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The former president is so fed up with the current one's inability to sell his economic message, he wrote a book to do it for him.

The ex-president is the underminer-in-chief.

The New York Times' lede about Clinton's new book, Back to Work, is a gossipy anecdote from the big guy's 65th birthday party in the Hamptons. Referring to Obama and his struggles to get the country to take heart in his economic policy, the former president had this to say: “I’m really trying to help him, but he seems to have lost his narrative.”

The portrait that emerges is of a perpetually frosty (though maybe warming) relationship, and of a former president as big brother, eager to help his fellow Democrat succeed, but perhaps a little too ready to seize the controls himself.

At home in Chappaqua, N.Y., Mr. Clinton spends over an hour a day “studying the economy,” as an aide put it, meaning clipping newspaper articles and reading obscure government reports. “I think he thinks to himself, ‘God, this is what I would do’ ” in response to the grim circumstances, a former Clinton economic official said.

“Back to Work” is a classic Clinton talkathon, zooming from job-creation ideas to a complaint about something he saw on Bill Maher’s show. He expresses sympathy for Mr. Obama, but his private critique comes through as well: incredulity that the president and Democratic leaders did not raise the debt ceiling during the 2010 lame-duck session; bafflement that many beneficiaries of Mr. Obama’s policies “didn’t even know about” his actions; and frustration about the lack of a powerful Democratic message in the midterm elections.

But Clinton's defense of Obama is genuine, particularly to the group most frustrated with the current president: liberals who wish he would do more. The former president notes that he had Democratic majorities, and still just barely eked some of his biggest initiatives through the Congress. Not that those defenses will make them best buddies, necessarily. The Times on a recent Obama/Clinton golf outing:

The photographs from the excursion tell the same story the friends do about the outing: the older president is open-mouthed and gesticulating. The younger one looks like he would rather just play golf, but he is patiently listening anyway.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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