Dollar Bill still the star turn at party campaign fundraisers

Wed, Jun 6, 2012, 01:00

The former president cannot be controlled, but he delivers when it matters writes LARA MARLOWE  in Washington

FORMER PRESIDENT Bill Clinton demonstrated consummate political skill and nearly upstaged President Barack Obama at three consecutive events in Manhattan that raised $3.5 million for the Obama campaign on Monday night.

In the upper eastside home of billionaire financier Marc Lasry, (admission: $40,000), at the Waldorf Astoria (admission $2,500) and at the New Amsterdam Theatre (admission $250), Clinton refuted one of Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s oldest cliches, about how Obama “wants to turn America into Europe”.

After summarising the achievements of the Obama administration, Clinton asked rhetorically: “Why aren’t things roaring along now? Because Europe is in trouble and because the Republican Congress has adopted the European economic policy.”

Who would have thought that after attacking “Old Europe” for decades, the Republican right “would embrace the economic policies of the euro zone – austerity and unemployment now at all costs?” Clinton asked, provoking laughter. “I mean after all, their unemployment rate is 11 per cent, and ours is 8; we can get right up there if we just adopt their policies.”

Only last week, Clinton angered the White House by praising Romney’s “sterling” business record. The former president published a book last year that criticised Obama, and has had a see-saw relationship with the man who defeated his wife Hillary for the 2008 Democratic nomination.

As president, Clinton managed to be populist while also being business-friendly. He is known to disapprove of the Obama campaign’s attacks on Bain Capital, the private equity firm that Romney founded.

Obama’s attacks on Bain sit uneasily with fundraisers in the homes of billionaires. And they’ve hurt his ability to raise money on Wall Street.

“There is a war within the Democratic Party right now over how to run against Mitt Romney,” says Mark Halperin of Time magazine.

Some Obama advisers believe he should pursue the corporate raider/vulture capitalism line of attack. Others would prefer that he concentrate on Romney’s term as governor of Massachusetts, his flip-flopping or his ultra-conservative positions.

After undermining the anti-Bain strategy last week, Clinton corrected course on Monday night, saying a Romney presidency would be “calamitous for our country and the world”.

Obama, he added, has “the right economic policies and the right political approach. And I think their economics are wrongheaded and their politics are worse.”

In three years, Clinton noted, the US economy has produced 4.3 million private sector jobs, 60 per cent more than in George W Bush’s two terms.

Obama “has got good policies. He’s got a good record. He’s made the best of a very challenging situation. He deserves to be re-elected,” said Clinton. “And he has a pretty good secretary of state too.”

As Obama campaigns for the November election, there is persistent speculation that Hillary Clinton could be the Democratic nominee four years from now. Clinton, who will be 69 in 2016, has said she will not serve another term as secretary of state. “She’s our shot,” the former Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Why wouldn’t she run? She’s a magnificent secretary of state.”

Former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell and Bill Clinton have also made statements implying that the secretary of state should succeed Obama.

Bill Clinton reportedly believes that Obama’s campaign is not sufficiently focused on the future.

In Manhattan, Obama referred to historic US investments in education and infrastructure. “We understood that we had to pay for it,” said the president. “The notion was this stuff wasn’t going to be free. It used to be the argument between Democrats and Republicans was what’s the best way to pay for it, but we understood that ultimately these were investments worth making.”

It is the Republican party that has changed, said Obama.

“They have gone from a preference for market-based solutions to an absolutism when it comes to the marketplace; a belief that all regulations are bad, that government has no role to play, that we shouldn’t simply be making sure that we balance the budget, we have to drastically shrink government, and eliminate those commitments that have ensured a middle class had a chance to succeed and to thrive for several generations.”

Monday night’s events were the second in a series of Clinton-Obama joint appearances. Though he cannot be controlled by the White House, the former president lends a certain star quality to Obama’s re-election campaign, amid nostalgia for the roaring 1990s.

Obama took the rock star Jon Bon Jovi with him on Air Force One to New York Monday night. George Clooney, Sarah Jessica Parker, Salma Hayek, Barbra Streisand and Eva Longoria are a few of the celebrities backing Obama.

Now Romney is using Obama’s celebrity friends against him. On June 1st, the Obama campaign released an advertisement featuring Vogue editor Anna Wintour – the model for the film The Devil Wears Prada.

Republican spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said the advert “highlights how out of touch President Obama and his campaign are . . . releasing a glitzy fundraising video . . . the same day as a dismal jobs report.”