The chatter flew hot and heavy that former President Bill Clinton may be more of a liability than an asset to President Obama's re-election drive. His alleged sins are two-fold. He is a loose cannon who might say anything at any time that could harm or embarrass Obama. His quips that he would extend the Bush tax cuts temporarily and his praise of GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney as having a "sterling" business record were supposedly prime examples of his shoot- from-the-lip penchant. The other knock against Clinton was that his outsized ego, larger than life persona and popularity, and his longing for Hillary to be a Democratic Party savior would cause problems. These are meaningless concerns. Clinton is more than worth his weight in campaign gold to Obama, and he knows it.
Clinton's popularity and potential usefulness to Obama was evident in a Gallup poll in 2010 that found that more Democrats would be more likely to vote for a Democratic candidate for office if Bill Clinton pitched the candidate than if Obama made the pitch. The poll also found that independents say they would be far less likely to vote for a candidate that Obama pitched than one that Clinton pitched. A hard political fact of life is that successful and popular former presidents are always in demand as campaign boosters and pitchmen for their party. Eisenhower, Reagan, and Clinton's endorsements, party allure, and name identification were prized assets that there would be successors used to drum up support and rally the party faithful and voters across the board to their campaigns. They had little choice. Richard Nixon in 1960 and George H. W. Bush in 1988 were either underdogs or ran close to a dead heat with their Democratic presidential opponents. A push from Eisenhower and Reagan was deemed crucial to tip the scales in their favor. In both cases, the former presidents gave tepid, lukewarm, and belated support. Nixon and Bush lost. In 2000, Democrats screamed at presidential contender Al Gore and in 2004 presidential contender John Kerry to put Clinton on the campaign trail to rally the troops. They did not. Both lost. Obama can't make that mistake.
Clinton is still fondly, even rapturously, regarded as the Democrat who got things done. He was not embroiled in a major war, the economy hummed, he beat back every major political and legal challenge from the GOP's Clinton loathers and baiters. He did a course correction with the Democratic Party that transformed it from a party stigmatized as one that pandered to minorities and thumbed its nose at the white middle class, to one that championed their interests. He is still seen by Democrats as the consummate professional, charismatic Democrat who can deliver the goods.
But equally important, he can fatten Obama's campaign coffers. Money, money and more money can make the difference in a high-stakes political campaign. The Wisconsin recall election was a harbinger of the wallop that dumping exorbitant amounts of cash in a campaign can have. GOP groups outspent the recall proponents by an 8 to 1 margin. But it wasn't just the money. It was the eagerness of GOP connected groups and donors to spend it that is an even more ominous warning of the make or break role of campaign cash. The 2012 presidential election will be the costliest election in U.S. history. The legion of GOP connected Super PACs will shell out more than $1 billion to oust Obama. This is separate from the tens of millions dollars that the official Republican campaign committees will spend. The Democrats will need Clinton to match that staggering sum.
There's one more thing that makes Clinton the one Democrat who's still most in demand and listened to by other Democrats, and that's desperation. The GOP hatchet job on Obama has been so diabolically effective that many Democrats have put distance between themselves and the president. Some have gone further and depicted themselves in ads and saber-rattling speeches and interviews as the anti-Democrat Democrats. They brag that they have opposed Obama on some issues. Clinton then stands out as the Democrat who stands above the fray and carries no campaign negative baggage.
The GOP leaders proved the immense importance of Clinton. They wasted no time in latching onto Clinton's remarks praising Romney and backing a temporary extension of the Bush tax cuts to hammer Obama. Clinton and Obama saw the potential danger. Clinton quickly walked his statements back. And Obama just as quickly said there was no "daylight" between them on the issues. This won't end the self-serving use and misuse of the Clinton name by the GOP. This just proves that Clinton is and will remain a prime asset for Obama.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour heard weekly on the nationally network broadcast Hutchinson Newsmaker Network.