Barbara Walters: Bill Clinton 'Proved Leadership Is a Lifetime Calling'

After liberals were delighted at the grilling John McCain was given on ABC’s The View, Monday’s interview with disgraced, impeached former president Bill Clinton was a much more friendly affair. It began with a clip of Clinton’s declaration of support for Obama in Denver, and the show’s host and creator Barbara Walters summarized it with admiration:

Our 42nd president of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton, electrified, as you heard, at the Democratic National Convention with a unifying call to arms. In doing so, he proved leadership is a lifetime calling. It certainly is for him. Please welcome, for the first time on The View, President Bill Clinton.

With an introduction like that, it may not be the last. Co-host Sherri Shepherd oddly suggested "every woman" was rooting for Hillary Clinton to be elected president, and were deeply disappointed by her failure: "When Hillary conceded, I think it hit every woman in the gut. Was that a tough choice for her to make? What was the discussion that you and her had before she did that?"

The friendliest co-host on the set was Whoopi Goldberg, who suggested to the audience she was such a Friend of Bill and had done so many events with him and for him. After the first commercial break, she tossed this puffy softball, lamenting the conservative critics:

WHOOPI GOLDBERG: We’re back with one of my favorite people, President Bill Clinton. Good to see you. So here’s my question. It seems like every time something goes wrong in Washington, they seemed to blame it on you. [laughter] They say "well you know it’s Bill Clinton’s fault." And now the economy, they’ve now dragged you into- did you do it Bill? Did you mess it up? [laughter]

CLINTON: As I remember it was pretty good.

GOLDBERG: I thought so too.

Barbara Walters thought she was really pressing Clinton with tough questions by asking him if Hillary wanted to be vice president, and then asking him Obama thought he carried too much baggage (although she wasn't that blunt):

WALTERS: Okay, so let me ask the follow up. Some people feel that Senator Obama did not choose Senator Clinton because he didn’t want you in the bargain, so I’m sure you agree with that. [Clinton laughed.]  Well, we have to be, you know, we have to be equal on Republicans and Democrats.

Joy Behar hardly lived up to her newly minted reputation as a hard-hitting Edward R. Murrow. She asked about women who would vote "against their interest" for McCain. Clinton was careful to leave the door open as it being completely reasonable for women to pick the ticket with a woman on it:

BEHAR: While we’re on the subject of Hillary, before we move on, what do you think about the press saying that- or statistics really and the polling saying that a lot of Hillary’s supporters are now throwing their support behind McCain because of Sarah Palin? Do you think that’s a legitimate claim?

CLINTON: I think some are because, look, we all know this. Some -- voting is a complicated process. We give our allegiances to candidates and parties and issues for all kinds of reasons. We vote for some people because we like them, even though we disagree with them. We vote for some people because we identify with them on race or gender. We vote for some people because we identify with them on this issue and it’s more important than these four issues. It’s not an entirely rational process and it’s different for everybody. There is a woman who is a feminist and liberal Democrat in the Washington, DC area who I think is a psychologist who wrote an article the other day I read saying "I’m going to vote for Senator McCain because of Palin because I think gender is the dominant factor in American life and I think that it -- I have to vote this way." And so some people thought that -- Hillary never begrudged, for example, any African-American who supported Barack Obama who said "look I want my kids to know they can grow up and be president and they can do whatever they wanted to." So, you can’t tell someone else that the ground on which they make their voting decision is irrational.

BEHAR: Even if it’s against their interest.

CLINTON: Yeah, even if it’s against their economic interest because, look, none of us define our lives, primarily or exclusively, in economic terms. The purpose of having a good economy, the reason we’re all tormented about what’s going on now, is you want a good economy because it empowers us to define our lives in the ways it really mattered. But it’s not what really matters to us unless we don’t have it. If you’re like Whoopi, if you’ve been without a job, you can’t feed your kids, you did all of this stuff, then it’s the most important thing in the world. Once you get to a certain threshold, then you want to create a life. You want to fashion it based on your values, you values, your dreams, what you want for your kids. So I think we can’t tell anybody that they don’t know what they’re doing because they voted for X candidate instead of Y.

Behar also asked the question "Who's gonna win?" When he said Obama, the crowd erupted in cheers. Clinton's answers were long, a sure sign of a softer interview. He spoke for minutes on end with no interruptions from a very respect-filled View crew.

[Transcript by MRC's Justin McCarthy]

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