nostalgia. Today, Clinton is the country’s most popular living politician, with an approval rating of 66 percent. What people remember is the booming economy, and an actual surplus in his final budget. Obama’s campaign slogan may be “Forward,” but it has a new, retro subtext: If you put me back in the White House, he’s saying, I’ll give you a third Clinton term. Who said politics isn’t entertaining?

William Falk

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