Bill Clinton Is Obama's Ultimate Armchair Critic

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The former president (and husband of the secretary of state) is already telling Obama how to run his re-election campaign, now he's telling the president how to govern.

Bill Clinton has become President Obama's most high-profile armchair critic.

This Sunday, Clinton offers a not-so-subtle hint about governing in his New York Times Book Review assessment of Robert Caro's latest installment of his biography of Lyndon Johnson. "This is the question every president must ask and answer," Clinton writes, referring to the matter of how an American president should use his political capital. It's a topic that Obama observers have dwelled on at length as Obama has faced a resistent Congress. The hint Clinton drops is that the president must be the mover of Congress, he notes, marveling at LBJ's ability to get legislators on his side. "If you were a partisan, he’d call on your patriotism; if a traditionalist, he’d make his proposal seem to be the Establishment choice. His flattery was minutely detailed, finely tuned and perfectly modulated. So was his bombast — whatever worked."

The advice was not lost on The New Republic's Timothy Noah "[The] review is clearly addressed to a single NYT reader," he tweeted. "The guy's initials are BHO." It also wouldn't be the first time the Silver Fox imparted his wisdom to Obama.

Earlier this month, Politico's Glenn Thrush and Jonathan Martin reported that Clinton was responsible for altering the Obama campaign's attack message against Mitt Romney after badgering members of the campaign. "A more effective strategy, Clinton has told anyone who would listen, would be to focus almost exclusively on Romney’s description of himself as a 'severe conservative,'" they reported, "to deny him any chance to tack back to the center, according to three Democrats close to the situation."

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A Democrat briefing on the meetings between the Obama campaign and Clinton relayed that “[Clinton] said he thought Romney’s positions on the issues would ultimately be the best way to attack him." According to Thrush and Martin, "Clinton’s advice ... has clearly gained traction internally since the end of Romney’s four-month primary ordeal."

And that's the latest example. According to David Axelrod, Clinton has been giving Obama advice on a range of issues. “President Clinton has been the source of very good advice, and very meaningful support,” he told The New York Times' Peter Baker last week. This advice wasn't always so welcome, Baker writes. 

"A classic example of the complicated dynamic came last year when Mr. Clinton published a book titled 'Back to Work,' offering very public advice about how to fix the economy," wrote Baker. "At first, the book rankled the Obama camp, which felt blindsided by its publication and privately complained that it made it seem as if the current president needed guidance." 

Now things seems to be rather patched up as Clinton has also been campaigning for Obama, a development that has confused some Democrats who used to see the two as frenemies. According to one Democrat, however, it's a win-win situation for both of them. "Bill Clinton is not stupid," a Democrat who worked for both Clinton and Obama told The Times' Baker. "He knows if he can give a little of his 60-percent-plus approval rating halo to Obama, and Obama does well, that only helps Clinton. And it helps the missus if she wants to run.” So if life is good for Obama, it's good for Clinton.

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