Bill Clinton, arguably the most popular pol in America today, was stumping with Obama on the campaign trail this week. From the LA Times:

“Nearly a week after President Obama stopped his campaign’s momentum with a lackluster debate performance, former President Clinton sought Tuesday to help him recover by offering a withering new critique of Mitt Romney. “I had a different reaction to that first debate than a lot of people did,” Clinton told nearly 2,000 supporters at a campaign rally for Obama and other Democrats. “I thought, ‘Wow, here’s old moderate Mitt. Where ya been, boy?’ “

Team Obama has turned to Bill Clinton as they continue to struggle with the most predictable and telegraphed “pivot to the center” in the history of politics.  Many of the President’s supporters are adopting the “Moderate Mitt” label that Clinton uses here as a pejorative, and outlining Romney’s new moderate positions to prove that he has changed positions. Think Progress is a case in point:

“In a last ditch effort to win over undecided moderates, Mitt Romney is finally fulfilling his adviser’s prediction that he would become the “Etch-a-Sketch” candidate. During the first presidential debate, Romney started reversing positions he espoused all year while he was trying to placate the Republican base. Since the debate, he’s continued to shed his hard-line stances that alienated moderates. Here are 5 examples…”

It may or may not be “last ditch”, but Romney’s shifting positions appear to be working. As noted by Khaki in the comments, it is possible that Obama supporters promoting this moniker and Romney’s new moderate positions will make it more likely that undecideds, centrists, independents, and moderates will support him. Despite being called a liar or flip-flopper, the fact that he changes positions to adjust to the prevailing political winds and public polls may be exactly what moderates want to see in a President.

Nevertheless, Obama supporters have stepped up the “liar” / “flip-flopper” attacks. Daily Kos is aggressively promoting this YouTube video showing Romney debating himself (Which I would have embedded here if I had the permissions):

While we did not have YouTube in 1992 when Bill Clinton ran for President, we did have newspapers  and political pundits:

[click to enlarge]

 Paul Greenberg of the LA Times on October  2, 1992:

“The Bush-Quayle campaign compiled an extensive list of Bill Clinton’s contradictory positions on everything from free trade to school vouchers, which is no great feat. They’re all part of the voluminous record… Clinton vs. Clinton could go on interminably. And often does. The Comeback Kid is never sharper than when he takes on the Democratic presidential nominee… Bill Clinton could have a two-man, maybe a three-man, debate of a wide variety of issues in this presidential contest all by himself. When accused of being a slick, unprincipled, double-dealing pol, he has an effective answer in this modern age: George Bush is another. “

This line of attack didn’t work out so well for the Bush-Quayle campaign in 1992. And apparently the irony of Bill Clinton on the stump mocking “Moderate Mitt” – for being too “Clintonesque” is completely lost on Team Obama.

The parallel between Romney and Clinton’s approach to political integrity was obvious to me when Romney was running for the Republican Nomination over 5 years ago:

“The most interesting aspect of the guy is Romney’s seeming ability to to get away with wholesale changes in core Republican positions. He has a slick Clintonesque sincere-ish quality, even when explaining 180 degree flip-flops in core convictions. People want to believe him, even if his political platform is clearly found at the intersection of his ambition and the latest poll.”

Yes Romney lied. So did Obama. So did Bush43.  So did Clinton.  So did Bush41.  So did Reagan. So did Carter. Well… maybe not Carter. He was just incompetent. But you get my point.  Making the case to vote for a candidate based on marginally fewer lies is a tough sell.  It simply does not work as a campaign tactic. Recall that Bill Clinton was actually impeached and stood trial in the Senate for lying under oath. And he is still more popular today than either Romney or Obama.

The reality is this: In an evenly divided country with a divided government there are worse things than a President without core ideological convictions who is willing to compromise and govern based on pragmatic politics and the polls. What is specifically worse, is a dogmatic President who does not. The polls are, after all, indicative of the will of the majority.

Based on their relative performance in the Democratic Convention, Bill Clinton is a more effective advocate for reelecting Barack Obama than is Barack Obama.  But when Barack Obama campaigns with Bill Clinton he runs the risk of reminding voters that Mitt Romney is more likely to be a  “Clintonesque” President than Barack Obama has proven to be over the last four years.

Cross posted from The Dividist Papers

  • cranky critter

    That depends a lot on who you decide is the real guy. The way one behaves while a candidate does not necessarily indicate how you’ll govern.

    It’s just as plausible that the October Mitt will disappear after the election, to be replaced in January 2013 by the February 2012 version, the self-deemed “severe conservative.” Just sayin, by the way.

    I see Romney as the same guy underneath all along. Even though he’s a mormon, he’s not passionate about injecting social issues into politics. Nor do I think he’s particularly passionate about overseas adventures.

    He just wants government to foster business growth. He wants to be the mayor, in other words. Fix the potholes, run the trains on time, negotiate trade deals, and so on. You can tell this by which issues he speaks passionately and intelligently about, versus the ones where he relies on superficial canned responses.

    That guy is someone liberals don’t trust, for being on the side of the wealthy and powerful. And it’s someone social conservatives don’t trust, for having a lukewarm history on their issues.

  • mw

    “That depends a lot on who you decide is the real guy.” – cc

    True enough, but we do have an additional data point – How he actually governed in Massachusetts. Based on that record – if he wins (which I still consider highly unlikely) and given he would probably still face a divided government with Dems controlling the Senate – it is a good bet that the real Romney would be the “Moderate Mitt” – Who just wants to do deals.

  • cranky critter

    That’s how he governed with a legislature that was roughly 80% democrats.

  • RobInDayton

    You said everyone lies. What were Obama’s lies?

    Here is Mitt’s

  • Tillyosu

    I feel like Romney is settling in to who he really is – which is just a pragmatic, non-idealogue. I think he said what he had to during the primaries, but he never really seemed comfortable doing it. Now, he seems more in his element, and I think that’s why he was so convincing during the debates. Sure, I wish he was more conservative. But a guy who just wants to govern competently and get shit done is just fine with me.

  • Jim S

    He can’t govern as the moderate Mitt if he wants to be re-elected. If he tries the base will turn on him and a primary challenge from the right wouldn’t be at all surprising.

  • cranky critter

    A primary challenge wouldn’t be surprising. But a successful primary challenge would be astonishing. Maybe even unprecedented.

    IMO, EVERY President governs more moderately than he has campaigned. There just isn’t any way a President can fail to feel the tremendous weight of the needs and demands of the entire country.

    Obama bitterly disappointed progressives, but he didn’t surprise me a bit. Staunch conservatives who have recently begun to drink the Romney koolaid will have the same experience. But I view all of this as a feature, not a bug.

  • Chris

    GWB campaigned on being a compassionate conservative. What happened to that?