One real benefit of the Clintons’ double-team strategy here in South Carolina is the way in which it allows them to play good-cop, bad-cop. In what was billed as a major economic address at Furman University in Greenville this morning, Hillary Clinton did not make a single reference to any of her Democratic opponents, instead training all her fire on George Bush. It sounded very much like a speech in a general election, not a Democratic primary.
Her economic ideas were all the ones she has talked about before–a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures on sub-prime owner-occupied homes; a five-year freeze on the adjustable rates of sub-prime mortgages; energy assistance and $10 billion more to extend unemployment. But the contrast she drew was not with the plans being offered by Barack Obama (which more heavily emphasizes tax rebates) and John Edwards (who puts more into helping with energy costs). Instead, she focused on “seven years of inattention, neglect and denial,” and added: “I welcome the President to this conversation.”
I find it hard to believe that Bill Clinton would be out there flailing at Obama (and the media) the way he is, if the campaign didn’t have some idea that it is working toward at least cutting Obama’s lead here.* (Comeback Kid of the South?) Certainly, the frustration of Team Obama is palpable.
*Or maybe not.
UPDATE: The Obama campaign has held a conference call to respond to the Clinton speech. Policy guru Austan Goolsbee pointed out (correctly) that Obama’s proposal, with its heavier emphasis on tax rebates, would give the economy a quicker jolt than Clinton’s, which relies more on types of spending that could take months to reach the economic pipeline. The campaign also expressed disappointment that the stimulus package agreed to by the President and Congress, which has some features of the Obama plan (and Clinton’s and John Edwards’), does not include his proposed tax rebates for seniors, extension of unemployment benefits and aid to the states.
It is worth noting that these plans that have been offered by the presidential candidates are little more than academic exercises. By the time any of them would take office next January, it would be far too late for any of their proposals to do any good. (In fact, history suggests that by the time government acts to stimulate the economy, it almost always does it after the need has passed, which means their value has been more political than economic.) However, the ideas being talked about on the campaign trail are useful in giving voters a sense of the candidates’ reflexes in dealing with an economic crisis–and, perhaps more importantly, what their priorites would be if confronted with a set of similar circumstances when any of them were in the Oval Office.