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

Clinton hesitant to call Obama a 'great man'


[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="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. Citizen AJ - Northern Virginia

    Why is this even news? Obama is not a great man . . . yet! He has not accomplish things that would qualify him to be great. He is a great father and husband but his tenure as President will determine his greatness. His tenure in life, like all of us, will determine his greatness. Greatness is not something you just bestow on someone, it is a description earned over the years that yielded great results. We will see, I am rooting for him though!

    McCain, I would not call great either. What GREAT thing did he do?

    September 28, 2008 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  2. John

    Bill legacy is adios.

    Selfish as McCain it runs out.

    It's too bad...the former emperor now has no clothes. Forget any chance of 2012 because this will never be forgiven.

    Man, politics is dirty dirty business.

    September 28, 2008 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |

    Bill Clinton is a man of questionable morally decent character. But he is not stupid. However on this one, he along with other longtime Democrats are having to swallow the Obama for President bitter pill. He knows that's the Road to Perdition if Obama is elected. That's why he can't say Obama is the better greatest choice. So keep it up Bill.

    September 28, 2008 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |

    Bubba can't call Qbama great because he thinks HE is the greatest!!
    What a narcisist !!!

    September 28, 2008 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  5. Obama is always right

    Bill did not get the memo and the press releases instructing him that Obama the great is the next coming.

    September 28, 2008 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  6. Obama is at teacher and Americans hate school

    I am irritated by the media choosing to slant Clinton statements about Obama as being hesitant and lukewarm. As if Obama needs either of the Clintons' effusive praise in order to be viable, or that Obama can only be a great man if Bill Clinton thinks he is. Bill and Hillary Clinton have every right to their opinions, and they are not litmus tests to the validity of Barack Obama vs John McCain.

    I understand where Bill Clinton is coming from though. Barack Obama is at the beginning of his works as one of the greatest leaders of all time. John McCain is at the end of his works, hoping to culminate it by achieving the status of President of the US. I think he will not achieve it though, because he does not have the character and skill sets needed for a president of the 21st century. He will just have to be happy with the achievements he has made as a great senator and an honorable Vietnam war vet. So, Bill is right if this is the context that he considers McCain a great man. However, Barack Obama is on his way to showing the 21st century what a true great world leader looks like.

    September 28, 2008 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  7. Doreen

    Why can't the media leave Bill alone? Obama's terrific but great? No. He's a kid in comparison to Clinton – but just wait – he WILL be president and then we'll see where he ultimately ends up.

    September 28, 2008 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  8. Anthony trying to stir up something out of nothing. You could write an article about anything that someone 'never said.' I'm sure there are many democrats who haven't used the words "obama is a great man." Choose another person, write the same article and then try to pin them as racist or lackluster in their support. Come to think about it, i've never used those words and i'm VOTING FOR headline: Anthony hesitant to call Obama a "great man." Now i'm bitter and racist too.

    September 28, 2008 08:01 pm at 8:01 pm |
  9. Joan

    Who cares? Bill already lost his legacy. He's just a jealousy, bitter, pathetic man.

    September 28, 2008 08:01 pm at 8:01 pm |
  10. CNN Please Post this

    lol @ Bill still trying to be relevant.

    Note to Bill: Obama/Biden is doing well despite your evil spitefulness.

    Put up or shut up!

    September 28, 2008 08:01 pm at 8:01 pm |
  11. Wise Owl

    Bill you are a great person, and these idioits bashing you on here are called Obots, I wish you would campaign for McCain. Then they might wish they hadnt been so nasty, that is one of the reasons we ex democrats cannot stand the thought of voting for someone who has people that are nothing but smart butts and always running their mouths putting down everyone who doesn't think the sun rises and shines in Obie's butt. I am called a racist because I am not for him, I don't care what color he is, and he is not AA becasue he is part white. It's because he has not experience........he is a liar......he is a cheater.....and this is who will be in the WH???? Makes me sick.

    September 28, 2008 08:01 pm at 8:01 pm |
  12. bk

    Sour grapes...
    1. The Clintons pride hurt... still licking the wounds
    2. Refuse to accept the fact that a mixed race candidate like Obama can be just as smart, if not better than them.

    Disclosure: I'm not a White nor a Black.
    I just make my own observation.

    September 28, 2008 08:01 pm at 8:01 pm |
  13. Dana from NY

    It really doesn't matter- at the end of the day Obama is a Great man, not in an idealistic way like some Repugs like to mock- but if you see all he has accomplished, all he has to offer America, and the way he held his own at the debate then thats all the answer you need.
    Check out the latest gallup pole today- Obama 50%- McCain 42%. I guess America didn't appreciate McCain's stunts, lies, and grandstanding...or his nasty demeanor in the debates... nevermind the GOP turning on Palin- they mocked the disunity in the Democratic party but it looks as though they jinxed themselves.
    Anyone who saw the debates- saw clearly Obama stood his ground- and could look his opponent in the eye- a clear sign of strength- unlike Mr. POW McCain... the choice is clear... Bill Clinton is in an awkward position and I never expected much from him but I do appreciate that he voices his support...i think the media over analyzes everything from Bill and Hillary to stir the pot, and for the same reason tabloids sell millions of papers- people love DRAMA. Don't believe the hype- who cares anyway- its your future at stake so its your responsiblity to make your own choice.

    Obama/Biden 08

    September 28, 2008 08:01 pm at 8:01 pm |
  14. Aileen

    Those Clinton's and the Clinton women out there better support Obama because if Hillary runs again don't expect our votes.

    September 28, 2008 08:01 pm at 8:01 pm |
  15. San Pablo (No Party Affiliation)

    What a mean-spirited bunch, turning on the former president of your party! It seems like every democrat I meet are just an angry bunch of vindictive people. I hope this isn't what I have to look forward to for the next 4 years.

    September 28, 2008 08:01 pm at 8:01 pm |
  16. Mrs. Texas Teacher

    I was a Hillary supporter. I was behind her 100%. I voted for Bill Clinton twice. I voted against Bush twice. I will vote against McCain. I will vote for Barack Obama, because I know he is the man for the job.

    I just went through a major hurricane. I don't need Bill Clinton or anyone else to make up my mind for me. Hillary is no longer running! That is the bottom line. I do not want four more years of the status quo. That is ALL we will get out of the Republican Maverick.

    Obama is our only Hope! And I think he is a good one!

    September 28, 2008 08:01 pm at 8:01 pm |
  17. BF

    Bill Clinton amazes me more every day. He now is coming across like a scorned woman. He needs to take a breather and no Governor Palin will not wear his g-strings no matter how much he praises her. He is coming across as a snake. He is making sure that Hillary will be out of politics for sure in the future with his continuous ramblings on.....I feel sorry for her and I am Republican voting for Obama.

    September 28, 2008 08:02 pm at 8:02 pm |
  18. Denise in OKC

    Why oh why are you hanging SOOO MUch on what Ex-Prez Clinton says or don't say???? Get real, Sen Obama beat his wife. Whether he thinks he is a "great man" or not is totally irrelevant.

    Get over the Clintons already!!!!

    September 28, 2008 08:02 pm at 8:02 pm |
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