When it comes to subtly shading President Obama, Bill Clinton just can't help himself

Earlier this week, while speaking at a Hillary Clinton campaign rally in Washington state, former President Bill Clinton asserted that a vote for his wife, Hillary, would help America put “the awful legacy of the last eight years behind us and the seven years before that, where we were practicing trickle-down economics with no regulation in Washington…”

Beg your pardon?

Within hours of its first report, Angel Urena, a spokesperson for the former president, said that Clinton was referring to “Republican members of Congress” who “made it their number one goal to block Mr. Obama at every turn.” By the first day’s end, Clinton supporters on social media were citing Urena’s explanation as if it was the actual quote.

The problem with Urena’s defense is that Bill Clinton is a brilliant former lawyer, policy wonk and orator.

As a trial lawyer, I know that the best orators rarely slip-up rhetorically; rather, each word is carefully measured even when coming off the cuff. As such, I suspect that this was either a Freudian slip or a bold declaration of his true feelings.

The problem with the right wing conspiracy theory is that the words came from Clinton’s mouth — period. Clinton very easily could have said “the awful legacy of eight years of Republican obstruction.” But he did not say that, and the very fact that he continued by also chiding “the seven years” under George W. Bush could lead one to conclude that deep down inside, Clinton is still unhappy about the results of the 2008 Democratic Primary where the upstart Barack Obama defeated not only his wife but his own legacy.

Yes, we all know that Hillary Clinton eventually conceded defeat back in 2008 and upon making peace with Obama later served one term as Secretary of State. But lest we forget the bitter war that the two waged in that primary — one in which both Clintons injected race early and often once it became clear that Bill, the so-called “First Black President” as Pulitzer Prize winner Toni Morrison once quipped, had lost control of many black Democratic power brokers who had abandoned his wife to support Obama.  

Indeed, some supporters of Hillary Clinton may have planted the seeds for what we now know as the “Birther” movement, which sought to depict Obama as “foreign.” Earlier, Bill Clinton tried to dismiss Obama’s victory in the South Carolina primary as being no more significant than Jesse Jackson’s symbolic victory during the 1988 primary.  

As many Clinton supporters have noted, over the past few months, both Clintons have heaped praise upon Obama. The problem is that they had no choice but to when considering that for Hillary Clinton to win the Democratic nomination, she would need overwhelming support from black voters.

But now that the heavily black Democratic states are past, is the old political leopard, Bill Clinton, showing that his spots have not changed? Is “Brother Bill” the same man who can don shades and play the saxophone on the Arsenio Hall show one minute, only to compare Sista Souljah’s comments following the Rodney King riots to KKK leader David Duke in an effort to show that he would frown upon “urban” (read — black) crime the next minute?

Is Clinton the same man who tears up while expressing his love for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr one minute only to praise his “mentor,” segregationist Arkansas Senator William J Fulbright — an ardent King opponent — the next? Is Clinton the same man who discusses the impact that poor blacks had on him as a child growing up in Hope, Arkansas, one minute, only to sign legislation that played upon white fears of “black” crime to lock up tens of thousands of poor blacks who also were impacted by his push for welfare reform?

Understanding this history of duplicity, it makes perfect sense to question what Clinton meant by his “awful legacy” comments with respect to the last eight years. But curiously, the push back from Clinton supporters has been so strong that I suspect that neither Bill Clinton nor Hillary will be forced as Barack Obama was in 2008 to have a “Jeremiah Wright” moment, one in which they’d have to come clean about their past racial slights, acts or comments.

Chuck Hobbs is a trial lawyer and award-winning journalist who resides in Tallahassee, Florida. Follow him on Twitter @RealChuckHobbs