President Clinton in the Thicket

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Following last night’s debate, I asked President Clinton this morning: “Is Obama running against you, or Hillary Clinton or both of you?” Forty-two again hit Obama for admiring Republican ideas — a sore spot for Obama who said in last night’s debate that he praised Reagan as a president able to cross the partisan divide NOT Republican ideas.

“Oh, I don’t know, I thought he was running against me for a while there in Nevada when he said that Republicans had most of the new ideas and you had to challenge the conventional wisdom of the 90s,” Clinton told reporters at Lizzard’s Thicket breakfast joint in Columbia. “I thought we challenged the conventional wisdom of the 90s.”

Then he lapsed into a bit of reminiscing about the Clinton legacy. “We proved that you could balance the budget and grow the economy while investing in education and you could improve the environment and grow the economy,” Clinton said. “We proved that you could be pro-labor and help the business community. We proved that you could reduce the number on (unemployment) insurance; we moved almost eight million people out of poverty and now there are five million more people in poverty in this decade. So I thought that it was our new ideas, whether it was community policing or how we did welfare reform or empowerment zones in the communities or just the general economic philosophy we had. We were challenging the conventional wisdom.”

Clearly, he’s been well trained to use plural pronouns these days.

The Obama campaign responded in a conference call that Clinton’s criticisms of of Obama are “unpresidential”. And that they are creating a South Carolina Truth squad to call false Clinton accusations.

Also, my colleague Mark Halperin correctly points out that Obama did actually call the GOP the party of ideas. There’s the full quote of what he said:

I don’t want to present myself as some sort of singular figure. I think part of what’s different are the times. I do think that for example the 1980 was different.
I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it.

I think they felt like with all the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s and government had grown and grown but there wasn’t much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think people, he just tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want clarity we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.

I think Kennedy, twenty years earlier, moved the country in a fundamentally different direction. So I think a lot of it just has to do with the times.

I think we’re in one of those times right now. Where people feel like things as they are going aren’t working. We’re bogged down in the same arguments that we’ve been having, and they’re not useful.

And, you know, the Republican approach, I think, has played itself out.

I think it’s fair to say the Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time there over the last ten, fifteen years, in the sense that they were challenging conventional wisdom.