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Tax Cuts and The Economy: How Democrats and Republicans Overreacted to Bill Clinton

A recent Washington Post article characterizes last week as a “bad” one for President Obama and Democrats due in large part to some spontaneous comments, pertaining to presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and the economy, by former President Bill Clinton.

The comments themselves were fairly innocuous. During a June 1 interview on CNN, Clinton offered passing praise of former Massachusetts Gov. Romney’s successes at Bain Capital, the finance firm specializing in venture capital and private equity, recently under attack from the Obama reelection machine. 

Clinton later advocated for temporarily extending the Bush-era tax cuts, which are due to expire at the end of the year. This position puts Clinton at odds with Obama, who pledged to oppose any extension after he compromised on the issue during the summer 2011 debt talks. 

Democrats and Republicans responded in their predictable styles, but despite the resulting brouhaha both parties are overreacting.

The uproar over the comments was almost instantaneous. Republicans, including Romney, have attempted to hijack Clinton’s legacy to support their platform before, and it was no different in this particular instance. 

The right immediately seized Clinton’s words as vindication of GOP fiscal policies and evidence of a schism between the former President and the battered incumbent. 

Then the unavoidable conspiracy theories emerged, ranging from Clinton wishing to undermine Obama so his wife, current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, can mount a fresh attempt at the office in 2016, to some secret desire to assert his superiority over Obama and the Democratic Party.

The left, meanwhile, had its own subjective interpretations of the statements. Some incorrectly stated that Clinton does not speak for Obama; others decried what was construed as Clinton’s betrayal of the Democratic Party. 

But perhaps the worst rationalization came from an anonymous Clinton associate: Clinton is 65 years old and therefore prone to verbal and analytical mistakes. 

Age notwithstanding, Clinton, who attended Georgetown as an undergraduate, was a Rhodes Scholar, earned his JD at Yale, is consistently celebrated for his erudition and wide appeal. He is also one of the most brilliant, adroit politicians of our time (having served as Attorney General of Arkansas, Governor of Arkansas, and, of course, President of the United States).

Bill Clinton is probably fully aware of his words and perspectives. To depict Clinton, who claims to spend at least an hour daily studying the economy, as an individual out-of-touch with current trends is wholly disingenuous.

Clearly, both sides have made mountains out of a molehill. Clinton’s later clarifications, including his description of Romney as “calamitous” for the country and indication that Republicans are assuming European economic policies that will gravely harm America, belie both the Republican narrative of his supposed suppressed conservative inclinations and the Democratic narrative of betrayal and gaffery. 

Clinton, after all, is an effective surrogate for the Obama campaign, a veritable campaign whisperer who clearly supports the President’s vision for America. All of this is, however, secondary to the fact that Clinton is free to comment and speculate as he chooses. 

Trying to derive some nascent conspiracy from his words or to non-contextually ascribe his statements to blatantly unsupported views is an exercise in petty partisan politics. Such is the essence of the contemporary political environment.

Once the din inevitably quiets, Republicans will be the real losers in this proxy war that features both sides attempting to wield the same proxy. 

According to former Clinton adviser Paul Begala, Romney and the GOP are making a tactical error by and will pay dearly for trying to harness Clinton.

“The Romney campaign is making a strategic mistake to make WJC central to the economic debate. Sure, they pounce tactically today, but all they are doing is elevating President Clinton so when he drops the hammer on Romney economics in the fall, it will hurt more.”

So Democrats, relax. Republicans, proceed at your own peril.

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