September 28th, 2008
07:00 PM ET
10 years ago

Clinton hesitant to call Obama a 'great man'

Bill Clinton said he wasn't ready to call Obama a 'great man'.

Bill Clinton said he wasn't ready to call Obama a 'great man'.

(CNN)– Former President Bill Clinton was hesitant to characterize Barack Obama as a "great man" Sunday, a phrase he had no qualms using last week to describe Obama's rival John McCain.

Clinton told NBC's Tom Brokaw that it was only earlier this month in Harlem that he and Obama had their "first conversation." He said he had spoken with Obama before, but only in passing.

Clinton then explained what he meant in characterizing McCain as a "great man."

"I think his greatness is that he keeps trying to come back to service without ever asking people to cut him any slack or feel sorry for him or any of that stuff because he was a POW," Clinton said of the Republican presidential nominee.

Clinton, who successfully ran his own 1992 presidential campaign on the now commonly used phrase "it's the economy, stupid," said that he believed the current economic crisis "left [Obama] in a position of leadership that he's now in."

Clinton said he thought Obama "saw and imagined" how the economic situation could develop.

"And I think that the rest of us should admire that. That's a big part of leadership, being able to sense, as well as see the future," he said.

Clinton said he and Obama are developing a "really good relationship," and the Democratic nominee has the potential for greatness. Explaining, he said Obama has many personal accomplishments, but none that exemplify his greatness to the country.

"When he becomes president, he'll be doing things for the American people and for the world and he is-and the greatness will then become apparent because of the good he'll do...That's what I very much believe is going to happen."

Some have questioned Bill Clinton's support for Obama following the protracted primary battle between the Illinois senator and Hillary Clinton. The former president praised Obama during his speech at the Democratic National Convention and declared Obama "ready to be president of the United States," as both sides tried to bring an end to the "Clinton-Obama rift" storyline.

Clinton himself was among the most outspoken critics of Obama's readiness during the primary season.

The reason it has taken him so long to hit the trail for Obama was the need for him to return to work on his foundation after the long primary season, Clinton explained Sunday.

He is expected to campaign for Obama in Florida, Ohio, northeast Pennsylvania, and Nevada after the Jewish holidays.

"I'm going to do my very best to do every single thing he asks me to do," Clinton said.

Filed under: Candidate Barack Obama • Extra • John McCain
soundoff (118 Responses)
  1. Selected by hate and division and race card

    Me too

    September 28, 2008 07:48 pm at 7:48 pm |
  2. Jesse from Berlin

    How sore can one be?...
    She was beaten fair and square....
    It was the people who choose Obama...
    He of all people should know better...
    What about party first?

    September 28, 2008 07:48 pm at 7:48 pm |
  3. mama sue

    Does he not even realize that if McCain and Palin win this election, Palin could very well become the first female president? Although, come to think of it, he did nothing but cause trouble for Hillary during her campaign... Maybe there isn't room in their house for two presidents!

    September 28, 2008 07:49 pm at 7:49 pm |
  4. Greg FL.

    They need to send Bill home. His heart isn't in it and he is not helping. It is very obvious that he does not like Obama. And as such is no help to the campaign and may actually be hurting it.

    September 28, 2008 07:49 pm at 7:49 pm |
  5. Lynn: 60 yr old white Obama supporter

    So Obama's greatness lies ahead of the 44th President. CNN left out his explanation of how Obama shows the ability to understand the present and the futrre and to build policy to reflect that vision. Clinton used Obama's health care and energy policy as examples of Obama's intelligence and grasp of the issues.

    To understand Clinton's remarks you really need to listen to the wjole exchange.

    Paul Newman on aging/retiring: "You start to lose your memory, you start to lose your confidence, you start to lose your invention."

    September 28, 2008 07:49 pm at 7:49 pm |
  6. berksdan

    Frankly, whatever Bill Clinton thinks is irrelevant.

    September 28, 2008 07:49 pm at 7:49 pm |
  7. Erik

    Shut up shut up shut up shut up. Do you really want your wife to be president in 2012 more than you want the country back on track?!

    September 28, 2008 07:49 pm at 7:49 pm |
  8. And what is Bill?

    Bill his a little high on himself isn't he?

    September 28, 2008 07:49 pm at 7:49 pm |
  9. Phantom of the Oprah

    On what basis would he call Obama a great man? Obama has done nothing but run a very slick, well funded, dirty campaign.

    Is that what makes him a great man?

    September 28, 2008 07:49 pm at 7:49 pm |
  10. Gorbashov

    What are McCain/Palin trying to hide?

    Release your health records Mr.McCain.

    90 minutes with a few select journalists doesn't do it.

    This is most important given your poor choice of VP nominee!



    September 28, 2008 07:49 pm at 7:49 pm |
  11. Griff

    Barack Obama would have to do something, to earn that name or any other. If he is Elected.. He will.. He will be a Great Disaster!!

    September 28, 2008 07:50 pm at 7:50 pm |
  12. Anon

    Clinton needs to choose sides – REP or DEM – b'cos right now, he's beginning to sound like a REP

    September 28, 2008 07:50 pm at 7:50 pm |
  13. jim

    bill.... I used to think you were a great man... not any more

    September 28, 2008 07:50 pm at 7:50 pm |
  14. alvino

    So the "Keating Kid" is a great man and Obama is not. Do I detect a little jealousy? Even with all her corruption and abuse problems, Sarah Palin may be a better man than McCain.

    September 28, 2008 07:51 pm at 7:51 pm |
  15. Hillary

    Shut up Bill with your Palin sweet talk and go an the campaihn trail for Obama as you indicated doing.

    I don't wanna hear another word about Sarah Palin, ok?

    September 28, 2008 07:51 pm at 7:51 pm |
  16. Karen

    Obama had better keep Bill away! He is such a destructive force, his "non-support" of the democratic candidate so far is beyond hypocrisy. Obama surely does not need such so-called supporters. We can see that Bill has gone down the sewer during the primary, and for him to come out now and say anything good about Obama is sheer dishonesty and he would be made out to be a bigger liar. He has always proven himself to be a selfish jerk, with all his affairs, and is in fact a disgrace to the presidency. His legacy is already down the drain and he should just go away for the sake of the party and for all of us.

    September 28, 2008 07:51 pm at 7:51 pm |
  17. Moon over your 'bammy

    Normally men have to DO great things and prove themselves before they are considered to be "great" men.

    Obama has done NOTHING of merit.

    Obama is a hype of his own creation that has been peddled by a media that has lost its ability to scrutinize.

    September 28, 2008 07:51 pm at 7:51 pm |
  18. Maggie

    Seriously, Hillary reign Bill in- if you are even still remotely married. All of the damaging things he has said during this campaign and his lack of support really lead to one thing- many, many Dems have tired of the Clintons and Hillary can forget about ever being President.

    September 28, 2008 07:51 pm at 7:51 pm |
  19. Silent John

    Seriously, GIVE IT UP ALREADY!

    THis storyline is getting SO FREAKING OLD!



    September 28, 2008 07:51 pm at 7:51 pm |
  20. David Goldman







    September 28, 2008 07:52 pm at 7:52 pm |
  21. Remy

    Bill praised McCain too much. Bill skipped the draft and went to England. If he was against the Vietnam war, how can he praise McCain who involved in the war? Something is missing!

    September 28, 2008 07:52 pm at 7:52 pm |
  22. deborah, WV

    How could he call McCain "a great man"

    Is he ignoring that McCain has run one of the most dirty, misleading and Rove-driven campagins in the history of our country? McCain has done nothing but lie, mislead and divert, not to mention pick one of the least qualified VPs ever!!!

    Gee Bill . . . would you get the knife out of Senator Obama's back!

    September 28, 2008 07:52 pm at 7:52 pm |
  23. elb

    Gary, what are you talking about? Whose throat, exactly, has Obama cut? I was a Hillary supporter, too, but SHE DIDN'T WIN. And no matter WHAT my feelings are about her loss, I (along with every true Democrat) would be SO MUCH HAPPIER to see Obama/Biden in office than the train wreck that is McCain/Palin. Swallow your disappointment and look at which candidate really supports your views.

    September 28, 2008 07:52 pm at 7:52 pm |
  24. IndependentTogether

    Bill Clinton knows that if McCain wins, the country would go even further down the tubes. This, of course, will further cast a positive light on his 8 years as POTUS. Conversely, if Obama wins, there is a potential for the Clinton legacy to appear mediocre, at best. Bill Clinton knows this; that's why he can only offer Obama faint praise, while showering praise on Palin... someone who is clearly unfit to be anywhere near the White House.

    September 28, 2008 07:52 pm at 7:52 pm |
  25. Mel in GA

    Well, I saw this interview and Bill did say that Obama is the kind of leader we need someone that is good at the start and continues to get better......


    September 28, 2008 07:52 pm at 7:52 pm |
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