GREENSBORO, N.C. – Bill Clinton, making a late plea for votes on his wife’s behalf here yesterday, asserted that “academic study after academic study” had shown the former first lady to be the victim of “the most slanted press coverage in American history” during this campaign.
Though it was not clear exactly what studies he was referring to, Clinton appeared especially irked by criticism of the senator’s proposal to offer consumers a summer ‘holiday’ from gasoline taxes. Hillary Clinton had earlier defended the plan earlier in the day during an appearance on ABC’s ‘This Week’ with George Stephanopoulos.
Referring to high gas prices as “an emergency for millions of American families”, the former president protested during a stop in Newton that his wife’s idea had “been roundly criticized by her opponent and all the elite media who say, ‘Oh, this is just pandering to the poor working people at election time.’
“Let me tell you something,” he continued. “I haven’t read a single article accusing her of pandering by somebody who’s having trouble filling up their gas tank. This is a classic illustration of one of Clinton’s laws of politics: whenever you hear someone snootily saying, ‘This is not a money problem’, they are not talking about their own problem.”
The implication – that not just Clinton’s media critics but Obama himself is a snobbish or “snooty” elitist – was hardly accidental.
Clinton’s ardor for the campaign trail is much in evidence at the moment. His Sunday schedule took in six rallies across the Tar Heel State, which, along with Indiana, holds its Democratic primary tomorrow. Today, the former president is expected to address nine such gatherings.
In his appearance on the porch of a private home in Newton and later, speaking in a school gymnasium in Kernersville on the outskirts of Greensboro, Clinton emphasized his own humble beginnings again and again.
“Hillary and I were broke in law school,” he recalled in Newton. “I had six jobs in law school; never more than three at once. I was young and, shoot, I was so dumb, I didn’t think I was poor. I thought I was rich. I could put gas in the car.”
To the sweltering crowd in Kernersville, the former president recalled, down to the cent, what his monthly mortgage payments were on his first house ($174.50), as well as what his salary was at the time ($16,000), and how small the house was (1100 square feet).
And, somewhat oddly, he told both crowds a story that, in emphasizing the importance of higher fuel efficiency standards, also highlighted his purported mechanical expertise.
By way of explaining why his wife had asked him to verify a story she had been told about a car that was capable of getting 100 miles per gallon, Clinton said, “I grew up in the car business. I was under a car when I was five or six years old. That’s back when a real person could still repair his own car. Not like today.”
Sometimes, as when talking about his first house, Clinton struck a gently nostalgic tone. And, in Newton, his irritation at the alleged unfairness of the media was at least leavened by an evident pride in his wife’s tenacity. Protesting about the amount of “ridicule” to which he said she been exposed, Clinton added, “The girl just kept churning on, ‘cos she is in it for the right reasons.”
But at the climax of his appearance in Kernersville, his next stop, he conveyed a more bitter tone. The former president, voice rising, jabbed at those whom he appeared to feel had betrayed Hillary:
“She’s been counted out more times than a cat’s got lives. And people in places like this kept bringing her back. [The pundits] said, ‘Oh, she’s going down in California, all the famous people are against her’. Well, they were and she won by ten points, ‘cause the people who needed a president were for her.”
The same predictions of doom, he added, were made, “in Massachusetts, where both the senators and the governor are against her. They were. But all the people in Massachusetts who needed a president were for her. She won by 15 points.”
In a sharp dig at Obama, albeit one which he has made before, Clinton told the predominantly middle-aged and overwhelmingly white audience, “You just have to decide whether you need a president or a feeling.”
The extent to which Clinton seems to view the current campaign as a referendum on his legacy has been much noted in recent weeks. He continued in a similar vein yesterday, reminding the crowds repeatedly of his record on job creation, poverty reduction and fiscal responsibility.
”I left you with four balanced budgets and surpluses,” he said to applause in Newton, adding of the Bush administration, “They blew it.”
But there were some moments of modesty. The more striking admission came in Kernersville, when the former president said: “I was well qualified to serve in the time in which I was elected. But we are now in two wars.” For that scenario, he suggested, his wife was much better prepared.
The other moment of self-deprecation was more light-hearted.
Reflecting on the role his daughter Chelsea has played on the campaign trail, Clinton told the crowd in Newton, “She’s turned out to be the family’s best politician in some ways.”