NPR Asks Bill Clinton: Obama's Seen As Liberal, 'How'd That Happen'?

Bill Clinton appeared on Tuesday morning on NBC and MSNBC to promote his latest book, and neither asked the man – who paid an $850,000 settlement to Paula Jones and surrendered his law license for false testimony – to comment. The same pattern happened on National Public Radio. Morning Edition anchor Steve Inskeep gave Clinton more than seven minutes of air time to his thoughts on Obama and the economy, but no harassment inquiries.

This question was jaw-dropping in its ignorance. “Your administration was known politically for seeking to reposition the Democratic Party, not get stuck as being defined as tax-and-spend liberals,” Inskeep proclaimed. “President Obama also was seen as trying to take the party in a new [moderate] direction, but ended telling an interviewer last year that he had been tagged as another tax-and-spend liberal. How'd that happen to him?”

Only inside the liberal media bubble can it seem puzzling how Democrats can be tagged as tax-and-spend liberals. Clinton said it was because right-wingers were good at labeling:

CLINTON: Same way it happened to me. They're good, the other guys. I mean, the Republicans are good. They're good at this. They're good at labeling you. And what I would say to you is I think he has presented balanced plans. If you look at this jobs plan, which I talk about in real detail in the book, several of the ideas, including the payroll tax cuts, in the president's plan, were first proposed by Republicans who now oppose them, probably just because he's for them. The president plainly has bent over backwards to try to cooperate with them, and still wants to. And I think that's the right position. He plainly is not willing to give up some things he believes in, and I think that's the right position.

Inskeep was willing to suggest criticism of Obama’s economic record was allowable, at least by former Democratic presidents. This was a hardball at Obama (if he were present), but obviously a softball to Clinton:

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask you about one of the substantive proposals that you make. You spend quite a number of pages talking about ways to fix the mortgage mess in this country. What does it say that almost three years into this administration, during the entire time, which, of course, the mortgage problem has been known, that you're still having to make proposals about it?

CLINTON: Well, first of all, to be fair, I'm not entirely sure that in the beginning everyone knew that once the banks were bailed out there still wouldn't be any resumption of regular lending, in the beginning...

Finish the thought in your head: “but by now, Obama looks pretty lame.” There was a pregnant pause after this question:

INSKEEP: Do you think this is a well-managed White House?

CLINTON: [Pause] Seems to me it is. I mean, I don't know why it wouldn't be.

INSKEEP: Well, here's one reason that I bring that up. Ron Suskind had a much-publicized book which quoted a number of members of the administration critiquing the management of the White House, and a number of them were former Clinton administration officials who said it's not as good as it was then.

CLINTON: Well, look, I just can't comment on it, 'cause I know that everybody's got different perspectives and they come at it from different ways.

But of course, Clinton could comment on it...to suggest he had the best decision-making process ever:

CLINTON: You know, Bob Rubin once told me that he thought we had the best decision-making process he'd ever been involved in. At the same time, I was being killed in the press because people said I was too involved in the weeds and I stayed too long in meetings and we all - my position was we had for that time an unprecedented economic problem and we were taking a risky strategy trying to address it in a different way. And also because we were going to have to make big budget cuts, I wanted to know what the practical impact on real people of every one of those budget cuts was. Rubin thought it was a great decision-making process.

INSKEEP: Your Treasury secretary.

CLINTON: Yeah. When he was there - he was then the national economic adviser. But the conventional wisdom in Washington was it was too free-form, too free-flowing, you know. So I've been criticized -- and therefore I just don't know enough about it to say anything other than I said.

Last month, the NPR website reposted a New Republic piece by Sean Wilentz on "How Bill Clinton Saved Liberalism." How fascinating: he apparently did that while the media kept energetically insisting he was a centrist.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis