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. AP

    Jesus, Bill. Just shut up already.

    September 28, 2008 07:52 pm at 7:52 pm |
  2. Too funny

    I guess having no track record of achievement, but just being able to deliver a scripted speech well is now enough to designate one a "great man"

    September 28, 2008 07:52 pm at 7:52 pm |
  3. chris

    Bill Clinton seems to forget his own humble beginnings, no one would have called him a great man before he was elected president,
    and unfortunately for him because of his loose morals and now petty jealousy chances are no one ever will.

    September 28, 2008 07:53 pm at 7:53 pm |
  4. Charles

    Clinton is the new Joe Lieberman.

    Is he off his meds the past two weeks?

    This campaign is bizarre enough with MCCain's errattic behavior , now we have Bill Clinton going over the edge too?

    September 28, 2008 07:53 pm at 7:53 pm |
  5. Ted

    Earth to Bill. your country needs you, Obama needs you. Stand up and be counted . McCain and Palin would run the country into the ground and yes in 4 years Hillary might have another chance. But after 4 years of those two even Hillary is no magican. You have helped people all over the world and now in their time of real need its time to help the American people, and elect a president who a least has a chance of leading us through some hard times. There is so much lies and spin coming out of the McCain camp I hear an amusement park wants to name a ride after them the McCain Spin.

    September 28, 2008 07:53 pm at 7:53 pm |
  6. Andy in Charlotte, NC

    Clinton is hurting his party's nominee. His wife didn't run a successful campaign, although she was tough and inspired a lot of people. He should leave it at that.

    And "without ever asking people to cut him any slack or feel sorry for him or any of that stuff because he was a POW"??? What is he talking about? All McCain talks about is his POW experience!! This whole election is driving me nuts. I can't wait until it's over.

    September 28, 2008 07:53 pm at 7:53 pm |
  7. mitch

    media trying to divide the party,again. obama up in polls, media construes the remark , to influence the election. obama is a very good man, and i'm sure he will make an even better president than bill was. for one thing , barack has morals.

    September 28, 2008 07:53 pm at 7:53 pm |
  8. Michael, watching from Canada

    CNN!!! What a dumb topic to highlight?

    Isn't it too early for anyone to say that Obama is a great man?

    Obama is still the Democrat's nominee for President? Wait until he has served as President and then ask Clinton the question!!!!!

    In the meantime, why doesn't someone teach McCain that the surge was a tactic!

    While the surge of some 30,000 American soldiers certainly put more American boots on the ground in neighborhoods from Anbar province to Baghdad to "clear, hold and build" them and was clearly an important element in the sharp decline in violence in the country, there are several other key underlying tactics that tamped down the mayhem in Iraq:

    • First, the appearance in 2006 of the various "Awakening" movements, in which Sunni tribes once allied with al Qaeda turned against it.

    • Second, the implementation of the Sons of Iraq program consisting of some 100,000 Sunni militants, many of whom used to be shooting at American soldiers, who are now on the U.S. payroll. Now that's a surge!

    • Third, the previous ethnic cleansings in Iraq and the millions of Iraqi refugees who have fled their homes, meaning there are fewer potential targets of sectarian violence.

    • Fourth, the large size and increasing efficacy of the Iraqi army and police, some 550,000 strong, who are now beginning to operate with some level of professionalism.

    • Fifth, the increasingly nonsectarian approach of Nuri al-Maliki, the Shia prime minister, who has taken on Shiite militias in Basra and Sadr City, an important signal that the government will act in something like the national interest.

    • Sixth, the cease-fires ordered in the past year or so by the leader of those Shia militants, the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose position in Iraq has weakened significantly since 2007.

    These other tactics helped make the surge successful.

    September 28, 2008 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  9. Jesse from Berlin

    I think I´m getting sick of all this POW Bull.......
    I don`t think he´s the only one to through such things...
    MCcain is the the old Uncle who always tell the same war story everyday... We´re just getting tied of it...
    MCcain should just move on..

    September 28, 2008 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  10. Copperfield

    With friends like these...

    September 28, 2008 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  11. No Hillary = No Obama

    Well, he's not a great man. What is so great about Obama, will somebody please explain this fascination with this guy? He sits in a racist church for 20 years listening to a pastor and mentor who spews hatred toward America and Whites; he can't bother to raise his arm to say the pledge of alligence; he doesn't wear a flag pin and he's in the senate, his wife uses patriotism as a commodity – not proud until her husband becomes a rock star and then all of a sudden finds herself surrounded by American flags and as Sarah Pallin told us, has done jack squat in the senate. He's nothing more than a wannabe, promoted by the liberal media, a talker. Bill Clinton should sit this one out – he really doesn't think much of Obama either – he just can't say it.

    September 28, 2008 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  12. Shane

    He so wanted to be first husband...

    September 28, 2008 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  13. Yvonne

    Does Bill have to be on the campaign trail?

    September 28, 2008 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  14. Annamica, OH

    Well I'm glad he isn't a sell out to the outrageous schemes the DNC has undertaken this time around. I would never call Obama a great man either.

    September 28, 2008 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  15. Dawn Lancaster

    Bill knows what he's doing. Trust him.

    September 28, 2008 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  16. olier

    Stop lying bill! You know you are holding out hope that Obama loses so your wife can run in four years. If I were Obama I'd keep an evil eye on Bill Clinton because at this point, I do not trust him.

    September 28, 2008 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  17. Too true

    Bill has disregarded the National memo to kiss Obama's A*s- and he has not fallen prey to the media hype.

    Good for Bill.

    Obama has not yet done anything of merit. When he DOES accrue a resume of achievement- then and ONLY then can he be worthy of the title "great man".

    So far we only have promises and speeches.

    September 28, 2008 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  18. Jeremy

    Bill Clinton did great things for this country and indeed the entire World. He left behind a strong Economy with over $400billion surplus. The whole World was safer/peaceful and indeed our country was dozen times better than it is today.
    We voters do understand his reserved feelings towards Barack Obama. It was bruishing in primaries but Bill is strong enough to move on. Let no one dought his support for Obama. He would be silent like Jimmy Carter and many others if he believed negative towards Obama. REMEMBER BILL TOOK OVER DEFICIT FROM THE SENIOR G BUSH WHO ALSO (LIKE HIS SON) SCREWED THINGS UP!


    September 28, 2008 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  19. jojodancer1119

    Clinton, your star has faded!!!!!

    September 28, 2008 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  20. Jen

    There' s NOTHING great about the big, purple pie-hole, Obama! And there NEVER will be.

    September 28, 2008 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  21. Deverson Dumeny

    I think Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton is doing a lot for the Obama campaign. I hope he appreciate them and use their knowledge and experience to run the country. Obama will make a great president and when he wins he will be a great roll model.

    September 28, 2008 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  22. Duke

    Bill just cannot stomach the fact that Hillary lost to Obama. Bill made some bad political calculations during Hillary's primary and Obama's campaign team was able to capitalize, plain and simple. He can continue to have sour grapes all he wants, but yes Hillary....."he" was beaten by Obama. I was hoping that he could enthusiastically get behind this ticket for the good of the country, but if he can't, he can't.

    I have lost just a little respect for him due to his actions during this election cycle.

    September 28, 2008 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  23. john olowa

    Bill speak good about obama or forever remain silent

    September 28, 2008 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  24. Ilene

    This is one of the reasons I couldn't get behind Hillary. Bill and Hill have been in "bed" with the Republicans forever. Hillary sold out her last universal health care plan for the republicans. Bill and Hill are dirty lying politicians and I feel Obama speaks from his heart and soul. I LOVE him. Obama is a peoples president.

    September 28, 2008 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  25. Slick Will

    it's ok. deep in his heart Bill knows that Obama is a great man anyway.

    GARY above, you're delusional. and you're the one who's full of hatred. do you earn 3 million $ or more? otherwise you're not very smart for supporting 8 years of the same.

    September 28, 2008 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
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