More on My Interview with Former President Bill Clinton

I am still at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting and I want to suggest a few tactical political themes that arose as sub-context in the Monday night meeting I had with the former President.

  • Bill Clinton is on message. Back in 2008, many commentators felt Bill Clinton seemed ‘off message’ when stumping for his wife in the Democratic primaries.  However, I was impressed at how ‘on message’ Mr. Clinton was during a nearly two-hour unscripted conversation on Monday night; when I circled back to review other recent performances by Clinton (including at CGI), there was zero in the commentary he gave us that could be construed as off message. I think his role as a Democratic party advocate will increase.
  • The Obama Administration is losing the media battle. Clinton says "no one is talking about [what the Obama people are doing] in ways that people can understand," but notes President Obama is getting the message out at town halls. He is saying that Obama and the Democrats are getting into gear for the mid-terms. But, implicitly he is also saying that whatever messaging was done in the past didn’t work. A new approach is definitely coming. I see the resignation of Summers as a sign this is true.
  • Obama is not telegraphing a change in tone, but domestically... I think he will go pro-business. The Obama Administration must help quell voter anger if the Democrats are to have any chance in the mid-terms. Right now, Obama is getting beat up for not improving the economy and for being anti-business. My read is that Obama believes trade sabre rattling combined with a more pro-business tone is the only way to take care of both of these problems.  Watch who Obama picks to replace Summers. That might be a hint where the tone is headed on the pro-business front. The word on the street is that Obama will select a businesswoman i.e. not a man and not a person with too much ‘government’ or ‘academia’ on her CV.
  • Obama is not telegraphing a change in tone, but internationally... I think he will go populist. In my note on Larry Summers’ resignation I wrote: "Is the White House going to take a populist turn? What this means regarding the White House’s future economic focus is unclear given the pro-business credentials of officials now being nominated for senior staff positions. Also unclear is where the White House is headed on trade issues as recent moves on trade and foreign exchange suggest a mounting populist tone at the White House. Is this having an impact?" Nothing in the Bill Clinton interview said to me the Obama people are about to go populist. However, Michael Pettis’ comments point in that direction, at least regarding China. He writes "my impression is that [Summers]  has been a real bulwark against rising US protectionism, and his departure may change the tone in Washington substantially."

Update: The Washington Post writes that the White House is considering a pro-business successor to Larry Summers – which supports my contention that it is prepared to take a more pro-business tone in messaging:

Sources said the White House is considering whether to choose a candidate who could blunt criticism that the administration has been anti-business, such as a corporate chieftain or prominent investor.

The Post also indicates that the White House would prefer a woman successor.

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