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Bill Clinton takes a trip down memory lane

December 10, 2007 |  3:32 pm

Much of the political world may be atwitter over a Bloomberg News Service column reporting tension between Bill Clinton and the folks running his wife's presidential campaign, but the man himself dutifully -- and effectively -- did his part on her behalf today in icy Iowa.

There were no stumbles over when he first opposed the Iraq war; there was less chatter about himself, in general. Instead, he regaled his listeners at Iowa State University with remembrances of the youthful Hillary Clinton. And he delivered carefully calibrated remarks aimed at making the case for her over Barack Obama (without ever uttering that rival's name).

The Times' Mark Z. Barabak was at the scene and tells us that the ex-president recalled how, during the early days of their courtship as students at Yale University's law school, he foresaw a political path for Hillary in her homestate of Illinois. He suggested, he said, that she join a well-connected Chicago law firm and prepare to run for office.

She quickly and decisively nixed that idea. “I’m too hard-headed,” he quoted her as saying. “Who would ever vote for me?”

Eventually, she joined Bill in his homestate of Arkansas. ...

“When she came down there and we got married, I was a defeated candidate for Congress with a $26,000 salary and a $42,000 campaign debt. Now if she were half as calculating as somebody says, that’s a really great way to run for president someday, isn’t it?”

That recollection garnered a big laugh from his crowd of about 400.

He took the high road in casting an eye upon the entire Democratic presidential field. “I like all these people,” he said, adding that the array of candidates had all done “mountains of good stuff.”

But the meat of his speech went to describing Hillary, over and over, as the one best able to effect change -- an argument meant to counter the core of Obama's appeal.

Numerous times, he used the words change and agent in some combination, as in: “She has always been an agent of change.”

He repeatedly drew implicit contrasts with Obama, to wit: “I can stand up here and give you the prettiest speech in the wide world. ... But it’s also important to know how to get from a good intention to a specific result.”

Lots of politicians have visions and plans, he also said, but the key is who can deliver. Once again, that set up his overriding theme: “She has spent a lifetime as a change agent.”

"Disciplined" is not a word often linked with Bill Clinton. But on this one day, in this one setting, he was on message.

-- Don Frederick