By Clyde Williams
When I started this piece I found myself writing the same story everyone else has about the emergence of President Clinton as the star of the 2012 election cycle. His incredible Democratic convention speech made the arguments on behalf of President Obama better than the candidate himself – leaving pundits speechless and the party faithful hungry for more. And by cleverly extending his speech into the local evening news, he grabbed millions of viewers otherwise disinterested in politics.
The Obama cultivation and inclusion of Clinton in his reelection effort is no real surprise. Recent polling shows that 68 percent of Americans view Clinton favorably – 18 points higher than President Obama and more than 50 points higher than Congress. President Clinton oversaw the greatest economic expansion in recent history, creating 22 million jobs under his watch. But it’s not just his record that is appealing. Democrats appreciate the Clintons more in hindsight because they remember not only his ability to connect with voters, and enthusiasm for the Party faithful – but also his political acumen. Everyone misses the old days, when no one was above a good partisan fight, but politics wasn’t nasty or mean.
If Obama’s embrace of President Clinton is inherently logical, the opposite could be said about Mitt Romney. At first glance, it is stunning to think that the GOP nominee would ever see any advantage in playing up Clinton. But it was the best option he had.
While the GOP faithful still hold President Ronald Reagan in the highest esteem–and Mitt Romney referred to Reagan during the GOP primary–Reagan’s presidency was almost 25 years ago. A nice chunk of the electorate just isn’t familiar with Reagan, and think of him more as an historical figure rather than relevant to the politics of today. So while invoking Reagan might work with seniors, Reagan is not a useful standard-bearer for the voters Romney needed to reach.
Of course, Mitt Romney’s campaign also knew they couldn’t associate with President George W. Bush — the person most Americans still believe wrecked our economy and got us entangled in an unnecessary war in Iraq that cost us dearly in both lives and monies. Romney has gone out of his way not to discuss George W. Bush, and Romney is quick to change the subject if the Bush Presidency comes up.
So that left Clinton as the ‘go to’ guy. Romney may have made the calculation that Obama and Clinton had too much baggage between them to ever join forces. He was wrong.
I also believe that Romney may see much in common with President Clinton: a former governor with a focus on creating jobs; a politician who worked across the aisle when necessary, and a politician who believes he can triangulate himself in the model of Clinton. The Clinton association for Romney is about appealing to the middle, about beginning perceived as moderate. But here’s where Romney miscalculated.
The politics of the Great Recession are very different than in the Clinton era. In our hyper-partisan, Internet-fueled news cycle, Romney’s attempts to grab the middle just aren’t credible. Voters are paying more attention to the details than ever before. In the Bush years, they felt they were sold a false bill of goods – and they are now sensitive to Romney’s blatant flip-flops, like claiming credit for the auto bailout and now supportive of leaving Afghanistan in 2014 — that are spin rather than moderation.
We are now days way from determining the next President of the Untied States, and this is arguable an even more important election than 4 years ago. We have two very different choices for president with very different ideas about government.
While both candidates have tried to associate themselves with President Clinton, only one can do so with credibility. There is a reason Bill Clinton is happily packing his schedule full of events to help re-elect President Obama, which I’m certain Clinton is enjoying. He knows that America cannot afford a President who says one thing, but will do another. We had 8 years of that recipe and it was a disaster.
I know Bill Clinton, and Mitt Romney is no Bill Clinton. And the good news is the American people know it too.
Most recently, Clyde Williams was a congressional candidate for CD 13. He served as National Political Director at the Democratic National Committee under President Barack Obama, Domestic Policy Advisor to President Bill Clinton, a Vice President at the Center for American Progress, and as Deputy Chief of Staff of the U S Department of Agriculture. You can follow him on Facebook@clydewilliams2012, on twitter@clyde2012.
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