The forceful 2008 endorsement of Barack Obama by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy–and Kennedy’s sudden break with the Clintons–was caused in part by a racist comment made by Bill Clinton to Kennedy over the telephone, according to a new campaign book.
The book, Game Change, by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, asserts on page 218 that after Obama won the Iowa caucuses, Clinton called Kennedy to press for an endorsement from the influential Massachusetts liberal. But the call backfired, according to the authors, and left Kennedy deeply offended.
The day after Iowa, he phoned Kennedy and pressed for an endorsement, making the case for his wife. But Bill then went on, belittling Obama in a manner that deeply offended Kennedy. Recounting the conversation later to a friend, Teddy fumed that Clinton had said, A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee.
Bill Clinton, once lauded by African-American admirers as the “first black president,” got in trouble later in the campaign when he came across as dismissive of Obama’s South Carolina victory by noting that Jesse Jackson had also carried the state when he ran in 1988. But this is the first time the “coffee” remark has been reported, and it is likely to reopen all old wounds–and cause some new ones.
According to the Halperin/Heilemann book, however, this remark was not an isolated instance. On Page 161 Hillary Clinton is depicted as being tickled when her New Hampshire campaign chairman Bill Shaheen mentions Obama’s use of drugs as a young man. “Good for him,” Hillary is quoted as saying. “Let’s push it out.”