Bill Clinton as Counterprogramming

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Dec. 10 2010 4:43 PM

Bill Clinton as Counterprogramming

I have mostly been commenting on Twitter, but I have no real comment or insight on why Bill Clinton has been handed the White House briefing room for a presser of undetermined length. It doesn't indicate that all the votes are there for the tax cut deal yet, does it?

"I am happy to be here," said Clinton, "when the bullets that are fired are not likely to hit me." Indeed, instead of covering Bernie Sanders and his filibuster, ledes are being rewritten to talk about how the 42nd president materialized out of nowhere to talk about why he supported the tax cut deal.

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UPDATE: So, what was that about? It's not in any way surprising that Clinton would support the tax cut deal, although he hadn't explicitly endorsed it before. It was not a surprise that he was in town -- the meeting with Obama was on the schedule for today , though a press conference hadn't been announced. It was, actually, sort of a cop-out, because Obama introduced Clinton, said that he was "keeping the First Lady waiting," and allowed a former president who said he was not actually lobbying members of Congress on the deal to sell the deal via free association. He noted, for example, that Charles Krauthammer opposed the deal, so conservative opposition was out there and it proved that the left should not consider the deal a cave-in.

A former president has never entered the White House briefing room and taken questions without the current president also in the room. And, sure, it's striking to hear Clinton join Obama in the abandonment of a 9-year Democratic argument, that the Bush tax cuts are unaffordable. But it's tough to see the Clinton presser as anything but political theater, and less politically important than the Sanders speech -- or as the denizens of Twitter have called it, following Jordian Fabian, the "FiliBernie." We don't know when Sanders will stop talking. He has not indicated whether he will slow down the business of the Senate, which he's not currently doing (there are no votes scheduled today), but he is at the very least in the middle of a dry run that has given him massive media attention and public support. We did not learn anything from Clinton's interesting riff on politics. We are actually learning a lot from Sanders as he reads constituent letters, into hour seven of the speech.

"Do you know what dented can stores are?" asked Sanders. "Most members of the House and Senate, and governors, do not get their meals from dented cans. But millions of Americans do."

Sanders said earlier today that the Senate should stay in Washington through New Years if needed. The only reason that's not being taken seriously as a threat is that conventional wisdom argues against it and argues against Sanders actually filibustering on Monday, when the tax deal could come up for a vote. But really, should we rule it out?

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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