Democratic convention 2016

The long, often ugly relationship between Clintons and Obamas

They've come a long way since 2008 when Barack Obama called her 'likeable enough' and Hillary Clinton described him as 'unqualified'

Barack Obama sees Hillary Clinton as the best hope for preserving his legacy. She’s campaigned on expanding Obamacare, keeping the Iran nuclear deal, and cracking down on Wall Street greed. If some of this support is nascent (Clinton opposed same-sex marriage until 2013) or appears insincere (Clinton has struggled to convince some voters that the millions she took giving speeches to Wall Street won’t influence her) Clinton remains an immeasurably better option for Obama than Donald Trump, who is campaigning on tearing up many of the President’s signature achievements.

So when Obama delivers his speech in support of Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday night he’ll be making a pitch as much for preserving his achievements as for Hillary Clinton. While he’s effusive in his praise of Clinton now, he didn’t always have such positive things to say about her.

In January 2008, in the heart of a bitter primary campaign, Obama described Clinton as “likeable enough.”

During the same campaign Obama said “shame on her” for what he described as Clinton’s attempt to position herself as a defender of gun rights and “talking about herself like she’s Annie Oakley.”

In a complete reversal, during the 2016 campaign Clinton criticized Bernie Sanders for his past votes in support of gun rights. That kind of flip-flopping was also a source of criticism for Obama during the 2008 campaign. He lambasted Clinton for repeatedly changing her position on NAFTA.

Obama and Clinton also disagreed on fundamental policy issues. He ran a radio ad with the tagline “Hillary Clinton, she’ll say anything and change nothing,” challenging Clinton for supporting the Iraq war and NAFTA.

The bitter language flowed both ways. Clinton was accused of using racially coded attacks to criticize Obama and she repeatedly called him “unqualified.”

Bill Clinton also regularly criticized Obama. He allegedly told former senator Ted Kennedy that a few years ago Obama “would be getting us coffee” and described Obama’s campaign as a “fairy tale.”

After Obama won the election he named Hillary Clinton his Secretary of State and their relationship improved significantly. In December 2009 the two bonded during the climate change summit in Copenhagen. During a joint 60 Minutes interview in 2013, Obama said: “I consider Hillary a strong friend.”

Despite Obama’s repeated public claims that he unabashedly favours Clinton, questions remain as to the depth of his support. Edward Klein, author of the gossipy Hillary Clinton biography Unlikeable, claims that Obama wanted Joe Biden to run for president so as to keep the Clintons away from the White House. Kate Brower, author of the similarly gossip-filled First Women, The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies, says Michelle Obama also wanted Joe Biden to run, and avoided socializing with Clinton whenever possible.

Michelle Obama delivered a passionate speech endorsing Clinton Monday night and Barack Obama is expected to make a similarly strong one Wednesday. So despite whatever private reservations they may still have about Clinton, they’ve decided to offer her their full-throated public support.

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