President Obama and Bill Clinton's Aborted Golf Outing and Their Super-Awkward Relationship

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Oct. 31 2013 8:48 PM

President Obama and Bill Clinton's Aborted Golf Outing and Their Super-Awkward Relationship

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Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

The most talked about nugget from the New York Times' sneak peek at the 2012 campaign tick-tock Double Down will no doubt be the news that President Obama's inner circle apparently legitimately considered replacing Joe Biden on the Democratic ticket with Hillary Clinton. But that attention-grabbing revelation aside, the book also devotes plenty of time to the often-awkward relationship between President Obama and Bill Clinton. A snippet from the Times:

Even after Mr. Obama named Mrs. Clinton as secretary of state, seemingly binding the wounds from their hard-fought 2008 primary campaign, the book says, he still could barely endure spending much time with the often-exhausting Bill Clinton. Mr. Obama rarely contacted his Democratic predecessor in the first years after taking office, but after the midterm losses for his party, the incumbent and his inner circle realized that they needed the still-popular Mr. Clinton.
When the two of them golfed together in September 2011, an effort aides hoped would bring them closer, they did not even finish 18 holes. Mr. Obama succinctly expressed his view of Mr. Clinton to an aide after coming off the course at Andrews Air Force Base. “Obama grimaced and replied, ‘I like him … in doses,'  ” the authors write.

The somewhat strained relationship between the current president and the former one is no secret inside Washington or out of it. Bill Clinton proved time and time again during the 2012 campaign that he wasn't afraid to depart from the Team Obama-approved script (remember Mitt Romney's "sterling" business record). Still, the book appears to offer plenty of behind-the-scenes anecdotes to show just how uncomfortable the two men are around each other—or, more specifically, how uncomfortable Obama is around Clinton. One such story: Clinton once held Obama "captive in the presidential limo" outside a fundraiser by grabbing the president's hand as he reached for the door to leave. Later that night the two men were supposed to share a one-on-one meal, but Obama, unable to "handle any more undiluted Clinton," called an audible and invited aides from both of their staffs to serve as a conversational buffer.

Still, for Democrats, this story has a happy ending. The book is said to also depict how the two men managed to learn to live with each other during the campaign's home stretch, thanks in part to Clinton's private counsel (including after Obama stumbled during the first debate) and public campaigning (see: his DNC stemwinder that stole the show). Come election night, immediately after Romney called to concede the race, the book says Obama instructed his campaign manager: "Get Bill on the phone."

Read the full Double Down sneak peek over at the Times.

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Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. Follow him on Twitter.