June 2, 2008 10:55 p.m.

I’d of course seen Mayhill Fowler’s piece on Bill Clinton going after Todd Purdum in Huffpo. But I hadn’t seen this nugget buried down in the transcript, which TPM Reader LD flagged for me …

They had all these people standing up in this church cheering, calling Hillary a white racist, and he didn’t do anything about it. The first day he said ‘Ah, ah, ah well.’ Because that’s what they do– he gets other people to slime her. So then they saw the movie they thought this is a great ad for John McCain– maybe I better quit the church. It’s all politics.

Like so many things I’ve seen from Bill this cycle, I think I just pass the punch of this passage on without comment.

But there’s one subnugget of this nugget that grabbed my attention. I think the most revealing thing about this quote is that Bill refers to the youtube viral video of Rev. Pfleger as “the movie.” In a sense, of course, this is just a triviality of word choice; he’s a little out of touch with the lingo. But for me — maybe just the personal prism through which I see the drama — it communicates the larger truth: that Bill is a man out of his time, out of his element, which is something painful to watch and must be a unique agony for him to experience.

Bill Clinton was on so many levels the master of the politics of the 1980s and 1990s, the magic with words and connection with people, intuitively sizing up the tempo and undercurrents of the political moment. Hate him or love him, I think anybody with a feel for politics knew this. And I loved him.

I don’t mean to write his epitaph. He’s obviously got the same shrewdness and political canniness on many levels. But again and again through this cycle, in little ways and big, he’s shown he’s not quite in sync with this political era, doesn’t quite grasp the new mechanics — both the ideological texture and the nuts and bolts of the networked news cycle. Attacks have backfired. And while Clinton’s emotions and impulsiveness have always been key to his character and political sensibility, whereas in the past it was him riding the tiger of his outsized personality and passions, now it’s the tiger riding him.

If you step back from the carnage and electricity of this nomination battle, you see a vast drama that compares in its own way with any other in modern American history. And part of that shows you that it’s on the Democrats’ side of the aisle today that the questions roiling the country are being hashed out and decided. But if I were a novelist, it’s not Obama or Hillary but Bill, in the current moment, who would fire my imagination. Perhaps some hybrid of Arthur Miller and William Faulkner, fresh from the cloning laboratories, could put it all together on paper. The incandescent rage, the political master just out of touch with the moment. The level of his investment in Hillary’s campaign (on any number of novel-bearing levels) is palpable and not fully explained by anything as mundane as the hunger for power or as simple as guilt. And yet the circumstances of the race have forced him to stand just off-stage, where he’s close enough to interfere but not to control or direct. It must be a unique kind of hell for him.

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