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Democrats Will Balance Past and Present

President Bill Clinton’s Convention Speech Will Remind Party of Good Old Days

Michael Kovac/Getty Images
Having President Bill Clinton speak at the Democratic convention may fire up the base, but the decision to put the former president front-and-center also carries some risks.

President Barack Obama’s campaign slogan might be “Forward,” but during next month’s national convention designed to fete his vision for the country, Democrats appear determined to look back.

The party, in a very public way, has chosen former President Bill Clinton to help guide them through the political space-time continuum by acting as both visionary and a physical reminder of the good old days when taxes were higher and government surpluses were a reality.

Last week, the Obama campaign leaked to the New York Times that Clinton will play a “leading role” in the party’s convention in Charlotte, N.C., the first big hint at the Democrats’ plan for one of the more defining weeks of the campaign.

And though Clinton’s appearance is not unusual — he also spoke at the 2008 convention — his prime-time role speaks to the success that Democrats, who often muddle their political messaging, have had sticking to an easy adage: We were awesome in the 1990s.

Sources say Clinton is the touchstone of a clear-cut refrain: The country was in the black, unemployment was low, and, most importantly, though the current unemployment rate has ticked down since Obama took office, it could be lower if the Democrats had their way and let the Bush-era tax cuts expire.

“What Bill Clinton can do here clearly is to make it clear that a lot of the economic policies President Obama is proposing are very similar to the economic agenda President Clinton pursued,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee and a former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman.

Van Hollen pointed to the debates held in both the House and Senate before the August recess on whether to extend the expiring Bush-era tax cuts, renewed by Obama during the last Congress, to all Americans or to let the breaks for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans expire.

“Especially on the point that we’ve been discussing the last three days, which is that during the Clinton years, when we took a fiscally responsible approach, the economy boomed and then the Bush tax cuts did zero for the country, blew a big hole in the deficit and everybody else is going to have to pick up the tab,” Van Hollen said, as did other Democrats approached to discuss this story.

The Clinton adulation might present one of the greatest contrasts between the parties in their respective days-long appeals to voters.

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