I love this photo. I just came across it although, as you can tell by the presence of Robert Gibbs in the background, it's over a year old (I can't find the source - can anyone else?). UPDATE: it was from December 2010, but still can't source the photo.
I love Bill's demonic grin, and the way that Obama looks like a schoolteacher exasperated by the antics of a brilliant but unruly pupil.
It made me think about their relationship, and to reflect on Obama's seeming inability or unwillingness to really 'get' Clinton.
Obama's political identity was formed in part through opposition to Clinton, as a president and a personality. Where President Clinton was a trimmer and a compromiser, Obama would be a bold Reagan-style reformer (hmm). Where Clinton was a natural politician, who loved and lived for the game of politics, Obama would disdain Washington and its ways. Where Clinton was undisciplined and messy in his professional and personal lives, Obama would be self-controlled, precise, punctual.
(You could, by the way, say pretty much the same about Bush and his relationship with Clinton. Both the presidents that succeeded Clinton were extremely keen on not being Clinton. Which is surprising when you consider that Clinton was a relatively popular and successful president.)
What strikes me as odd is that Obama doesn't really value Clinton's advice, and seems very wary of him. Although he occasionally meets with Clinton or plays golf with him, you get the sense that he is doing so for the sake of the pictures, and the reassurance that it brings a large part of the Democratic base. I say it's odd, because Clinton is so clearly worth listening to. First, just as an ex-president. Second, as a genius-level analyst of politics, not just in the grand strategist sense - how to win the positioning battle versus the Republicans - but as someone who has an unparalleled ability to understand voters and articulate their fears and aspirations.
It's almost as if Obama fears being overwhelmed by Clinton's personality, or infected by him somehow - as if he might come back from that round of golf demanding all-night pizza sessions with his aides and eyeing up the intern.
More broadly, I think this is symptomatic of a blind spot in Obama's personality: he has a suspicion of disorder, even when it is creative. He likes everything to be just so; organised, thought-through, and planned, down to the last detail. The problem for him is, that's impossible when you're talking about an organisation the size of the US government, a war on the scale of Afghanistan, or a vast ecosystem like the one that constitutes US healthcare. As a consequence, Obama is - as David Brooks has argued - over-keen on centralised decision-making, too confident in the ability of a few clever people to make plans for everyone else. He is also often slow to react when his carefully made plans go astray.
Clinton, of course, was at the opposite extreme, never happier than when reacting to unforeseen events, performing reverses and digging out of holes.
In theory, the two men's skills and dispositions are perfectly complementary. It's a pity that at least one of them fails to grasp how much they could do together.