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In his own words: Bill Clinton on McCain, Obama, Palin and Biden

September 30, 2008 |  5:52 am

As loyal Ticket readers know, and as all you newcomers will quickly discover, from time to time here we publish a lengthy statement, speech or interview in its entirety to allow readers the full context of the political person's remarks.

This morning we're doing that again with ex-President Bill Clinton, as he prepares to return to the presidential stump tomorrow noon, but this time not for his wife.

Apparently Clinton has finally arranged his schedule and finished several weeks of packing to go out on the campaign trail, as promised, for the man who Former president Bill Clinton and would-be Democratic president Barack Obamadefeated his wife, Hillary Clinton, during the hardfought, even at times bitter, Democratic Party presidential nomination.

Tomorrow, a long month after the convention speech when he promised to help with everything he's asked to do, Clinton will appear at two rallies for Obama in Florida -- Orlando and Fort Pierce.

There has been some talk, here and elsewhere, about B. Clinton and B. Obama not being the best of friends, which the former president confirms here in his typically smooth, deflecting way.

It's also refreshing, we thought, in this period of overheated campaign rhetoric to find someone speaking more moderately than many about both sides in this historic election, firmly backing his party but feeling no need this time to denigrate the opposition in the process. In fact, he praises them.

It could be a kind of return to ex-presidential statesmanship that....

...many felt Clinton had forfeited or tarnished by some of his hardball comments while campaigning for his wife, especially in South Carolina. Still, would anyone realistically expect the Clintons to play wiffle ball?

The complete transcript for "Meet the Press" Sept. 28, 2008, is available here. But here are Bill Clinton's remarks regarding presidential politics during a Q&A with NBC's acting "Meet the Press" moderator Tom Brokaw:

MR. BROKAW: You know, we like to keep track of records here on "Meet the Press," as you are well aware. We looked at this interview that Tim [Russert] did with you a year ago at the Clinton Initiative -- Global Initiative -- and at that time you predicted that John McCain would be the Republican nominee at a time when a lot of people thought he was toast in political terms.

But you said, as well, at that time, "I've disagreed with him, but I have admired him." And then to Maria Bartilomo last week, you said, "I have never concealed my admiration and affection for Senator McCain. I think he is a great man. But I think on the issues that matter to our future, the Obama-Biden team is more right."

PRES. CLINTON: I do believe that. I think Senator Obama has shown a remarkable ability to learn and grow in this campaign. He always was highly intelligent and always a very good politician. He got the change -- the fundamental change in the calendar of this Democratic primary process of which we were engaged.

His energy program kept getting better through the campaign. His health care program kept getting better. I think what you want in a president in a time like this is somebody with good instincts who generally starts in the right position and then just keeps getting better, and that's what he's done.

MR. BROKAW: Would you use the same words for him that you have used for Senator McCain -- that you admire him and that you think he's --

PRES. CLINTON: I certainly --

MR. BROKAW: -- and that he's a great man?

PRES. CLINTON: Well, I don't -- look, I had my first conversation with him in my entire life in Harlem.

MR. BROKAW: You had never talked to him before that meeting?

Republican presidenial candidate Senator John McCain of Arizona and former president Bill Clinton

PRES. CLINTON: Oh, I had talked to him but always in passing. I did a fundraiser for him when he ran for the Senate in 2004. I saw him briefly at Senator Kennedy's 75th birthday party. I had always -- you know, I was -- Hillary is the one who told me to go help him. She said "This guy's got real skills. He's got almost unlimited potential." And so I did, and I always thought he was a really commanding presence.

What I mean by saying that about McCain is, you know, most people would have been broken by what he went through, or we would have been happy just to give him an "attaboy" and a medal and let him wander through life.

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.

But I genuinely -- you know, I am developing a really good relationship with Senator Obama, and I certainly admire him, and I know he saw and imagined the way this thing could develop -- this political year and this economic situation in a way that has left him in the position of leadership he is in now, 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.

MR. BROKAW: But I get the sense that you think that he has the potential for greatness, but he has not yet arrived at that station.

PRES. CLINTON: Well, he would probably agree with that. I mean, you know, he was in the state senate until 2005, and then he began a campaign for president, which is, in all probability, will be successful.

And those are very great accomplishments, but they are personal accomplishments. When he becomes president, he'll be doing things for the American people and for the world, and he has a -- and the greatness will then become apparent because of the good he'll do, and I think that's what I very much believe is going to happen.

MR. BROKAW: Mr. President, after the primary season came to an end, you went back to Africa to work on your foundation work there, and you were interviewed by Anne Kornblut from the Washington Post.

You said, "This is my life now, and I was eager to get back to it. I couldn't be happier." Then you did come back, obviously, and you spoke at the convention. You were extremely well-received there. You had the meeting with Senator Obama in Harlem.

A political button that was not to be for a Hillary Clinton Barack Obama ticket

No one has any keener sense of what is required in a political campaign than you do. How much time are you going to spend either at Senator Obama's side or working on his behalf between now and Election Day?

PRES. CLINTON: I'm going to do my very best to do every single thing he asks me to do. I mean, I --

MR. BROKAW: Where do you think you can help him most?

PRES. CLINTON: I asked -- let me back up and answer your question, because what I told Anne Kornblut is right-- I had to go back to work when this was -- after Hillary concluded her campaign, I had to go back and rev this foundation up again, make my Africa trip work, make sure this works, and I love this work.

But I also accept that by engaging in this primary process, Hillary and I both feel that we did, we told -- first of all, she told everybody that if she didn't win, she told everybody from the very first primary in Iowa, that if she didn't win, she would support the winner.

Then when it was obviously between her and Senator Obama, she said, "Absolutely, I'll support him." And she has been as good as her word. I don't think anybody in 40 years who has been in a race like this has ever done as much for the nominee.

And I said I would do the same, and I was asked repeatedly. So I'm keeping my word, but I also feel strong for the reasons I said in Denver that he should be elected. So I'm going to do whatever I'm asked to do.

MR. BROKAW: Do you think that Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska, who is the running mate now for John McCain will peel away the disaffected Hillary women voters who were not happy that she didn't get the nomination?

PRES. CLINTON: Maybe some. I read two different articles about women who said what African-Americans often said about Senator Obama. They said, these -- the women said, "Look, we think gender is more important than race or party or even issues. It is the defining characteristic of thAlaska Governor and Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin besieged by young girls at an Ohio campaign stope social order, and we believe that it's important to do this."

But I don't think there will be many people who do that. I think the differences between Senator Obama and Senator McCain and between the ticket -- Obama-Biden and McCain-Palin -- are significant enough that the overwhelming majority of people who supported Hillary in the primary or who didn't vote in either primary are going to vote.

I believe they'll break for Senator Obama.

MR. BROKAW: What's your advice to Joe Biden in debating Governor Palin?

PRES. CLINTON: I would make the case for when he and Barack Obama should lead a different direction for America, and I would be quite specific because my sense -- and you know who these undecided voters are, you've seen the polls, most of these people that are undecided, they like John McCain, and they kind of like her, what they know of her.

And if they're going to move off of her or dislike her, it's going to be because they think she is too conservative or too traditionally Republican on some issues that are very important to our future.

So if I were Joe Biden, I would demonstrate to the American people that, first, Barack Obama picked me because there's not a better foreign policy mind in the United States Congress -- anybody with more experience or better judgment.

Second, that he picked me because I'm from the folks who didn't vote for him in the primary. I'm from Northeast Pennsylvania, from a Catholic working family, and I go home to Delaware every night to be with my wife. And my kids are great.

That is, I don't think he has to whack her or should. Everybody that really is upset about Sarah Palin because she's too conservative or too Alaska or too this, that, and the other thing -- they are already for the Obama-Biden ticket.

We've got to get people from your native state in South Dakota and people in Arkansas, and they look at this woman, and they say, "You know, this is a pretty impressive deal."

--Andrew Malcolm

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Photo credit: Associated Press (top); McCain and Clinton / Getty Images; Out-of-date political button, CafePress.com; Gov. Sarah Palin besieged by young girls in Ohio, Stephan Savoia / Associated Press. 

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