The Real Problem with Bill Clinton's 'Awful Legacy' Remarks

He didn't intend to refer to Obama's presidency as an "awful legacy," but it raises a bigger concern for the general election...
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He didn't intend to refer to Obama's presidency as an "awful legacy," but it raises a bigger concern for the general election...

Former President Bill Clinton, on Monday, spoke at a rally for Hillary Clinton and appeared to have been deeply critical of the Obama administration's legacy. The explanation for what he meant is pretty straightforward, but there's another more stressful aspect to what he said, and we'll talk about that presently.

Clinton was elaborating on future prospects of a new President (Hillary) Clinton when he said this:

"But if you believe we can all rise together, if you believe we’ve finally come to the point where we can put the awful legacy of the last eight years behind us and the seven years before that when we were practicing trickle-down economics and no regulation in Washington, which is what caused the crash, then you should vote for her because she’s the only person who basically has good ideas, will tell you how she’s going to pay for them, can be commander in chief, and is a proven change maker with Republicans and Democrats and independents alike." 

The salient phrase is highlighted in bold. Referring to the Obama years as "the awful legacy of the last eight years" seems pretty harsh on the surface, and, naturally, conservative blogs circulated the quote and the YouTube video as a hamhanded means of stoking 2008-style animosity between the Clintons and the Obama team.

But, of course, Clinton really didn't intend to go there. Spokesperson Angel Urena clarified Clinton's awkward statement, suggesting that it was all about the legacy of the obstructionist Republican Congress, not Obama's presidency.

TPM:

"When Republicans controlled the White House, their trickle-down approach drove our economy to the brink of a collapse. After President Obama was elected, Republicans made it their number one goal to block him at every turn," Urena said in a statement, according to USA Today. "That unprecedented obstruction these last eight years is their legacy, and the American people should reject it by electing Hillary Clinton to build on President Obama's success so we can all grow and succeed together."  

Okay, fine. That seems to make more sense. I mean, after all, why would Bill Clinton outright attack the Obama administration knowing that Obama's Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, was a significant part of that eight-year legacy? So, no, Clinton's language wasn't specific enough and left many people, including me, scratching our heads. But it wasn't a slam on Obama. Got it. (Frankly, and for what it's worth, the former president has seemed a little out of it recently, appearing gaunt, hoarse and somewhat pained when appearing in public.)

Tommy Christopher, writing for Mediaite, wasn't as forgiving.

Throughout the entire speech, in fact, Clinton never mentions the Republicans’ historical obstruction of President Obama, even though he had ample opportunity to do so.  [...] You can quibble over whether saying Obama did pretty good but not good enough is “disparaging,” but as it was delivered, this speech was about a contrast with Barack Obama, not Republicans.

Vagueness breeds all kinds of interpretations. Correct or incorrect.

Along those lines, here's the real problem with what Bill Clinton said. 

This is the sort of thing that used to happen all the time in 2008. The Clintons, be it Hillary, Bill or one of Hillary's surrogates, too frequently belched oddly vague remarks that could easily be construed as unfair attacks against Barack Obama. For all of their collective mastery of politics, and knowing that Bill is perhaps the most gifted politician of our lifetimes, they have a tendency to blurt things that get them into severely tight spots. This latest quote being the latest in a long string of similarly questionable remarks.

Just the other day, for example, Hillary said, "We're going to put a lot of coal companies and coal miners out of business." Oops. Now, we all know what she meant. She was lamenting the downsides of adapting to a clean energy future. But, on the surface, it kind of makes it seem as though Hillary wants to fire coal workers.

The Clintons carry with them a particularly visible amount of drama, as well as an ongoing string of unforced errors. If Hillary expects to succeed in November, she's going to have to run a near flawless campaign, and that means a strict moratorium on vague or awkward statements to sidetrack gaffe-watchers from focusing their efforts where they're most needed: on Trump and the childish GOP.

It's also worth noting that the news media needs Hillary to screw up -- a lot -- so it can further its false equivalence narrative that both parties are the same: both parties say stupid shit. While, yes, there will likely be more gaffes, the Clintons need to focus a little more attention on not saying stupid shit. This goes especially for Bill, who famously prefers to go off prompter and ramble, which is how the "awful legacy" thing happened in the first place.