Mitt Romney is hammering President Obama on welfare reform, and for good reason. The 1996 welfare reform legislation was overwhelmingly popular, was a great bipartisan achievement, stands as a policy success and comports with Americans’ deepest values about personal responsibility and the work ethic. And Obama tosses that aside, for reasons that still seem perplexing. Is there some anti-work welfare contingent out there? It’s inexplicable both on policy and political grounds.

So Romney is taking full advantage. He was in Illinois yesterday:

The Obama campaign, plainly fearing what Bill Clinton would say unscripted, released a statement by Clinton last night that was, at most, a thin rebuke to Romney. In it, Clinton essentially confirms Romney’s take on the change: “The recently announced waiver policy was originally requested by the Republican governors of Utah and Nevada to achieve more flexibility in designing programs more likely to work in this challenging environment.” In other words, the Obama administration opened the door to states’ defining “work” as everything from self-help classes to weight-loss programs. Clinton’s statement actually undercuts the opening line of the release (“Governor Romney released an ad today alleging that the Obama administration had weakened the work requirements of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act. That is not true.” Well, actually Clinton explains that this is precisely what it does.)

Clinton calls Romney’s attack “disappointing.” That’s an interesting, and decidedly understated, word choice.

Clinton may not be so helpful to Obama when asked to comment spontaneously on one of his greatest achievements. And the prospect of Clinton speaking at the Democratic National Convention has, more each day, Republicans licking their lips at the prospect of Clinton vs. Obama comparisons.

The move by Obama is indicative of an about-face from the so-called “Third Wave” moderate Democratic movement that culminated in Clinton’s presidency. This was the party of welfare reform, whose leader declared, “The era of Big Government is over.” Clinton cut capital gains (which Obama describes as some give-away to the rich), balanced budgets and eschewed hostile rhetoric toward business. He was robustly pro-Israel. The contrast with Obama’s policies and rhetoric could not be more different. One wonders how Clinton feels as Obama repudiates the centrist vision that made Clinton the most successful Democratic president since Harry Truman.