Bill Clinton's Surprise Appearance to Back Obama Tax Deal Recalls Bygone Era

Anyone walking into the middle of the news conference Friday afternoon at the White House would be forgiven for wondering whether Bill Clinton was back for a command performance as leader of the free world.

Clinton -- who for the record has been out of the president's office for a decade -- stood in front of the White House logo and took questions from reporters as if he hadn't missed a beat. But this time, he was selling the policies of his successor.

Obama, after meeting with Clinton, brought him back onto center stage in a surprise appearance to endorse the tax deal Obama has struck with Republicans. But it remains to be seen whether even Clinton has the power to quell a revolt brewing on the left.

Yet Clinton seemed like the perfect choice to try to pacify liberals angry over a Democratic president tacking to his center. Clinton, after all, popularized "triangulating" in the 90's and was credited for overseeing a decade of prosperity and peace in country.

"I don't believe there is a better deal out there," Clinton told reporters, who called him "Mr. President."

After a private meeting with Obama in the Oval Office, Clinton held court for more than 30 minutes, expressing support not only for the tax deal, but also the stalled U.S.-Russia nuclear treaty.

For his part, Obama said it was a "terrific meeting," turned the podium over to Clinton and eventually left to attend a Christmas party.

During their private meeting, Clinton presumably offered Obama some advice on how to deal with his critics on the left as well as an emboldened GOP, which takes control of the House in January and increases its ranks in the Senate.

Liberal Democrats are outraged that Obama cut a deal extending the Bush tax cuts for all households, including the wealthiest Americans. In return, Obama got an extension of long-term unemployment aid for 13 months and a one-year reduction to the Social Security payroll tax on employees.

Liberals fear the deal could be the first of many he makes over the next two years that favors Republicans in a strategy known as triangulation.

Clinton is no stranger to Obama's current predicament. In the middle of his first term in office, Clinton's party lost control of Congress, forcing him to negotiate with Republicans to advance his agenda. That led to the much-heralded welfare reform and a balanced budget.

Some Republicans hope Clinton will encourage Obama to follow in his footsteps.

"President Clinton came to the center after the devastating election defeat he took in 1994 and if President Obama follows that model, he'll be a more successful president," Sen.-elect Pat Toomey, R-Pa., told Fox News.