Published September 20, 2010
President Obama "was socked by the intensity of Republican opposition" in the past 20 months, but is "getting his groove back," former President Bill Clinton said Sunday.
Obama earned some friends across the aisle while he was in the Senate and pledged not to investigate the Bush administration, but he was wrong to think his presidency would attract some Republican support in Congress as a result, Clinton said.
"It disoriented him for a while," Clinton said.
Speaking on two different Sunday morning news shows -- NBC's "Meet the Press" and CBS' "Face the Nation -- the popular former president said that Obama believed that if he were successful legislatively it "would be reflected in a better political climate."
But Republicans have adopted the successful strategy of 1993 and 1994 when they won the congressional majority for the first time in 40 years. That strategy, he said, is to reject everything that the majority party stands for, even if it is good for the country.
"They learned from my first two years that, if you just say no, even though people hate it, you get rewarded for it because it discourages the Democrats and it inflames your base. So they're doing just what they did in '93 and '94. And so far it appears that they're being rewarded for it," he said.
As Clinton appeared on the morning news shows to prop up the current president, his Clinton Global Initiative announced that Obama will join him this week at the international aid group's annual meeting set to feature 64 heads of state, hundreds of business leaders and Nobel laureates.
Clinton said that event will focus on education, helping women globally and developing clean energy jobs in the United States without government involvement.
The former president acknowledged that if the U.S. unemployment rate were 5 percent, "we wouldn't be having this discussion" about Obama's standing. But, he said, there's "a huge lag time" between digging out of a recession and people feeling it.
He added that while he's a little befuddled about how Democrats can get across their message in the current political atmosphere, they need to "shake the voters out of their apathy."
But Clinton said Democrats may have a better chance of withstanding the Tea Party onslaught than the Republican Party whose behavior defied its stated principles and earned Tea Party rebellion.
Tea Partiers rightly "believe that people with wealth and power have done well and ordinary people have not," Clinton said, offering his explanation for the rise of the political phenomenon that has already undone several incumbent candidates this election year.
"The Tea Party insurrection, if you will ... reflects the feeling of a lot of Americans that they're getting the shaft," he said.
Whether the Tea Parties -- and their hand-picked nominees -- can translate their anger into action is uncertain, Clinton said. The new group of candidates needs to get specific in terms of what they want, and whether that includes repealing the student loan program or the Wall Street reform, two of Congress' best pieces of legislation this year, Clinton contended.
He also argued that the GOP quadrupled the budget deficit in the 12 years before his presidency and quadrupled it again after he left, so while Republicans "talked a good game" about balancing the budget, it was easy to do after the 1993 tax-raising budget approved with 90 percent of Democratic support.
Still, Clinton said he's not sure what advice to give to Democrats except that they should focus on what they're going to do in office.
"People only hire us when things are messed up. They'd much rather hear the Republican rhetoric than ours. We only get hired when the country is in a mess. So the Democrats should focus on what we're going to do," he said.
"They will kick you like a dog, treat you like a dog but that's the nature of this country," Powell said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Clinton said Obama may find it easier to get along with Republicans after the election, but he's not sure the overall benefit.
"I think it would increase his chances of being re-elected, whether it would be good for the country, I don't know," he said.
"I don't know how it will play out," he said of the midterm contest.