Why Bill Clinton Planned His Tantrum

No president in the modern age has had to face an “insurgency” of relentless criticism from not one, but two former presidents—both dedicated to undermining his policies. Bill Clinton’s appearance on Fox News yesterday is a case in point, calculated to score points through attacks on the “right-wing conspiracy” and President Bush.

Jimmy Carter is still trying to build his legacy and sell books—but he’s not much more than a gadfly these days. William Jefferson Clinton is important for a number of reasons: He’s still the heart and soul of the Democratic Party; European liberals love him; and his wife is setting herself up for a presidential run.

Obviously, Clinton would like to regain the White House, even if it’s just as “First Gentleman,” but there are other forces at work as well to make him sit down for the first time with the Fox News. The stated reason was his three-day Global Initiative Conference, and half of Chris Wallace’s interview was supposed to touch on that—but Clinton would not allow Wallace to get to that subject.

Wallace asked a simple if overlong question about Clinton’s efforts to deal with Osama bin Laden. With the recent ABC docudrama “The Path to 9/11” still eating at him, Clinton went off on a tirade.

Clinton accused Wallace of mounting a right-wing hit job on him at the behest of Fox News, while throwing softballs to the Bush Administration. Clinton was visibly angry and combative. But was he putting on?

His wife is running for president, his party is often considered weak on national security issues, and he desperately wants the Democrats to take back Congress in the midterms. He’s mad at the right-wing conspiracy for somehow convincing ABC to run a movie that might be damaging to his legacy and to Democratic prospects now and in 2008.

What a perfect way to score points! You go on the one network that liberals perceive as a mouthpiece for the other side, and you wait for the inevitable question about bin Laden. And when you get it, you launch into a tirade designed to make headlines and build the base.

Meanwhile, the softballs that Clinton accused Wallace of firing at the Bush Administration were being hurled at Clinton over on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” There was no vitriol in Clinton at all as Tim Russert set him up with easy questions and never, ever interrupted him or came back with tough follow-ups. Like he does with every other interview.

In fact, Chris Wallace said in a later appearance that Clinton had appeared the same week with Russert, Larry King, Keith Olbermann and Meredith Vieria on “Today”—and never once did they ask about his record in fighting al Qaeda.

You have to believe that Clinton offered himself up to Fox for the explicit purpose of going off on Chris Wallace. It was the perfect way to undermine Fox News, the so-called right-wing conspiracy, and President Bush’s policies while appearing to simply be defending his honor.

If this wasn’t a planned tantrum, then why wouldn’t Clinton have just answered the question and moved on? He was obviously expecting it, likely hoping for it, and totally prepared for it.

As to whether Clinton laid a glove on Fox News or President Bush, time will tell. Left-wingers will be applauding and saying that it’s about time someone fired back at Fox News. Right-wingers will point out that Wallace never pressed Clinton about reports that he was offered bin Laden on more than one occasion by Sudan and that Saudi Arabia (whose government bin Laden was committed to overthrow) had sought American help in removing bin Laden from Sudan.

On the question posed by Clinton of the Bush Administration, “Why didn’t you do something about the Cole?”—Wallace did not come back with a statement that the CIA killed Ali Qaed Sinan al-Harthi on Nov. 4, 2002, using a Hellfire missile fired from an unmanned drone. That’s the guy we think planned the U.S.S. Cole bombing.

Wallace really wasn’t all that tough on Clinton, who, after all, could have gone on ABC’s “This Week” and been interviewed by George Stephanopoulos who used to be a top Clinton aide. But Clinton was spoiling for a fight, and to get it, he had to go on Fox.