Is Bill Clinton the Great Uniter?

The ex-president has served as a touchstone for both parties' candidates.

ByABC News
August 8, 2012, 7:41 AM

Aug. 8, 2012 -- Gov. Mitt Romney and President Obama are now embracing Bill Clinton, the man who, at one time, has campaigned against them both.

The Romney campaign released an ad on Tuesday praising Clinton's 1996 welfare reform legislation, while chiding Obama for trying to "gut" the law's central requirement of requiring welfare recipients to hold a job.

Clinton released a statement Tuesday night calling the claims made in the ad "not true."

Meanwhile, Obama has employed the former president on the campaign trail to help validate the Obama administration's economic values.

The former president has also been given a prime-time speaking slot at the Democratic Convention next month in Charlotte, N.C.

So, how did the man who was at one time considered the most polarizing politician of our time, become the president that both sides want to embrace?

It's the economy stupid.

Remember the late 1990's, the days when it seemed like anyone could be an internet millionaire overnight? When recent college graduates were not only getting jobs, but demanding signing bonuses. And, when day-trading and house flipping became full-time - and very lucrative - professions.

Compared with the last few years of recession and anemic recovery, those "good old days" look better than ever. They also make all that non-economic stuff that we obsessed about back then - like that whole Monica Lewinsky thing - look much less important.

Moreover, both sides recognize that to win this election they have to win those suburban swing voters who voted for Bush in 2000/2004 and Obama in 2008.

And, what appeals to those voters is a message of moderation.

Jim Kessler, the senior vice president for policy of Third Way, a moderate Democratic think tank, told ABC News that "every single remaining undecided vote is in the absolute center. There is no better politician that better exemplifies a successful centrist president than Clinton. As Obama and Romney compete for those remaining centrist voters," says Kessler, "they want to claim some of the Clinton mantle."

Romney invoked Clinton's welfare plan as a way to not-so-subtly tell those swing voters, "Hey, Obama has turned out to be a lot more liberal than you thought he'd be." Obama, meanwhile, wants to remind those same voters that he, like Clinton, inherited a huge mess from the GOP. And, it's Romney who will drag the country back to those bad old days.

Whether or not Bill Clinton is the "decider" in this election, it's rather remarkable that just 14 years after he was impeached in the House and 12 years after he was the political equivalent of kryptonite to Al Gore, he is the one politician that both sides want to emulate.

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