Bill Clinton has emerged as a player in the presidential election, but oddly, not as a surrogate for President Obama. Rather, Mitt Romney is using the former president as a +5 Amulet of Centrism—a way to assert moderate credentials without changing his policies or modifying his rhetoric. This was used to great effect in his speech yesterday, where he decried deficits and disparaged Obama for his “old school” liberalism:
Even a former McGovern campaign worker like President Clinton was signaling to his own Party that Democrats should no longer try to govern by proposing a new program for every problem.
President Obama tucked away the Clinton doctrine in his large drawer of discarded ideas, along with transparency and bipartisanship. […] President Obama is an old school liberal whose first instinct is to see free enterprise as the villain and government as the hero.
It goes without saying that there’s an implicit aim to adopting President Clinton as an avatar for reasonable liberalism; Romney is presenting himself as the Republican heir to Clinton’s legacy of reform. He will return to the era of small government, and take us away from the failed policies of Obama, who—essentially—becomes the GOP’s analogue to George W. Bush.
This is clever, but there’s an obvious problem—Bill Clinton is still alive, and it’s very easy for him to say “don’t be ridiculous, Obama is just as reasonable as I was.” Indeed, as E.J. Dionne points out in his column today, Obama’s actual policies—and not the fantasy ones devised by Romney—are very close to those pursued by Clinton.
We’ll see what happens with this bit of rhetoric, but if I were Romney, I would back away from this approach, at least for now.