Faced with an stagnating economy and unemployment over 8 percent on his own watch, President Obama on the stump now invokes the economy during the era of former President Bill Clinton.
The president’s invocation of Clinton is part of his pitch to raise taxes on higher income brackets, as did President Clinton in 1993; and as a contrast to his current Republican opponents who seek to extend all the Bush-era tax rates, including those on the top wage-earners, which President Obama opposes.
Essentially, within this construct, President Obama is trying to cast the choice voters face as Bill Clinton versus George W. Bush, with Bill Clinton’s economy as his, and George W. Bush’s economy as Mitt Romney’s. Clinton’s economy saw the creation of tens of millions of jobs, an economic boom and a projected federal budget surplus.
On Tuesday, in Portland, Oregon, the president told supporters that the U.S. was not built from the top down, but rather from the bottom up. “It was built because we invested in great schools and great universities, and we put rules of the road in place to make sure that everybody was being treated fairly,” the president said. “Let me just point out that the approach that I’m talking about has also been tested. Just like their theories have been tested and didn’t work, my theories have been tested. The last time they were tried was by a guy named Bill Clinton. And we created 23 million new jobs, went from deficits to surplus, and we created a lot of millionaires to boot.”
This pitch on occasion has meant that President Obama at times sounds as if he’s claiming some ownership of the Clinton economy – referring to “our plan” — which has allowed Republicans an opening to act as if the crowing he’s engaged in about the Clinton economy is out-of-touch braggadocio about the current economy.
In Oakland, California, on Monday, the president said the deficit cannot be reduced “without asking folks like me who have been incredibly blessed to give up the tax cuts that we’ve been getting for a decade. I’ll cut out government spending that’s not working, that we can’t afford, but I’m also going to ask anybody making over $250,000 a year to go back to the tax rates they were paying under Bill Clinton, back when our economy created 23 million new jobs, the biggest budget surplus in history and everybody did well.”
The president then said: “Just like we’ve tried their plan, we tried our plan — and it worked. That’s the difference. That’s the choice in this election. That’s why I’m running for a second term.”
The campaign of Mitt Romney took the quote “We tried our plan – and it worked” to suggest the president was saying the current economy is a success. He wasn’t, but that’s not to say his claiming ownership of the Bill Clinton plan makes much sense, given that at the time he was just beginning his political career as an Illinois state senator. The reference to “our plan” is obviously a suggestion that he and Bill Clinton agree on some economic principles, but it’s an interesting political move given that President Obama has his own economy to run on as well.
The president does of course talk about the improvements made to the economy under his watch, but given the troubled current economy, Mr. Obama seems to find it easier to invoke President Clinton’s economy when framing “the choice” voters face.
This move is even more interesting (or galling, depending on your point of view) when one considers the attitude then-Senator Obama showed Bill Clinton when he was locked in a tough primary battle against then-senator, now Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.
-Jake Tapper, Devin Dwyer and Mary Bruce