Former president Bill Clinton will put Barack Obama's name in nomination at the Democratic National Convention and deliver a prime time speech. Obviously, he's among the most popular Democrats and one of their best speakers. On that level the selection makes sense. But does it hold greater dangers?
The most immediate concern for Democrats is his potential to upstage a president who has lost his freshness and has less to say with each passing month. Really how many times can he say “Romney, bad. Tax rich people. Bush was bad”? Clinton is rarely boring and hardly ever publicly peevish. It is very likely a lot of people after his speech will say, “Boy, I wish THAT guy was on the ballot.”
The more fundamental problem is that Obama will invite comparison between the two presidents' records and philosophies. That is deadly for Obama. That is why the Romney team has already sent out a press release, effectively taunting Obama. Spokesman Ryan Williams says, "After four years of trillion-dollar deficits and anemic economic growth, it’s clear President Obama would love to run on President Clinton’s record in office. But no amount of showmanship can paper over the differences between these two presidents. Americans deserve a president willing to run on his own record, not the record he wishes he had.”
You're going to hear and see in ads much more of this obfuscation from Obama as we get closer to the Democratic convention. It is not only that Clinton had balanced budgets, reformed welfare (which the Obama administration largely undid), got along well with Israel, saw unemployment fall and growth rise and worked constructively with Republicans. Certainly he did all that, and now enjoys some selective-memory nostalgia from Republicans. The real difference was that Clinton didn't demonize business or attack wealth creators, nor did he suggest that government is at the root of success.
To be blunt, Clinton got what America is about; Obama does not. Having lived and served as governor in a socially conservative state Clinton knew enough about the values and concerns of people in "fly over" country and could relate to them. He didn't treat them as a nuisance or threat to his ideological agenda. Clinton is the anti-Obama, who demonstrates estrangement from and disdain for those who "cling to their guns and religion." Obama couldn't help but voice resentment toward entrepreneurs who think they're so smart and work so hard and don't understand it is all about the infrastructure. Whether or not he thought it Clinton never would have said it.
Obama suffers from Pauline Kael-ism, never having served or lived (before coming to the president) among people who disagreed with his leftist-academic vision of the country and the world. I mean, doesn't everyone support gun control, abortion on demand and sharing the wealth? In law school and Hyde Park they sure do.
Obama's ego no doubt wouldn't recognize the peril of unfavorable comparison to Clinton. But by the end of the convention, I bet a lot of voters will.