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Obama, Clinton formed alliance on the golf course

Jay Busbee
Devil Ball Golf

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Presidential putting. (Getty Images)

-Follow Jay Busbee on Twitter at @jaybusbee.-

A game of golf is never just a game of golf, especially when played by the wealthy and powerful. No, when big names get involved, golf suddenly becomes a contest of wills, a metaphor for class inequality, a symbol of either executive arrogance or everyman relatability. Whether you view someone playing a game of golf as acceptable relaxation or inexcusable laziness depends pretty much on how you view the person swinging the club.

So the fact that President Obama plays golf, and (some would say) an awful lot of it, gives his critics plenty of ammunition, despite the fact that most commanders-in-chief in recent history have spent a good chunk of their executive power chasing down errant balls and receiving the good ol' presidential mulligan. (Heck, Dwight Eisenhower played Augusta National so much he's got parts of the course named for him.) Obama had a "golf summit" with House Speaker John Boehner last year, but he also spurned Rush Limbaugh's entreaties for a tee time.

But it's on the golf course, away from cameras and the electorate and opportunities for posturing, that some real political work can get done, like that of mending fences. Obama and his predecessor, Bill Clinton, have been at odds, both personally and professionally, since at least 2008, when Obama defeated Clinton's wife Hillary for the presidential nomination.

Thing is, both men need each other for the sake of their future political viability. So they bridged their differences the way people have for decades: over a few rounds of golf. As Ryan Lizza tells it in the current issue of The New Yorker:

The reconciliation began in earnest late last summer. Patrick Gaspard, the former White House political director, who has moved to the Democratic National Committee, approached Douglas Band, Clinton's closest political adviser and longtime gatekeeper, with some suggestions about how the former President might help with Obama's 2012 reelection campaign. Band, who, by reputation, has an acute sense for moments of political advantage, tried to explain that you don't just call up Bill Clinton and tell him to raise money and campaign for you. Band recommended that the two Presidents begin by playing golf. The next day, Obama phoned Clinton and invited him out for a round. Several Clinton associates say that this was the moment they realized that Obama truly wanted to win in 2012. Why else would he spend hours on a golf course being lectured by Clinton?

The Presidential round was played at Andrews Air Force Base on September 24, 2011, and since then Clinton has become a visible and vigorous champion of Obama's reelection.

Who won? A few months later, Clinton told Golf Digest that Obama "beat me fair and square that day." (Clinton has also noted that presidents get a lot fewer gimmes and mulligans after they leave office. Funny how that works.)

In the wake of the game, the two struck up a political partnership that culminated in Wednesday night's keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention, with Clinton taking the speaking spot generally reserved for the vice president.

Will it help? Will Obama ride the Clinton golf junket to a second term in the White House, or will Mitt Romney swoop in and relegate Obama to telling stories at the 19th hole? We're not getting near that question in this space, but we'll just say that one way or another, somebody's going to have a lot more time to play golf on Nov. 7.

[Visor tip: Golf Digest]

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