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Barack Obama vs. Bill Clinton on taxes in the new American Crossroads ad

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Announcer: “Two presidents. Two visions.”

 Bill Clinton: “Should you raise taxes on anybody right today?  Rich or poor or middle class.  No.”

 TV reporter: “This morning Obama is scheduled to unveil a new tax on Americans.”

 Obama: “Pay higher taxes…Taxes…taxes…taxes.”

 Clinton:  "I Personally Don't Believe We Ought To Be Raising Taxes…It won’t solve the problem.”

 Announcer: “A political stunt, not a solution. A bill full of tax increases.”

 Obama: “Pass this bill…pass this bill…pass this bill.”

 Announcer: “President Obama, it is time to attack problems, not people.”

--new ad attacking President Obama by Crossroads GPS

 

Crossroads GPS (for Grassroots Policy Strategies) is technically a nonprofit advocacy group that with its partner, the American Crossroads SuperPAC, has a declared goal of raising $240 million in this election cycle. Lately it has achieved some attention for running ads that pit the words of the most popular former Democratic president –Bill Clinton—against the words of the current Democratic president, Barack Obama.

 Clinton issued a statement of protest when the group released a different ad last month, but undeterred, the group released an even more hard-hitting ad last week. In fact, Crossroads GPS spokesman Jonathan Collegio argues that Clinton, in various public appearances since the first ad, has actually undercut his statement of support for Obama’s policies.

  We’ve spent several days going back and forth between the two sides. Let’s take a look at how a delicate snip here and there can create precisely the image a political operative wants to show.

 

The Facts

 The Democrats lost control of Congress in 1994 because of relentless GOP attacks on Clinton for raising taxes (on the wealthy) as part of his plan to reduce the deficit. So we find it mildly amusing to see him depicted as a foe of tax increases.

In any case, if Clinton says he supports Obama’s jobs plan, how does Crossroads GPS suggest he does not? Let’s roll the videotape! 

The first clip comes from Clinton’s Oct. 13, 2011, appearance on the “Late Show With David Letterman”: 

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Here’s the full comment made by Clinton, with the part used in the ad in bold:

 

Should you raise taxes on anybody right today — rich or poor or middle class? No, because there’s no growth in the economy. Should those of us who make more money and are in better position to contribute to America’s public needs and getting this deficit under control pay a higher tax rate when the economy recovers? Yes, that’s what I think.”

 Crossroads GPS used only the first part, cutting Clinton’s statement at a very emphatic “No.” They left off the fact that he says the rich should pay higher taxes when the economy improves.

 Clinton’s second statement in the ad is actually two snippets from a 25-minute interview in September with Newsmax that take place about four minutes apart. (Look at 9:30 and 12:30 in the clip below.

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Here’s the full context of what Clinton said in the first part, with the words used in the ad highlighted again in bold:

 “I personally don't believe we ought to be raising taxes or cutting spending -- either one -- till we get this economy off the ground. This has been a dead flat economy. And you don't want, in something this flat--if we cut government spending, which I normally would be inclined to do when the deficits this big, with interest rates already near zero you can't get the benefits out of it. So what I would like to do is to see them come up with bipartisan approach and I like starting with the payroll tax cuts.”
  

Note that the ad cut off Clinton after the word “taxes,” completely ignoring his point that spending should not be cut either in a “dead flat economy.”

 And, then speaking later in the interview of higher taxes on the wealthy, here’s Clinton’s full statement, with the part used in the ad in bold:

“It's okay with me, I'll pay more, but it won't solve the problem.”

(From the context of the interview, “the problem” appears to be getting Americans back to work.)

 We don’t think it is quite kosher to mash together quotes that took place so far part in the interview, but Collegio argues that given that the ad is only 30 seconds long, the quotes captured the essence of Clinton’s point on taxes. “The ad didn’t focus on spending, because it’s an ad about taxes,” he said.

 In any case, Collegio says that Clinton negated his claimed support for Obama’s job bill with his appearance on the Letterman show, as well as a statement in his new book: “Right now, in this fragile economy, I don’t favor raising taxes or reducing any government spending that can create or save jobs.”

 Still, it is worth noting that Obama’s jobs bill would cut payroll taxes now, while reserving the tax increases until 2013, when presumably the economy would be in better shape. Clinton, in his book, also called for letting the Bush tax cuts expire in 2013—a point the ad conveniently ignores.

 “If a president signs a law raising taxes, whether the tax increases will take effect today or tomorrow doesn’t change the fact that he is raising taxes,” Collegio said.

 

The Pinocchio Test

 As usual, Bill Clinton has taken a nuanced position that gives everyone something to like. At first glance, it certainly appears he is against raising taxes now, and that sounds like he might oppose Obama’s proposal.

 But Obama would defer the tax increases until 2013, as would Clinton. While Clinton in his public comments suggests he has a more flexible measure—waiting until the economy improves—his book adopts the firmer date.

 But such subtlety is lost in this sledgehammer of an ad, which uses a few select snips to turn relatively minor tactical differences between the two Democrats into a major disagreement over “two visions.” Crossroads GPS should just take Clinton’s word for it and accept that he broadly supports Obama’s jobs plan.

 Three Pinocchios

 

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