He's either paving the way for the president to compromise later -- or else consolidating his own legacy.
Bill Clinton's latest "break" with liberal doctrine -- his pronouncement that President Obama and Congress should extend the Bush-era tax cuts to forestall recession -- may not be as mischievous as it seems.
Clinton is catnip to reporters. Always will be. And his latest foray off the reservation will assuredly be interpreted as a deliberate or subliminal poke at the Obama campaign and the guys who kept Hillary out of the White House in 2008.
In an appearance on CNBC, Clinton said that Washington should okay another temporary extension of the Bush-era tax cuts. In the blogosphere, Republicans danced with glee.
But there is another way of looking at this. Maybe Clinton has helped Obama out.
Obama will have to compromise with congressional Republicans on debt and taxes if he wins re-election.
And if the last three months of tepid job growth are not an aberration, but a sign the economy is heading toward contraction, then extending the tax cuts may be the only strategy that the two parties can agree on as a means of economic stimulus.
If so, then Clinton was doing what House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi did recently when she redefined those who qualify for "middle class" tax cuts as Americans making up to $999,999 a year.
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Both Clinton and Pelosi are signaling to the voters that the Democrats, at least, are not going to hold American families hostage to party shibboleths.
Clinton and Pelosi are also sending signals to their party's liberal base. Grand bargains require compromise. Obama will find it easier to sell a deal if the party's other leaders have plowed the ground for him.
If Clinton does have an ulterior motive for popping off, it may be ideological, not personal. He helped rescue the Democrats from their reflexively dogmatic liberalism in the 1980s and the 1990s, but in recent years his party has been backsliding.
He may feel the need to defend his legacy.