THE BLOG

Should an Obama Presidency Be Bill Clinton's Third Term?

11/30/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I was on Fox News yesterday to discuss the state of the campaign. You can watch the clip here. It telegraphs what I think could become a right-wing meme in the months after the election, should Barack Obama win, and should Obama make his administration merely an extension of the Clinton administration.

The first half of the interview is about the Obama informercial (which I said was a great idea) and about John McCain's criticism of Obama as a "socialist" (which I said was absurd, considering the Bush years have redistributed wealth up the income ladder). But where it really gets interesting is toward the end in a discussion about Bill Clinton.

Fox showed a clip of Clinton allegedly "complimenting" Obama for having called all of Clinton's economic advisers during the financial crisis. Clinton also "complimented" Obama for supposedly knowing nothing about the financial situation, but having the courage to admit he didn't know much and the courage to tell Clintonites he wanted to know more. This is problematic on a number of levels.

First (as I told Fox) why does Bill Clinton always need to make everything about Bill Clinton? We're five days from an election that is a referendum not only on Bush-ism, but on incrementalist Clintonism. And yet, Bill Clinton seems unable to realize that reality -- and is desperately trying to make sure the Obama presidency is, in part, about Bill Clinton.

Second, why does Bill Clinton need to reinforce the right-wing narrative that Obama's inexperience means he supposedly doesn't know anything about major issues before the country? True, that's not exactly what Clinton said -- but it is what he implied. Not good.

Third -- and perhaps most substantively concerning -- Clinton's entire narrative is the starting gun of what will be a very intense effort by the larger pool of Clintonites to infiltrate an Obama administration. If we can step back and look honestly at the economic situation, then we have to admit (as I admitted on Fox) that Clinton officials had a hand in the key deregulatory policies that led to the financial meltdown, and the key free-market fundamentalist policies (rigged trade deals, corporate tax loopholes, etc.) that are hollowing out the economy. These same people are now going to try to use an Obama presidency to reassume the posts they had in a Clinton administration. And the fact that, according to Bill Clinton, Obama is already potentially letting them - well, that's really disturbing (if unsurprising).

The hope is with a big enough election mandate, Obama will feel more empowered to sweep out the Clintonites and start fresh -- both in terms of personnel, and in terms of ideology. Because if he doesn't, not only could it stunt his policy agenda, it could also create political problems for him. The media -- and especially outlets like Fox News -- are going to be looking for weak points that allow them to tar and feather an Obama presidency as just "more of the same."

To be sure, I told Fox that having Bill Clinton campaign for Obama is a great thing. Bill Clinton is a great political asset to any campaign (if he's not implying that the guy he's campaigning for is uninformed). And while I don't love criticizing Democrats on Fox News, I thought that under the circumstances, it's important for progressives to start laying down markers about what we should and should not cheer on - what we should and should not expect from an Obama adminstration. In my opinion, it doesn't help Obama win the election, nor will it help his administration, to be painted as a mere second act for the last Democratic administration.

Making the Obama presidency the third term of Bill Clinton's presidency is both substantively inappropriate to the times, and politically dangerous/tone deaf. I hope that's not the path a President Obama takes, should he win the White House.