Clinton Breaking With Obama On Economy?

In an interview with Piers Morgan, Bill Clinton became the latest high-profile Democrat to criticize President Obama’s attacks on Mitt Romney’s career at Bain Capital:

Former President Bill Clinton suggested in a television interview Thursday that he believes President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign should stop trashing Mitt Romney’s work in the private equity industry. …

“I think he had a good business career,” Clinton told guest host Harvey Weinstein, a movie mogul who is one of Obama’s top fundraisers. “There’s no question that in terms of getting up and going to the office and, you know, basically performing the essential functions of the office, a man who has been governor and had a sterling business career crosses the qualification threshold.”

Adding that he has “friends” in the private equity business, Clinton suggested it was dangerous for Democrats to go after Romney’s record at Bain Capital—adding that in private equity, “like anything else you try, you don’t always succeed” in saving companies or making them more productive.

“I don’t think that we ought to get into the position where we say this is bad work,” Clinton said. “This is good work.”

Perhaps I am over-reading Clinton’s comments, but I don’t think Clinton is merely disagreeing with Obama on a point of campaign tactics. Rather, I think Clinton wants to pull the Democratic Party back in the direction he took it in the 1990s.

By the end of the Carter administration, the Democratic Party was discredited not only in foreign policy, but as a steward of the economy. The success of the Reagan administration, following upon Carter’s failure, seemed to assure the supremacy of free market principles. It took Bill Clinton to restore credibility to the Democrats, and to make it safe for businessmen to be Democrats again, by moving the Democrats back toward the center on economic issues. Clinton’s partnership with Robert Rubin made the Democrats the party of finance. For a time, it seemed that Democratic centrism on economic issues was not a mirage.

But then the financial collapse struck and Barack Obama had the presidency essentially handed to him on a platter. It quickly became clear that troglodyte Democrats had never gone away; they had just been in eclipse for a while. Now in control of both Congress and the White House, Democrats who opposed free enterprise (but cloaked their antagonism toward free markets in anti-Wall Street rhetoric) became ascendant. Old-fashioned economic know-nothingism came, once again, to dominate the Democratic Party. The stagnation of the last three years has been one result. (I disagree somewhat with Paul on this point, although I agree entirely with the broader points he made earlier today.)

Bill Clinton must have watched with horror as his party reverted to the Luddism that he successfully overcame twenty years ago. My guess is that, while Clinton will of course support and campaign for Obama’s re-election, we have not heard the last about his disagreement with the anti-business direction his party has taken. And, if Hillary Clinton is a presidential candidate in 2016, I expect that we will see her try to lead the Democrats in a more business-friendly direction.


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