Such has been the awkward case several times in the past week. The latest instance came on Tuesday, less than a day after he appeared at three fundraisers for Obama in New York, when Clinton argued for temporarily extending the George W. Bush-era tax cuts — even those for the wealthy — that are due to expire at the end of the year.
Obama opposes renewing the cuts for those earning more than $250,000 a year.
In the ensuing furor over Clinton’s comments in an interview on CNBC, the former president’s spokesman, Matt McKenna, issued a statement attempting to reconcile the former and current presidents’ positions. He insisted that Clinton, while opposing tax cuts for the wealthy, was merely acknowledging the political reality that no long-term deal is likely until after the election.
But Republicans gleefully — and predictably — jabbed Obama with Clinton’s comments, saying they bolstered the GOP case for extending the cuts. “Even Bill Clinton came out for it, before he was against it,” House Speaker John A. Boehner said.
Whatever Clinton’s drawbacks may be, they are greatly outweighed by his assets, Obama campaign officials insist. They argue that he is a unique political asset who can speak to both the Democratic base and the swing voters whom Obama is trying to recapture.
Though Bush has endorsed Obama’s GOP challenger, Mitt Romney, he has indicated that he will not play an active role in the presidential campaign. That is in part because Bush remains unpopular, but it also reflects his view that ex-presidents should not undermine their successors.
Clinton, who left office in 2001 with a 66 percent approval rating in the Gallup poll, has remained active in partisan politics even as he has pursued worldwide charitable endeavors.
One of the qualities that make him so compelling is the fact that he cannot be scripted.
The former president caused a stir last week when he spoke of Romney as “a man who’s been governor and had a sterling business career.” That undercut the criticism that Obama’s campaign had been making of Romney’s record in private equity.
But Clinton also argued that Romney’s résuméis not the issue and warned that his policy prescriptions would be disastrous.
“The Republican Congress and their nominee for president, Governor Romney, have adopted Europe’s economic policies,” he said on Monday in New York. “Their economic policy is austerity and unemployment now, and then a long-term budget that would explode the debt when the economy recovers so the interest rates would be so high, nobody would be able to do anything.”