LET'S DO A THOUGHT experiment: Perhaps Bill Clinton, an experienced and sophisticated politician, knew what he was doing when he made big news by "losing his temper" in his interview with Chris Wallace. Perhaps Clinton's aides knew what they were doing when they publicized the interview by providing their own transcript to a left-wing website as soon as possible Friday evening, and then pre-spun reporters late Friday and Saturday. Maybe it was just damage control. Or maybe Clinton did what he wanted to do when he indignantly defended himself, blasted the Bush administration, and attacked Fox News. What could Clinton have been seeking to accomplish? Three things.
1. Helping Democrats in 2006.
In the Fox interview, and in other recent interviews (Meet the Press, the New Yorker), Clinton has shown himself well aware of Republican efforts (engineered by the dastardly Karl Rove) to paint Democrats as unreliable in the war on terror. Clinton would have known that these were doing some damage to Democrats, and that Bush and Rove have had a few good weeks on this issue. And he would know that the Democrats haven't fought back well (e.g., they're now in a difficult position on the Bush-McCain detainees legislation).
In this interview, Clinton rallied Democrats. He reminded them of their talking points on Bush's alleged passivity in his first eight months in office (remember Richard Clarke!), and on the alleged distraction posed by Iraq from the more worthwhile war in Afghanistan. He nicely laid the predicate for the leaked portions of the National Intelligence Estimate that appeared in the press the next day. If the Bush-Rove war-on-terror offensive stalls out this week (and much of the media is committed to making this happen), and Democrats do well in November, Bill Clinton can take credit, at a crucial moment, for discrediting the terror issue as a mere political ploy, and showing Democrats how "to fight back" and how "to stand up to the right-wing propaganda machine" (in the words of Howard Dean).
2. Helping Hillary in 2008.
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. Some of this solidarity can presumably be transferred to Hillary. And the dangerous move of the left-wing of the party toward Gore and Edwards, and their rise in national and Iowa polls respectively, can perhaps be stopped.
3. Intimidating Critics.
Clinton wants to make it incorrect, or at least impolite, to criticize his record on terror. Chris Wallace stood up to him. Will others? Will his next interviewer raise the same set of questions? Will they be willing to take the criticism of being "conservative hit men" or part of the vast, Fox-centered right-wing conspiracy? Bullying and intimidation sometimes work. Clinton has used both effectively in the past. Now he wants to put out of bounds certain perfectly legitimate and straight-forward questions. Can we debate which party--based on their practice when in power--can better deal with the jihadist/terror threat? No, according to Clinton. That's illegitimate right-wing propaganda. Whose personal reputation benefits from putting such issues out of bounds? Which political party benefits? Which 2008 presidential candidate?
Bill Clinton is a smart (and calculating) politician.