It wasn't exactly a Kumbaya moment, but Bill Clinton and Barack Obama took an important step toward unifying the Democratic Party Monday when they talked by phone for 20 minutes about the fall campaign.
It was their first contact since Obama locked up the Democratic presidential nomination several weeks ago, and their aides said the two former antagonists got along well.
The phone call, which was placed by Obama, again encouraged speculation about Obama's choosing Hillary Clinton as his vice presidential running mate, although that prospect seems to be a long shot. A big reason, his advisers say, is that Obama and his inner circle still doubt that the former president and his supporters would be loyal to the man who defeated his wife.
In the phone call, Obama asked the former president to campaign for him during the general election, and Clinton said he would, even though he had harshly criticized Obama during the primaries. At various points in the campaign, Bill Clinton said Obama's opposition to the war in Iraq was a "fairy tale" and that Obama was too inexperienced. Early in the primary season, he questioned whether Obama could move beyond support in the black community to become a truly national candidate.
But on Monday, the tone was positive. Obama spokesman Bill Burton said Obama "has always believed that Bill Clinton is one of this nation's great leaders and most brilliant minds and looks forward to seeing him on the campaign trail and receiving his counsel in the months to come."
Clinton spokesman Matt McKenna said Clinton repeated his pledge, made in a one-sentence statement last week, to do all he could to help Obama win the White House. "President Clinton continues to be impressed by Senator Obama and the campaign he has run and looks forward to campaigning for and with him in the months to come," McKenna said. "The president believes that Senator Obama has been a great inspiration for millions of people around the country, and he knows that he will bring the change America needs as our next president."
Backers of Hillary Clinton say her husband has been deeply disappointed by her defeat and needed some time to let his emotions calm down. That process hasn't taken as long for Hillary, who has already encouraged her supporters and donors to back Obama—notably in a joint appearance with him last Friday in Unity, N.H.
James Carville, a longtime adviser to Bill Clinton, told CNN Monday that there are still "bruised feelings" but that "the healing process has begun." Carville argued that "all this bodes well" for the Democratic Party in the fall. Democratic strategists predict that Obama and Bill Clinton will meet in person later this month.