Bill Clinton Comes Bearing Advice

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 9 2011 1:53 PM

Bill Clinton Comes Bearing Advice

My new piece comes after a quick devouring of Bill Clinton's new book Back to Work. It's passable, as these things go, unless you're a huge fan of numbered lists or something. But what capitivated me about it was Clinton's re-draft of the last three years, and his ideas for how Democrats could have saved themselves. It's odd; with some tweaks, it's a bunch of stuff they tried, and stuff he'd told them to try.

A good companion to this is Joe Conason's sympathetic interview with the 42nd president. (Sean Hannity aside, you often get the best stuff from sympathetic interviewers.) Clinton, in making his critique, misunderstood the clout that Republicans had.

Although early news accounts of "Back To Work" emphasized Clinton's mild criticisms of the Obama administration, he said that section of the book includes an error. Having written that the president and congressional Democrats should have sought a debt limit increase long before last summer's crisis, because they could have done so without facing Republican obstruction, he has since learned the debt ceiling is subject to a filibuster -- and that Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell threatened to do so when the Democrats tried to lift the ceiling in 2010.
Obama couldn't risk the consequences of calling the Republican bluff on the debt ceiling, said Clinton, as he did when they confronted him in the 1990s.
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This stuff is difficult, even if you're a former president who lived through something that looked awfully similar.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.