Hillary's got a Bubba problem again, and it doesn't have anything to do with a loose zipper. She dispatched him to the hustings, where he has no living peer (except maybe Donald Trump), and he's giving her campaign a pain by telling it like it is.
Neither Bubba nor Hillary have ever liked Barack Obama very much - and the president definitely returns the sentiment - and Bubba, now raising his last hurrah, just can't keep the contempt to himself. He can't resist taking digs, all of them deserved, at the current president.
"Unlike when I became president," he told a rally Thursday in Philadelphia, "a lot of things are coming apart around the world." The strong unspoken message was clear: There's nobody's in charge in Washington, and the world expects somebody in Washington to be in charge 24/7 to keep the world from coming apart. Like it or not, everybody but President Obama understands that that's the way the world works.
Even when Bubba says nice things about the missus, and why he thinks she should be that president in charge in Washington, he can't keep his mouth zipped shut any better than his pants. Out pops another kernel of truth. At a rally last month in Spokane, he went on a riff about what a changemaker his wife is, how she knows how to make people feel good, make democracy work and all that good stuff. They should join her to make everyone rise together, all stump-speech boilerplate that Bubba knows how to apply like soft butter on cornbread. Then he added:
"If you believe we've finally come to the point where we can put the awful legacy of the last eight years behind us ... then you should vote for her." Strong stuff, with the added strength of being deadly factual."
At a rally Thursday in Philadelphia, he went close to saying the unsayable, confronting demonstrators from the Black Lives Matter movement who were trying to shout him down, giving him a hard time for his crime legislation of a decade and more ago and dissing Hillary for once calling violent young black men "superpredators."
"Gang leaders got 13-year-olds hopped on crack and sent them out in the street to murder other African-American children," Bubba told the hecklers. "Maybe you thought they were good citizens. She didn't."
These are plain truths perfectly obvious to everyone, but it's the sort of thing that no one would say at a Democratic rally. Many Democrats think it, but few dare say it. There are some things that even the first black president, as Bubba was called in a more amiable era, just can't say.
But on one of his good days there's nobody better than Bubba, black or white, addressing an audience black or white. Jeff Greenfield, writing in Politico, recalls Bubba's performance at the funeral of Coretta Scott King in Atlanta in 2006, when Hillary was getting ready for her first run for president.
"Hillary Clinton's speech was lovely," Mr. Greenfield recalls. "But her husband, who preceded her, rocked. He had 10,000 mourners laughing and crying and clapping and amen-ing and remembering his presidency with a rush of nostalgia that blotted out unpleasant moments. As Bill riffed, Hillary stood by his side, looking like the gawky brainiac sidekick in a teen movie cheering on her cheerleader frenemy in mid-handspring."
Hillary can make a good speech, too, but Bubba learned speechmaking watching the preacher in a Baptist church in Arkansas. If Hillary paid any attention to the preacher, it was a buttoned-up Methodist preacher in the Middle West. Methodist preachers invented brush-arbor evangelism, but the Baptists, once as cold as Episcopalians ("God's frozen people"), took the lessons and perfected them.
The passion Hillary once spent in oratory is an embarrassment to her now. She regards it as passion misspent, as in this passage of a speech she made in the United States Senate a decade and more ago: "I believe marriage is not just a bond but a sacred bond between a man and a woman ... the fundamental bedrock principle that exists between a man and a woman, going back into the mists of history as one of the founding, foundational institutions of history and humanity and civilization."
A Baptist preacher couldn't say it any better than that. "Bedrock principles" do not crumble or collapse in the heat of argument, or "evolve" to satisfy the demands of mere politics. In this campaign, Hillary sometimes snaps at questions about whether she changed her principles to conform to the fashions of the day, perhaps speaking not to the question, but to the Methodist conscience of her youth.
• Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.