Barack Obama desperately wants American voters to believe that he’s Bill Clinton. After all, Clinton is still among the most popular Democratic icons in the country; much more popular than, for example, Obama himself. Clinton is the only Democratic president since WWII to win a second term. Thanks to a big shove to the right by the 1994 electorate, which installed a Republican Congress, Clinton gets away with labeling himself a centrist. For the same reason, he is the only Democratic president in recent memory who can credibly claim a fiscally conservative four-year term.
Given the country’s current protracted economic flatline, hippity-hopping down the campaign trail next to Clinton is the closest Obama will come to fiscal responsibility. But, is trying to bask in Bill’s limelight worth the sure-fire disaster of being in close proximity to the former commander-in-chief? For days now, Clinton’s anti-Obama comments have fed the conspiracy theory bloggers who believe that the former president is sabotaging Obama’s reelection efforts.
However, the question is not Clinton’s motivations. It’s why, on balance, Obama chooses to use Clinton at all. It seems a very curious choice indeed. Maybe there’s no stopping Bill, so trying to put a happy face on his remarks is better than letting him rampage on his own.
But, maybe not. Despite his highly favorable press ratings, Bill Clinton just doesn’t do well campaigning for others. His stumping in 2008 made things much worse for Hillary’s presidential bid. In fact, the increasing magnitude of his gaffes is one of the main reasons why Obama blew her off the primary map.
Two years later, Clinton decided that he would single-handedly save the Democratic Party in the 2010 elections. So, he hit the campaign trail hard. We know how that turned out. It hit back harder. More recently, Bill was in Wisconsin to save the public unions with the sheer force of his magnetic personality. The result? Walker turned back the recall effort by a larger margin than his gubernatorial victory.
In the current campaign fray, Clinton has been a human IED exploding all over Obama’s messaging. Like, giving the green light to extending the Bush era tax cuts and oohing and aahing over Romney’s sterling business career.
To be sure, democratic officials were quick to dispute Clinton’s statements and Bill himself tried to backpedal with apologies to the Obama campaign. But, his mea culpas sound hollow, especially the incredibly disingenuous excuse he gives for originally favoring the continuation of the tax cuts. Failing to recall when they are set to expire just doesn’t ring true for the Rhodes scholar. Even more telling is the fact that Clinton advocated essentially the same course in a video-taped interview last fall.
In Clinton’s speeches, he invariably speaks of his own accomplishments in singular terms, which makes Obama look puny in comparison. And even after professing regrets for stepping on the current White House occupant, Clinton still keeps that course. Last Thursday he managed to backhand Obama for the decline in median income since 2000, Clinton’s last year in office.
It’s not for nothing that Romney campaign staffers refer to Clinton as their favorite Obama surrogate. The lesson for Democrats is, like the 1950’s Brylcreem hair styling ads proclaimed, a little dab of Clinton will do ya. If it does any good at all.
But, even with all of Clinton’s shenanigans, perhaps he isn’t the biggest disaster to hit the Obama campaign in recent days. In the space of less than 72 hours, the president and his chief campaign strategist assumed that role, at least temporarily.
First, on Friday Obama claimed that the private sector is “doing fine.” Then David Axelrod, in a couple of damage control appearances over the weekend, stated that the private sector should simply hire more teachers and firefighters. When informed that those are public sector jobs, Axelrod just kept talking about the benefits of hiring public employees.
In fairness, Axelrod still might be shell shocked from the Wisconsin recall explosion. Even so, the Obama team obviously doesn’t know what the private sector is, which finally explains why the administration can’t stimulate the economy. With that reality coming into sharper and sharper focus, maybe the curious choice of Bill Clinton won’t be so damaging after all.
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