Daily Israel Report

Clinton's Off Message Remarks Roil Obama Campaign, Raise Brows

Bill Clinton's off message remarks as an Obama surrogate arouse consternation and conflicting interpretations.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 6/7/2012, 1:19 PM

The Odd Couple
The Odd Couple
Reuters

Bill Clinton was never the shy and retiring type. One can still remember the first George W. Bush inauguration, when the farewell festivities for Clinton almost turned into something resembling the formation of a government-in-exile.

Clinton's larger-than-life presence is now being felt in the Obama reelection campaign. Tony Blair may not have originated the tactic in 1997 in his first of 3 electoral victories, but he perfected it when he insisted that all Labour Party spokespersons have a topic of the day and they all stay on the same page.

Bill Clinton has been criticized within the Democratic Party for going off message on two crucial issues. At a time when the Obama campaign was trying to define Romney as a callous and heartless tycoon, Clinton called Romney's business career "sterling". Now Clinton has trashed the Obama message of taxing the rich, by backing the extension of Bush era tax cuts, including cuts for the rich.

The Romney campaign has made no secret of its delight with Clinton's remarks and is making a consistent effort to differentiate between centrist, Clinton Democrats, and the more radical Obama brand Democrats  much in the same way that Barack Obama is trying to play off the "civil" John McCain against the presumably cutthroat politics of the Romney campaign.

Clinton's dissonance in the campaign has aroused consternation among Democrats and led to attempts to explain his behavior.

One explanation is personal: this is Clinton - love it or hate it. He did the same thing in his wife Hillary's campaign in 2008. Clinton cannot be disciplined, but this also has a silver lining because it enhances his credibility as someone who speaks his mind rather than robotically parroting the Obama campaign's message of the day.

Another explanation is that the remarks reflect Clinton's business-friendly approach. Clinton used the Democratic Leadership Council as a base for his presidential run. The idea was to change public stereotypes of the Democratic Party as a radical party that favored economic redistribution and was excessively fixated on the rights of minorities.

His remarks can therefore be seen in this context, and this is what also makes him effective in fundraising for Obama on Wall Street, where he recently helped Obama raise $3 million.

Clinton could be attempting to reassert his brand of politics. This could be for the purpose of helping the campaign by blunting polarizing tactics that he is convinced will backfire (the Wisconsin recall election could be seen as a validation of his political instincts).

Another theory is "Hillary in 2016". Clinton is not going to sabotage the Obama campaign outright, but if he suspects that Obama is going to lose, it would be useful to create daylight between his brand and the Obama brand.

This would allow the Clintonites to pick up the pieces after a Democratic defeat and position themselves advantageously for 2016.