Along Came Bill

I used to dream that I would discover
The perfect lover some day.
I knew I’d recognize him
If ever he came ‘round my way.
I always used to fancy then
He’d be one of the godlike kind of men
With a giant brain and a noble head
Like the heroes bold in the books I read

Sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for.

A few days ago, a frisson ran up and down the spines of a number of the Internet’s more habitually vocal progressives when news broke that Bill Clinton was going to step into the Wisconsin recall race. Much has been made of President Obama’s reluctance to find his comfortable shoes and inject himself into a state matter, and here finally was a champion who could prove a gamechanger. But as ever with Bill—surely one of the most frustrating politicians of my lifetime—he brought along a mixed bag.

On the one hand, he’s been hailed as knocking it out of the park by the AFL-CIO:

Bill Clinton, in his speech in Wisconsin just now, framed the recall election as a stark choice between unity and division, between cooperation and conflict, and between shared prosperity and right wing winner-take-all economics. Democrats on the ground in the state are very satisfied with Clinton’s speech, and think he hit the right note to amplify their closing message.

“Cooperation works,” Clinton said, in a frequently repeated refrain. “Constant conflict is a dead bang loser. And you need to get rid of it.”
...
If you believe in an economy of shared prosperity when times are good, and shared sacrifice when they’re not, then you don’t want to break the unions. You want them at the negotiating table. And you trust them to know that arithmetic rules. Show up for Tom Barrett on Tuesday! If you want Wisconsin once again to be seen by all of America as a place of diversity, of difference of opinion, of vigorous debate, where in the end people’s objectives are to come to an agreement that will take us all forward together, you have to show up for Tom Barrett on Tuesday!...

I can just hear it now, on Wednesday. All those people that poured all this money into Wisconsin, if you don’t show up and vote, will say, “see, we got them now. We’re finally going to break every union in America. We’re gonna break every government in America. We’re gonna stop worrying about the middle class. We don’t give a riff whether poor people get to work their way into it. We got our way now. We got it all. Divide and conquer works.”

You tell them no. You tell them, Wisconsin has never been about that, never will be about that—by electing Tom Barrett governor!

HUZZAH! Some old voices from the PUMAburbs took this opportunity to yet again poke away at old enmities and praise the Big Dawg: “Of Bill Clinton, turning worms and the progs.”

On the other, this most seasoned of politicians offered a straw for the ever-opportunistic Romney campaign to clutch in its desperation to take Mittens’ Bain years off the agenda, and clutch it inevitably did:

Mitt Romney thanks Bill Clinton for Bain praise
...
On Thursday evening, Clinton had called Romney’s business record “sterling.”

“I don’t think that we ought to get into the position where we say ‘This is bad work. This is good work,’” Clinton said on CNN Thursday. “The man who has been governor and had a sterling business career crosses the qualification threshold.”

In a bravura display of the deployment of the weasel word, Rush Limbaugh got in on the act too: “Bill Clinton Basically Endorses Mitt Romney.”

Not so fast, says Bill:

But at a rally in Paterson to support Rep. Bill Pascrell, Clinton said his remarks got “twisted around.”

“I said, you know, Governor Romney had a good career in business and he was a governor, so he crosses the qualification threshold for him being president,” Clinton said. “But he shouldn’t be elected, because he is wrong on the economy and all these other issues.

“So today, because I didn’t attack him personally and bash him, I wake up to read all these stories taking it out of context as if I had virtually endorsed him, which means the tea party has already won their first great victory: ‘We are supposed to hate each to disagree.’ That is wrong.”

But too late, Bill. You have to know by now that you give the Romney campaign—and media always glad to muddy the message—an inch, and they’ll crawl the whole mile over broken glass to twist a statement such as that.

It’s early days in the campaign yet. These Obama campaign surrogates like Clinton, Booker and their ilk need to get their heads on straight, and if they feel they simply must pay lip service to big business—in particular organizations like Bain with its rich variety of pickings for oppo research—couch their remarks in ways that won’t be so readily slanted. If you have to release statements later to clarify your words, you’ve failed at the task of communication, lost the news cycle (not necessarily a big deal generally, but in this early stage of framing the campaign, a bit more critical), and just look shifty. Clinton was completely on message with Obama in terms of the “We are supposed to hate each [other] to disagree,” but it’s obvious to anybody that unforced errors like this—one after the other from different surrogates in the past couple of weeks—are going to be siezed on and exploited. Indeed, the Romney campaign—hapless as it is—wouldn’t be doing its job if it didn’t.

Should this take Romney’s role at Bain off the table for the rest of the campaign? Hell, no. It’s obvious that it’s almost as much of a sore point for Romney as his term as Governor of Massachusetts—which we’ve barely started on yet. There’s much talk that the Obama campaign should focus instead on its “vision” of the future. It doesn’t have to be either/or. If Romney’s going to keep banging on about his business record and contrasting it with Obama’s lack of such experience, it’s more than fair game to analyse what Romney actually did in those years, let alone the lack of acumen he’s displayed in relation to issues such as the auto industry bailout.

Meanwhile, it would be no bad thing to step up the focus on his governorship. There’s even richer, and arguably more relevant, pickings there—just from replaying his erstwhile Republican rivals’ campaign ads. Let him spin on that.

More: While we’re on the subject of spinning, take a look at this:

In tough fight with Romney, Obama longs for McCain

Faced with deteriorating economic conditions and an unexpectedly aggressive Republican opponent, President Obama and his aides are expressing nostalgia for Sen. John McCain, the Republican opponent Obama defeated handily in the 2008 election.

At a rally in Minnesota Friday, Obama said Republicans today are in the grip of a “fever” that has caused them to oppose his initiatives virtually across the board.  That “fever,” Obama said, will make this presidential race against GOP nominee Mitt Romney particularly contentious—in contrast to the last time, when Obama faced an opponent, McCain, who declined to engage in the kind of hard-hitting fight that many of his Republican supporters hoped he would.

“I mean, 2008 was a significant election, obviously,” Obama told the audience at a Minneapolis restaurant called Bachelor Farmer.  “But John McCain believed in climate change.  John believed in campaign finance reform.  He believed in immigration reform.  I mean, there were some areas where you saw some overlap.”

Now things are different, Obama said, and “we’re going to have as stark a contrast as we’ve seen in a very long time between the candidates.” It will only be when Mitt Romney is defeated, the president continued, “that the fever may break, because there’s a tradition in the Republican Party of more common sense than that.”

Later Friday, at a fundraiser in Chicago, Obama made much the same point about his 2008 opponent.  “The last time we ran, we had a Republican candidate who—I had some profound disagreements with him, but he acknowledged the need for immigration reform, and acknowledged the need for campaign finance reform, acknowledged the need for policies that would do something about climate change,” Obama said.  “Now, what we’ve got is not just a nominee but a Congress and a Republican Party that have a fundamentally different vision about where we need to go as a country.”

This framing and a description later in the article of Jay Carney remarking that McCain’s campaign “made a decision not to ally with extreme elements in his own party” (itself a contentious statement, but we’ll let it pass for now) have morphed in RW circles into Obama wishing he were up against that wimp McCain rather than Romney’s “aggressive” team: “The last week, more than any in the campaign so far, has shown Team Obama that Romney and his aides are prepared to fight as hard as needed to win in November.”

Obama wasn’t complaining about the Romney team engaging in a “hard-hitting fight.” He was commenting that by any reasonable standards, the current Republican Party’s policies, as adopted by its presumptive nominee (unless he finds a backbone between here and November), are batshit insane (or indeed, in many cases, non-existent), hence the contrast between the parties is going to be starker this time round. That’s not necessarily something to complain about.

More more: SteveM, as ever, is on the case about the second story I covered above. His take is pretty much the same as mine:

So what’s the Examiner headline? Not “Obama Accuses Romney of Extremism.” It’s “In Tough Fight with Romney, Obama Longs for McCain.”

That’s not what Obama is saying. That’s what right-wing spinmeisters want the right-wing base to believe Obama is saying.

Right-wing spinmeisters are saying to the base, “Oooh, we took the gloves off and Obama is whining!” In fact, Obama’s trying to warn centrist voters not to be fooled when they read that Romney is really, deep down inside, a middle-of-the-road guy.

Mainstream press, please: don’t retransmit the right’s meme based on a headline. Read the story. Obama is not complaining that Romney’s too tough. He’s warning us that Romney’s joined the crazies.

I fear his words will fall on deaf ears at the Examiner—which is decidedly in the tank for the Republicans, after all—but this is a small example of one of those seminal moments where you take a look at who’s parroting duff memes at a given point.

Still, if this encourages them, we’ll see over the summer how much patience the American public displays for the Romney campaign’s penchant for vuvuzela politics. The parping of clown horns to the accompaniment of dogfoghorns may prove to be a more fitting.

Posted by YAFB on 06/02/12 at 11:56 AM • Permalink

Categories: PoliticsBarack ObamaElection '12MittensOur Stupid MediaSkull Hampers

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Meanwhile, it would be no bad thing to step up the focus on his governorship. There’s even richer, and arguably more relevant, pickings there—just from replaying his erstwhile Republican rivals’ campaign ads. Let him spin on that.

Much agreement with that, here.  From reviewing Romney’s campaign, he spends a lot more time talking about business than his Governorship—if people didn’t refer to him as “Governor Romney” in interviews, one might forget he was one. It’s odd, because his public career should “count” as much on his c.v as his private equity career, and yet, he seems uncomfortable with it.

I know this business still mystifies me.

I know this business still mystifies me.

Well, since Politico referred to the Romneys as “a tad shady,” I’m more inclined to think it would be irresponsible not to speculate ...

From the Romney “Dayafteritis” file (where there is no point scored without at least one taken away, the day after) a solar panel developer that got a state loan under the Romney admin. has gone bust one day after his Solyndra speech.

From the greatest hits file, a fascinating medley.

The bit about Obama and McCain just points out to me what an underappreciated political genius the president really is (or at least, his advisors).  Right wingers have been doing this for years: ‘you voted for FDR and Truman, but this isn’t the party of FDR and Truman any more, this is the party of [insert threatening, quite possibly non-white enemy de jour here].’  Obama is effectively playing it back on them.  Remarkable.

@Foregone Conclusion absolutely right on the money!

Let’s get even more wheels within wheels here; I think it is genius to let the rethugs think that Obama’s whining about Rmoney’s attacks being tougher than McInsane’s.  End result?  Even more truly out-there, spittle-flying, who let the nuts out attacks; independents are so easily convinced by stuff like that (yeah, right). 

The more the rethugs act crazy, the crazier they look, plus we all know that they are always looking for a new eleven.  I’m calling it a ‘truth in advertising’ initiative.

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