Wednesday 28 September 2016

The old charmer returns as Clinton scents Oval Office air one more time

Gerard O'Regan

Published 30/07/2016 | 02:30

Bill Clinton came to try and woo the doubters with that well-worn charm deployed in so many battles (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Bill Clinton came to try and woo the doubters with that well-worn charm deployed in so many battles (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

'In the spring of 1971 I met a girl . . . she had big blonde hair, big glasses, wore no make-up, and she exuded this sense of strength and self-possession I found magnetic.

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"I got close enough to touch her back, but I couldn't do it. Somehow I knew this wouldn't be just another tap on the shoulder.''

And so the old charmer was away.

With those evocative opening lines Bill Clinton began his address to the Democratic Party convention this week, as he bid fair to try and transport millions of Americans back through the years.

Relying on his old ploy of creating lyrical word pictures, he sought to traverse a lifetime - returning to the days when he and Hillary were young.

The story has been often told of their fitful early skirmishing in a college library. He was the tousled-haired young man from the Arkansas backwoods; she was the bespectacled and rather mousy middle-class native of Chicago.

They would strike up a partnership - eventually it would become one of the most chronicled marriages in the world.

Despite all the millions of words written about 'Hill and Bill', and the endless speculation fuelled by their many triumphs and failures, nobody can know the secret world which still binds them together.

But there is one thing we do know for sure - the driving ache for political power, the passion which they have shared for so long, is as potent and alive as it has ever been. It is all the more so in ferment now that a return to that gilded place which is the Oval Office seems but a hair's breadth away. Yet much can still go wrong, as so many in the wavering middle ground dither over what they will do on polling day.

So Bill Clinton came to try and woo the doubters with that well-worn charm deployed in so many battles. His message had to be simple, and he would have to beguile - as he has done through much of his life. The blunt truth is that the polls proclaim nearly 70pc of voters do not trust his wife. That's a daunting liability in what could be a touch-and-go election.

Health problems and age have made his once cherubic features gaunt. The Arkansas drawl no longer carries into the longer distance. The once bountiful hair is now sleeked silvery white. There is the faintest tremor in his hands. His convention speech may have been his last big throw of the dice in the world of high-stakes politics.

Soon it was vintage Clinton - playing with the heartstrings, but also with cold strategic political intent. There were other more barnstorming speakers at the convention, most notably President Obama and his wife, Michelle.

What was most remarkable about the whole gathering is that it signalled an end - at least outwardly - to the often bitter private feud which has flared off and on between the Obamas and the Clintons for almost a decade.

Back in 2008, it was Barack Obama, then a kind of new kid on the block, who halted the Clinton juggernaut - and put an end to Hillary's bid for the presidency. It has been well documented that this rejection of his wife made Bill a very sore loser indeed.

The tipping point in that campaign may well have been the decision by the late Edward Kennedy to throw in his lot with the entreaty, rather than the Clintons. This was a decision Bill found particularly hard to take.

Although equally gutted that Obama had outfoxed her in the battle for the White House, Hillary eventually swallowed her pride, and accepted a role as Secretary of State in the new administration.

There have been many reports of low-level tensions over the years. At one point, Michelle Obama was reported to be backing the outgoing vice-president, Joe Biden, to succeed her husband, such was her personal antipathy towards Hillary.

However, all that had changed at this week's convention, and both Mr and Mrs Obama gave rousing renditions as to why another President Clinton is best for America.

Time has obviously healed some of the wounds which began to fester back in 2008. The Obamas are also aware a Clinton presidency will be much more protective of their 'legacy' than the extremism of Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, the election campaign will get more personal and bitter in the coming weeks. The Clintons must brace themselves as a couple for a fight which will be vicious and without mercy.

We've now got more yesterdays than tomorrows, said Bill.

Then he left us with that lingering entreaty: "I hope you'll do it. I hope you will elect her."

Irish Independent

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