12/14/2010 07:28 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

What Can Obama Learn From Bill Clinton?

Bill Clinton surprised reporters last week when he showed up at the White House to endorse the tax deal that President Obama cut with the Republican Party. Clinton then outlined how the deal would help boost the economy, even sticking around after Obama exited to attend to other commitments. Clinton's brief appearance excited both members of the media and Washington, but the question now is whether Clinton's presence can help Obama turn things around. Here's what some of best newspaper columnists have to say:

Obama isn't as savvy as Clinton was: Clinton could "achieve workable results" that "a plurality of voters in the broad mainstream could support," says The Boston Globe's Jeff Jacoby. Just look at his willingness to compromise on both welfare reform and budget-balancing, "classic examples of triangulation," in which he "drew on the best ideas of right and left without tilting toward either extreme." Instead of following this path, Obama has "rebuked his fellow liberals for their 'sanctimony'" and called Republicans "hostage takers." Obama needs to learn "how to find the middle ground and embrace it."

This marks a shift in Obama's agenda: "Lord knows how much money -- and time -- was wasted on the original Obama stimulus," says Jonah Goldberg in the Los Angels Times. Even if Obama has come around at last, that's "an awfully expensive lesson." Consider this an apology for going in the wrong direction. "In his arrogance, he even disparaged the Clinton presidency as too mincing and modest. On Friday, Obama asked Clinton to save Obama's. You could see it in Bill's smile."

It's regression, not progress: "With Obama, the left thought they had finally elected a True Believer," someone who would represent their ideals, says Marc A. Thiessen in The Washington Post. "But instead of delivering a second New Deal, it now looks like Obama may deliver the third Clinton term." Give Obama some credit though; he "did cut a pretty good deal" on tax cuts. It would be smart for him to continue this way, too. "After he spent his first two years in office alienating moderates and energizing conservatives, it should be obvious that Obama cannot succeed by appealing to the 20 percent liberal minority." Working with Republicans may keep him in office for another term.

How far can this really take Obama? It sure seems like Obama has "outsourced his presidency to Bill Clinton," says The New York Times' Peter Baker. Obama's "pivoting to the center at the expense of his own supporters" might be well and good, but remember that "Clinton's approach involved as much confrontation as conciliation, and most of all, improvisation." Still, it's not fair to compare the two men who are "strikingly different figures" with different sets of circumstances. Clinton's "triangulation" strategy to "recapture the middle" worked for him, but it also "left a bad taste among Democrats that persists to this day." Obama is still dealing with the consequences of Clinton's presidency.

Good idea, but the wrong president to invite: "If Mr. Obama wants to take this bipartisan thing even further, we have a suggestion. Next time he should cut out the Presidential middle man and invite Mr. Bush for a White House drop-by," says a Wall Street Journal editorial. "Since we all now believe that the Bush tax rates are vital to our economic future, he might as well invoke the oracle himself."