Not since the feud between Ted Kennedy and Jimmy Carter tore the Democratic Party apart more than 30 years ago have two panjandrums of the party loathed each other quite as much as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
And yet this week, television viewers will be treated to a remarkable spectacle at the Democratic National Convention: Clinton will stand before a cheering throng of delegates on Thursday night and deliver a primetime speech nominating Obama, a man he once dismissed as incompetent, as president of the United States.
The president, First Lady Michelle Obama and their senior political adviser, Valerie Jarrett, all argued strenuously against offering Clinton a plum assignment at the convention. They wanted to relegate him to a minor, non-prime-time speaking role. However, Clinton, who is viewed as an iconic figure by the party faithful, refused to accept anything less than the all-important nominating speech and threatened to boycott the convention unless his demands were met.
The decisive vote in the matter, according to my sources, was cast by David Axelrod, Obama’s chief political strategist, who argued that the Obamas needed Clinton far more than Clinton needed them
The Obama campaign has insisted on seeing the speech before Clinton delivers it, and Clinton has just as insistently refused to show it to them. As a result, no one — not even the president — knows what Clinton intends to say. This has led some Democratic insiders to speculate that Clinton will make not-so-flattering remarks about the last four years of Democratic rule in the White House.
“If I were the president,” one of these insiders told me, “I’d wake up at night in a cold sweat wondering what surprises Clinton is going to come up with.”