Liberal commentators could barely contain their scorn this week after hearing Mitt Romney make some unfavorable comparisons between President Obama and Bill Clinton. They do have a point. For Democrats listening to the Republican candidate praise Clinton, albeit only by contrasting him to Obama, less than two decades after the man from Hope engendered such rage on the part of conservatives, must be insufferable. The retrospective GOP affection for Clinton is as phony as the respect now given Ronald Reagan on the part of many Democrats. It is a time-honored political tradition to blast your opponents as being unworthy to be the successors of their party’s former leaders even if you happened to hate the objects of praise while they were in office. Anyone doubting this theme need only notice that even George W. Bush — a president so despised on the left that he inspired a syndrome that could only be described as derangement — is starting to get a little love from liberals because he was more civil than the current crop of Republicans.
But just because Romney’s praise of Clinton is insincere doesn’t mean he hasn’t honed in on one of the president’s problems. President Obama won in 2008 largely on the basis of the historic nature of his candidacy as the first African-American to be nominated by a major party as well as by a successful attempt to position himself as a post-partisan centrist. Though many voters may still feel the weight of history when contemplating rejecting Obama’s bid for re-election, ObamaCare, the stimulus and now his stance on gay marriage mean his pose as a moderate has been exploded. That is why the contrast between the incumbent and Clinton’s “New Democrat” efforts to distance his administration from many traditional liberal positions is helpful to Romney. Though Democrats may complain this is a bogus tactic, it helps to define Obama as a doctrinaire politician who is out of step with many centrist and independent voters.