Commenter ‘giles’ says:
The most interesting revelation of the night – that Bill thought kerry would make “quite” a good president – was I thought the revelation of the night. The parochial BBC pr department seems to have missed it entirely.
The BBC was probably right not to pick up on it, thanks to a very important difference between British English and American English. “Quite” in British-English, and indeed in its Hibernian variant (which is of course the purest and most supple form of the language) means “reasonably, but not very.” Thus, if Bill Clinton were British, his comment would be an unsubtle put-down. However, in American English, “quite” means “very” or “extremely” – so it’s a considerable compliment. One of my friends experienced this ambiguity at first hand a few years ago, when she invited her (American) boyfriend back to Dublin to meet the family. After eating dinner at my friend’s family home, the boyfriend remarked that the food was “quite good.” He thought he was passing a compliment; my friend’s mother thought he was a snotty Yank making disparaging remarks about her cooking, with predictably unfortunate consequences for familial relationships until it was all explained. So, the odds are that Clinton’s comment was entirely unexceptionable. You could probably still advance a malign interpretation: since Clinton has spent a considerable amount of time in the UK, he might have been aware of this ambiguity, and playing it cute by speaking out of both sides of his mouth at once. Still, an interpretation of this sort would seem a bit forced for what was, after all, one brief comment in a rather long interview.
Update: I’d quite forgotten that Chris has already addressed this point in a post last December.