03/19/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Bill Clinton: Obama "Off To A Good Start"

WASHINGTON — Former President Bill Clinton said Monday he thinks the country will surmount the current economic crisis, but sees the threat of terrorism and global instability as a longer-term problem.

Clinton also gave President Barack Obama high marks for the $787 billion economic stimulus bill that Obama will sign into law as early as Tuesday.

"I think he's off to a good start," Clinton said. "I think he's got a good team."

He said he thought Obama's White House handled the stimulus issue relatively well, "given the fact they had to do it in a hurry."

Clinton also said he believes the massive bill, which combines spending and tax cuts, will be "our bridge over troubled waters."

"The public, I believe, will support him at least for a year in trying to work these things out," he said. "And he's been very straightforward in saying it might take as much as two years for the economy to really get in gear again. My instinct is it will happen a little quicker than that."

Clinton tore into Republicans for their almost unified opposition to Obama's stimulus legislation. "Those guys are on automatic ... you punch a button, and they give you the answer they give you."

"Well, first of all, he has reached across [the aisle], and it takes two to tango," he said. "I find it amazing that the Republicans who doubled the debt of the country in eight years and produced no new jobs doing it, gave us an economic record that was totally bereft of any productive result are now criticizing him for spending money. You know, I'm a fiscal conservative, I balanced the budget, I ran surpluses. If I were in his position today, I would be doing what he's doing."

Clinton said political factors would eventually force some Republican lawmakers to come around. "Here's what I think will happen," said Clinton. "I think that, as we go along, if the American people stick with him and if he begins to have good results, then I think more and more Republicans will cooperate with him because they will see that he's right or because he carried their states or for any number of reasons."

He confirmed he has talked to Obama about the job, although Clinton said he didn't want to be too specific.

He said he talked to the new president about "nuts and bolts" issues of the presidency and how to keep things from "falling through the cracks."

Asked his perspective on how the country fell into such economic hard times, Clinton responded in an NBC "Today" show interview by asking rhetorically: "Did any of them seriously believe that if I had been president and my economic team had been in place the last eight years, that this would be taking place."

In another interview, Clinton was asked which president he would most identify with.

"Personally, I'm not sure," he told CNN. "One guy wrote a book saying that I was most like Thomas Jefferson, but the times in which I governed were most like Theodore Roosevelt's. And we had _ and the results I received were similar. We had _ he had enormous success. The country was better off when he quit than when he started."

Clinton also said that several of the programs that Theodore Roosevelt pushed "were not actually done until his cousin, Franklin Roosevelt, became president, you know, more than 20 years later."

"I think that a lot of the things that I recommended in terms of the health care reform will come to fruition now that we have a more modern Democratic Congress and a new Democrat Congress and the Obama administration there," he said. "I'll be surprised if they don't get health care reform and some of the other things I recommended. I'm excited about it."

Clinton was ranked 15th among presidents in the latest C-SPAN survey of some 65 presidential scholars and experts, moving up six places from where he stood in an earlier survey in 2000.

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