For millions of insomniacs, there was hardly a better and more comforting path to safe and restful sleep than Bill Clinton’s soporific appearance on Tuesday’s Late Show With Stephen Colbert.
The freshly minted CBS late-night host soaked his headliner—“my first president on the show,” Colbert proudly announced on show No. 21—in a warm bath of pleasant and unchallenging questions, fixing his guest with a loving gaze as he fed him verbal marshmallows.
Quite out of character, the usually sharp Colbert (see Monday’s encounter with John McCain) seemed bound and determined not to make news or create sparks with Hillary Clinton’s rascally husband, the soap operatic 42nd president of the United States.
Instead, he tossed softballs and posed hokey scenarios, such as: If there was an alien spacecraft hovering over the North Pole preparing to incinerate the Earth and wipe out humanity, “and we sent you up there, what would you say to the aliens to justify our existence? No pressure, sir!”
To which Clinton replied: “It sounds like an encounter I’ve had many times over the last 30 years”—prompting obliging laughter from the studio audience. Clinton added that he’d argue to the extraterrestrials that “you don’t want to get rid of us because in spite of all our bullheadedness, we’re the great cooperators...We’re your best chance...If you wipe us out, what are you going to do if you get hit by an asteroid?”
Huh? Oh, never mind.
This is apparently the campaign’s first week of wall-to-wall Clinton media appearances—Hillary on SNL and a town hall on the Today show and Bill granting interviews on CNN and making C-SPAN-ready speeches out on the trail.
The Big Dog owned the room as he trotted happily from backstage to his designated seat and joined the studio audience in clapping for himself—my, he has big hands.
Clinton was so relaxed during his appearance, not to say tranquilized, that he occasionally rested his head in his hand, giant elbow firmly planted on Colbert’s desk, as he spouted off a series of wonky talking points concerning the do-gooding pursuits of the Clinton Global Initiative, the Nestlé Company (in a deft bit of product placement), and the Clinton Foundation.
At various points in the proceedings, Clinton also managed to show off his unquenchable book-learning, finding opportunities to quote pithy epigrams from Victor Hugo and from some weighty tome by a famous microbiologist that, philistine that I am, I will never read.
The former president immediately grabbed hold of the putative interview by noting that Colbert is a “devout Catholic”—“I don’t know how devout,” the host protested—and, in an expert bit of pandering, noted that because Clinton himself attended a Jesuit college (Georgetown in Washington), “We both love Pope Francis.”
Yet neither man got an audience with the Holy Father during his recent visit to the United States—indeed, various news reports (unmentioned by Colbert) suggested that last week’s Clinton Global Initiative confab tried like hell to get the pontiff to attend, only to be snubbed by the Vatican.
“You’re just kinda scraping the bottom of the barrel with me tonight,” the former president declared with Uriah Heepish sincerity.
Colbert waited until after the commercial break to bring up the current Democratic primary race in which the ex-president’s long-suffering wife, once the prohibitive frontrunner, has been hemorrhaging money in her campaign operation, and voter support in various public opinion surveys.
“Who do you like for 2016?” Colbert asked. “Please try to be impartial.”
“The lady who was singing on Saturday Night Live,” Clinton answered, to cheers. “That Val [Hillary’s bartender-character on NBC’s comedy sketch show] made me want to take a drink with her.”
In his introductory remarks before Clinton came on, Colbert made a gentle joke: “Everybody loves him...People used to call him ‘our first black president.’ Now they may get to call him our second black first lady.”
At Colbert’s urging Clinton offered an analysis of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’s appeal—“there are a lot of people all over the world...really hacked off that the system’s rigged against them and the rich get all the gains”—and the surprising success so far of Donald Trump in the Republican primary campaign.
“He’s a master brander,” Clinton said of his former friend, whose daughter Ivanka is apparently BFFs with Clinton’s daughter Chelsea, as suggested by Clinton’s anecdote about returning Trump’s phone call sometime last year after Ivanka told Chelsea that Ivanka’s dad was having trouble reaching Chelsea’s dad.
“He’s the most interesting character out there,” Clinton went on. “And there is a macho appeal of saying ‘I’m just sick of nothing happening. I’ll make things happen. Vote for me.’”
He denied that during that fateful phone call, he encouraged the reality show real estate mogul to throw his hair into the ring.
“I get credit for a lot of things I didn’t do,” Clinton protested.
“Yes. ‘Credit.’ ‘Credit,’” Colbert echoed, wiggling his index fingers into a semaphore of scare quotes—but by that point, probably, the nation was nodding off.