Clinton’s argument: Be patient

Bill Clinton at the Democratic National Convention (Source: DNC)

So last night’s tour-de-force speech by former President Bill Clinton really boils down to one simple argument about the current president, Barack Obama, and his place in modern American history.

“No president, not me, not any of my predecessors, no one could have fully repaired all the damage that he found in just four years,” Mr. Clinton said.

In other words, be patient, remember the crisis that Obama confronted, remember who played a big role in creating the mess, and don’t judge his performance by the usual yardstick.

I suspect that Clinton is right that the election will hinge on Americans’ willingness to buy this argument.

So what do you think?  Did Obama make a terrible situation significantly better?  Did he bungle the recovery?  Somewhere in between?  How will this issue shape your vote in November?

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83 Responses to “Clinton’s argument: Be patient”

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  1. tootightmike says:

    The only mistake that Obama and the Democrats made was perhaps being too fair and friendly. Republicans don’t believe in bi-partisanship, they believe in domination. After the 2008 election, the Democratic party should have doubled down to win control of both houses and move the center of discussion way to the left.
    Wouldn’t it have been refreshing to have this election fought on the ground between the Democrats and the Greens or the Progressive parties.

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  2. Gary says:

    I don’t know if I would say he bungled the recovery but he lacks experience and the people around him need a leader. Who was it that said, “There is no adult in charge.” People hunger for a change. They question if he will do anything differently than he has the past four years. Mitt is a gamble, but one many are willing and ready to take. If the job of Clinton was to connect with white males, sorry I was watching the Giants!

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  3. TomL says:

    The crisis when Obama took office is widely described as ‘the worst since the Great Depression’. In 1936, when Franklin Roosevelt ran for reelection after his first term of office, his policies had hardly yet brought about recovery, but things were trending better. Alf Landon would have reversed those policies, and returned to the small government / deregulated economy of Harding, Coolidge & Hoover. Scholars (except for a few housed within the Hoover & Heritage Institutes) agree that this would have been a disaster, removing the gains and positive trends of Roosevelt’s policies.

    I see this election as a repeat of 1936. Romney is Landon, and wants to return the US to the policies of GW Bush. And THAT would be a disaster. Clinton makes a convincing argument, that I think is correct, to stay the course.

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  4. Larry says:

    You’re absolutely right, TomL, that 2012 could be a repeat of 1936. I certainly hope not, however, because in 1936 the American people, seduced by government handouts, reelected a President whose failed economic program was savagely exposed by the recession of 1937 – 1938. We can’t afford for that to happen again.

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  5. oa says:

    I agree Larry. Roosevelt was a terrible president. And most historians agree with you and me on that, too.

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  6. Larry says:

    The more I think about it, the more I agree: 2012 is, in many respects, eerily similar to 1936. A President who blames the failure of his policies on big business and the “rich,” and an electorate, drugged on government handouts, that can no longer tell the difference between necessary social programs and economic insanity. It took a world war to get us out of the Depression of the 1930s but our insatiable need for more government spending continues.

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  7. Larry says:

    oa, I didn’t say FDR was a terrible President, I said the recession of ’37 exposed the ineffectiveness of his economic policies and re-ignited a depression that ended only with the beginning of WW II.

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  8. Has everyone but me forgotten that Obama said at the outset that recovery could well take 5-6 years? The only way we could return to the “prosperity” of the pre-recession economy is to create a new “bubble”, another boom based on empty policies and dodgy dealings.

    Are we better off than 4 years ago? You bet. At the start of this administration we were poised on the edge of an economic abyss with the threat of a new depression worldwide. Despite an opposition dedicated to making him fail (a distinctly unpatriotic attitude IMO) and economic ripples around the world that were outside his control, Obama has overseen a return to relative stability. While stasis and slow growth are speedbumps to capitalist ambitions they are clearly better than the state we began this ride with. Anyone who who can’t see that is suffering from memory loss.

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  9. Walker says:

    Larry, things are immensely different now than they were in 1937. More recent history might be more relevant:

    “One of the most surprising statistics of the night came from former President Bill Clinton. Since 1961, he said, 24 million private-sector jobs were added during the 28 years that Republicans held the White House. But when Democrats were president, that figure almost doubled — 42 million private-sector jobs created over 24 years. That claim appears to be true; it is backed up by a recent Bloomberg News analysis and federal labor statistics.” (From a comment in the NY Times to this editorial.)

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  10. Walker says:

    If conservative economic economic ideas were such a good idea, why was George W. Bush not invited to speak at the 2012 RNC Convention?

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  11. It’s easy to make the ‘patience’ argument when you make hundreds of thousands of dollars a pop for a single speaking gig.

    And it’s kind of ironic hearing this from Clinton since he was the one who signed the reckless deregulation that facilitated the 2008 crash.

    I don’t think Americans are really eager to buy that argument. I think the election will really hinge on whether people think the Republicans would do any better. Given what the GOP ticket is advocating, that’ll be a tough sell.

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  12. Larry says:

    In the classic film, “Chinatown”, John Huston’s character says, “Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.” I guess that explains a couple of reasons for Clinton’s appeal.

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  13. Larry says:

    No doubt there are differences, but TomL made the comparison to 1936. Although his history is wrong, there are also many similarities, not the least of which is the possibility that we will face a renewed depression/recession if we reelect a President whose economic policies are in question because of a lack of success.

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  14. TomL says:

    Larry, perhaps, although it might also be due to the peace and prosperity during his terms (although the prosperity was built in part on reckless deregulation and a high-tech bubble, as Brian MOFYC stated).

    I still chuckle over the most prescient headline ever: http://www.theonion.com/articles/bush-our-long-national-nightmare-of-peace-and-pros,464/

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  15. Peter Hahn says:

    The Obama administration was less than perfect in responding to the Financial meltdown, and a lot (but not all) of that was the Republican’s fault. Thats hind-sight. Never-the-less, Obama inherited a deeper hole than any president in my lifetime and did a much much better job than the republicans would have done. I sure hope those few remaining “undecideds” buy Clinton’s argument.

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  16. TomL says:

    Larry, what did I get wrong as history? The election (Roosevelt’s first reelection campaign) was indeed in 1936, Alf Landon was the Republican nominee, and the Republican nominee did run on a return to pre-1933 policy. Oh, and the economy had not recovered by 1936.

    Whether 1936 is a good analogy for 2012 is a matter of opinion, of course. I maintain that the decision is just as stark as 1936, and the issues are very similar.

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  17. Larry says:

    Clinton certainly gets an A+ for presentation, but beyond that his speech was a masterpiece of excuse-making from someone who has no reputation for personal honesty. He blames the Republicans for wanting to, “…get rid of those pesky financial regulations” but fails to mention that he signed the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act (which repealed key parts of the Glass-Steagall act regulating the conduct of financial institutions) which was the result of a political compromise. He didn’t mention that.

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  18. Larry says:

    TomL,
    You are sure that Landon’s election MIGHT have been a disaster without crediting the reality that Roosevelt’s reelection WAS a disaster. Opinion, even that of “scholars”, does not carry weight equal to fact.

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  19. Larry says:

    “Obama inherited a deeper hole than any president in my lifetime.”

    Not sure how old you are, Peter Hahn, but I daresay you remember Nixon and Reagan, both of whom inherited pretty deep holes (albeit in foreign policy) from their Democrat predecessors.

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  20. oa says:

    Larry, I agree totally with you that Clinton was as bad as Roosevelt. Both of them blamed things on others and were philanderers.

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  21. JDM says:

    “Obama inherited a deeper hole”

    Yeah. Poor Obama. Poor poor Obama. He can begin to fit into the shoes he put on. He’s in way way over his head.

    Poor wittle Obama. This job was a lot tougher than he thought. He thought unemployment would never get over 8%, but he didn’t realize how bad things were.

    How can a pwesident deal with such aweful things?

    Well, Mr. Pwesident. The adults will take over in November.

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  22. JDM says:

    Can we pwealse stop making excuses for this guy? He got his way. He got his bills passed.

    He owns this economy.

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  23. Larry, I’m old enough and the situations inherited by Nixon and Reagan were no where near the gravity of the 2008 economic meltdown. Ina particular I can’t see Richard M. (“If the president does it, it’s legal”) Nixon as a comparison. “W” may have remarked that “This job would be easier if I was a dictator” but Nixon saw himself as a dictator. Reagan’s foreign policy image OTOH benefited from being in office at the same time a long predicted crumbling of the Soviet Union happened.

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  24. JDM, The guy who makes a plea for adults to take over by resorting to juvenile rhetoric.

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  25. JDM says:

    James Bullard: actually, you will see it in other’s comments as well.

    “It’s all Bush’s fault”

    “deepest hole of the century”

    I’m glad you picked up on my point. This kind of excuse making is childish.

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  26. Kathy says:

    What I want to know is if Pres. Obama is so wonderful, then why didn’t he realize the deep hole he was about to enter? Seems like he was shortsighted in making promises. Don’t tell me he couldn’t have foreseen the impending doom that his predecessor made.

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  27. Walker says:

    Kathy I imagine that what Obama didn’t anticipate was the total intransigence of the Republicans– after all, with the country in crisis, you’d expect member of both parties to come together to try to solve the problems. In stead, Republicans decided that making Obama fail was job one, and to hell with the country.

    Also, the mess Bush created was still unfolding when Obama decided to run for President, and things didn’t start to turn around until he’d been in office six months or more. Besides, would you have him back out because the road looked difficult?

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  28. Brian Mann says:

    Kathy –

    I think whatever slack one cuts Obama, the point you make here is spot on. Yes, he occasionally said cautious things about the economy, warning of tough times ahead, but I think he clearly did not grasp the magnitude of the meltdown. Or how long-running or pervasive its impacts would be. That’s a legitimate knock.

    I think it’s also true that he did not grasp the depth of unwillingness on the part of Republicans to partner on economic recovery measures. The GOP was voting in favor of bailouts and stimulus programs when President Bush was still in the White House. That stopped abruptly when Obama took office and I don’t think he was prepared politically or that.

    Those are two places where I think the ‘inexperience’ question bears a lot of thought.

    At the same time, it’s only fair to think hard about the policies and leadership that produced the economic disaster, and that contributed so heavily to the partisan gridlock that has certainly complicated the recovery.

    How much of that stuff is the Republican Party’s fault? How much of that is Obama’s doing? These are key questions for voters to sort out.

    –Brian, NCPR

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  29. Walker says:

    Yeah, well, JDM, poor, poor Romney! People keep insisting that they want to see several years of his tax returns, just like he insisted on seeing Ryan’s returns. Remember, John McCain saw Romney’s returns, and promptly chose Sarah Palin as his running mate.

    And poor, poor Romney! People keep picking on him because he made his money shipping jobs overseas. And because he was pro-choice before he was anti-choice. And because he was for Romneycare before he was against Obamacare. And because he strapped his dog to the roof of the car. And because he has about as much personality as a turnip. Poor guy!

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  30. Kathy says:

    We don’t need charisma and personality. I’ll vote for a turnip if it knows what it’s doing!

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  31. Kathy says:

    Well, if the previous administration is to blame for Obama’s failures, then we can blame Clinton’s previous administration for his success. Just a thought.

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  32. Larry says:

    James Bullard:
    LBJ ran us into the ground in Vietnam and then bailed out when it was obvious he was going to be run out of town. It was left to Nixon to clean up the mess.

    Carter, after presiding over an energy crisis and continued inflation, left office under the cloud of the Iran hostage crisis, an anti-US action then unprecedented in its audacity. Reagan had that to deal with.

    Neither situation was the same as the economic crisis poor Obama said he would fix, but they were deep holes nonetheless. What’s the common thread? Figure it out.

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  33. Paul says:

    “We don’t need charisma and personality. I’ll vote for a turnip if it knows what it’s doing!”

    I agree to some extent. But in politics you need a personality like Bill Clinton’s where you can get folks to do things for you. In that regard the current president has been sorely lacking.

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  34. Kathy says:

    … I think he clearly did not grasp the magnitude of the meltdown. Or how long-running or pervasive its impacts would be.

    Understood.

    I may be too idealistic, but I do expect a leader to consider the worst case scenarios.

    I also think that Obama and the Democrats should be be fair in their assessment through admitting to their own failures.

    If we are told to be patient and some things take time, then it’s not right to blame Bush to the degree that he is being blamed.

    But I guess that’s politics.

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  35. Kathy says:

    Paul, I know what you’re saying.

    I guess I’m just not taken by charisma. Just give it to me straight, tell the truth, and I think people will respond accordingly.

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  36. It's Still All Bush's Fault says:

    It’s easy to blame someone else. That’s our society. Parents blame the teachers. Teachers blame the parents. Employees blame management. Management blames the employees. Then, our shrinks tell us that everything is our parents fault.

    When good things happen, politicians take credit. When bad things happen, it was the last guy’s fault.

    Clinton’s success was his and had nothing to do with Bush I.

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  37. hermit thrush says:

    Clinton’s success was his and had nothing to do with Bush I.

    i really disagree — this is far too strong a statement. bush i deserves a really solid piece of the credit for the deficit reduction that occurred under clinton. and his handling of the end of the cold war deserves serious plaudits, as i believe has been acknowledged by obama.

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  38. Larry says:

    “But in politics you need a personality like Bill Clinton’s where you can get folks to do things for you.”

    Has everyone forgotten exactly what it was that Clinton was so adept at persuading people to do for him?

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  39. Walker says:

    Well let’s try this one more time. It took twelve long years and WW II to dig us out of the damage from the burst bubble that was the proximate cause of the Great Depression. It took Japan a Lost Decade to dig out of the recession caused by its last big bubble. There’s no way that we would be through with the effects of the Great Recession now no matter who had been President. These things take time.

    By the way, let me spread the blame around a bit– Brian MOFYC and Larry are right: Clinton does bear some responsibility for signing the law that repealed part of Glass-Steagall, though it’s worth noting that the Act was introduced by Republicans in both the House and Senate. During debate in the House, John Dingell, Democrat, argued that the bill would result in banks becoming “too big to fail.” Dingell further argued that this would necessarily result in a bailout by the Federal Government. It’s possible that if Clinton vetoed the bill, the bubble wouldn’t have happened. I have little doubt, though, that Bush would have pushed a similar measure through. And I don’t hear any calls from the right for reinstating Glass-Steagall, though it’s clear that is what we need to do.

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  40. Larry says:

    “There’s no way that we would be through with the effects of the Great Recession now no matter who had been President.”

    “It’s possible that if Clinton vetoed the bill, the bubble wouldn’t have happened.”

    “I have little doubt, though, that Bush would have pushed a similar measure through.”

    You say these things as if they actually happened. That’s opinion, not fact.

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  41. Walker says:

    No, Larry, it’s only the first one that I stated categorically: “It is possible…” “I have little doubt…” What do you think those phrases mean?

    As for the first, if you want to believe that under John McCain or Mitt Romney we’d be doing just fine now, that’s your choice. But I don’t know what you’d base such a belief on.

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  42. Walker says:

    Tell you what has happened though, Larry– the right has been silent on the subject of reinstating Glass-Steagall.

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  43. Pete Klein says:

    It’s the rich who want handouts.
    No matter how much money they have, they are always crying for more.

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  44. JDM says:

    Walker: “Instead, Republicans decided that making Obama fail was job one, and to hell with the country.”

    More excuses. How many Democrats voted FOR Obamas budget?

    Here, let me help you:

    In the Senate: a budget amendment representing the president’s budget request was voted down 99-0.

    A similar effort from Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-SC, was rejected in the House 414-0

    I’m sorry. But it is just plain whining to say it’s the Republican’s fault. Not one Democrat in the House or Senate voted FOR Obama’s budget.

    The Republicans didn’t make him fail. Obama failed. The Dems agree with that.

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  45. JDM says:

    Brian Mann: “I think it’s also true that he did not grasp the depth of unwillingness on the part of Republicans to partner on economic recovery measures. ”

    See above, please.

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  46. Walker reminds us how long it took to recover from the depression. I would add that it took a lot of deficit spending too. Oh and high taxes on the rich as well.

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  47. Larry says:

    All the theorizing, apologizing and rationalizing can’t disguise the fact that Obama has failed to get the economy back on track. He didn’t get it done. Doesn’t matter why, or who could have/would have/should have done better, or who obstructed whom, the fact remains he didn’t make good over the last four years. If you’re OK with that, vote for him. If you’re tired of the same old failed Democrat nonsense, vote for Romney.

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  48. Larry says:

    You guys really need to start studying history. Huge deficit spending and truly confiscatory tax rates did not begin in earnest until the start of WW II. In any case, neither deficits nor tax rates helped fix the Depression.

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  49. Walker says:

    Larry, I’m not clear on who you think needs to start studying history. In any case, yes, WW II did introduce us to high marginal tax rates and high deficits, and it is notable that we managed to build the Interstate Highway System while working on the national debt, and started a prolonged period of growth that we haven’t seen the like of since. Of course a healthy labor movement helped.

    As for the Great Depression, no, it wasn’t tax rates or deficits that fixed it, it was spending. Of course that has a pretty straightforward relationship to deficits, and deficits to tax rates, but it is the government spending that did the trick.

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  50. Walker says:

    “In the Senate: a budget amendment representing the president’s budget request was voted down 99-0.”

    Yeah, right.

    While the Sessions and Mulvaney bills put forward the same topline numbers as those in the president’s budget, neither offered any specifics. The Sessions legislation was 56 pages long; actual budgets are closer to 2,000 pages long.

    Thus, a White House official said, the Sessions proposal was a “shell that could be filled with a number of things that could hurt our economy and hurt the middle class,” a White House official said. “For example, rather than ending tax breaks for millionaires his budget could hit the revenue target by raising taxes on the middle class and rather than ending wasteful programs, his budget could hit its spending target with severe cuts to important programs.”

    “This is the president’s budget,” said the top Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee, Sen. Kent Conrad of South Dakota, indicating the voluminous budget proposal President Obama offered. “This is what Sen. Sessions has presented as being the president’s budget,” he said, indicating the much slimmer document.

    “I think it’s readily apparent there is a big difference between the president’s budget, which I hold in my hands, and what Sen. Sessions has presented as being the president’s budget. This is not the president’s budget. So, of course, we’re not going to support it. It’s not what the president proposed.”

    The White House official said the Sessions and Mulvaney’s bills were mere GOP stunts to get Democrats on record opposing ‘the President’s budget’” as well as distracting from what the House Republican budget would do, which the official described as “protect(ing) massive tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires while making the middle class and seniors pay.” (ABC News)

    Nice try JDM.

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