Indulging in the luxury of being an ex-president with little at stake except his own reputation, Bill Clinton is to release a new book that will suggest – bluntly – that the American economy is "a mess" and that part of the blame lies with his Democratic successor in the White House, Barack Obama.
Due out next Tuesday, the new book, Back To Work, is partly an analysis of how America came to be where it is now, with Washington enmeshed in partisan gridlock and Main Street suffering from an unemployment crisis that shows no signs of easing quickly.
Mr Clinton expends most of his ink castigating Republicans and arguing that the rise of the Tea Party and anti-government sentiment generally are at the root of the malaise gripping Washington. But a reporter for Associated Press, who has seen the book, notes that this did not stop Mr Clinton from suggesting the leadership of his own party – and President Obama – had made some mistakes of their own. Pondering the debt ceiling confrontation of this summer, Mr Clinton said it might have been avoided if Mr Obama had raised the ceiling when Democrats had control of both chambers in Congress. Instead, the brinkmanship that almost pushed the US to default on its debt made America look "weak and confused" overseas, he said. And it had left Mr Obama with a "tough hand to play" in negotiations with Congress. While the former president offers praise for the steps taken by Mr Obama early in his tenure to stabilise the economy, for example, with the car industry bailout and economic stimulus package, he says he and the Democratic Party failed to explain what they had done in the 2010 mid-term elections. According to Mr Clinton, he and Joe Biden, the Vice-President, attempted to persuade the Democratic National Committee to forge clear talking points for party activists leading up to the 2010 vote to help them offer a counterpoint to the Tea Party message. But they failed. "We couldn't persuade the decision makers to do so," Mr Clinton said. Not surprisingly, there is space in the book for reflection on the economic achievements of Mr Clinton himself, notably the creation of 20 million jobs and the clearing of the federal deficit. Yet critics might note it was Mr Clinton who helped to kick-start the deregulatory cycle in the economy that some say created the conditions for the Wall Street meltdown of 2007. A more common criticism of Mr Obama, particularly from the left wing of his party, is that he has failed sufficiently to address the root causes of the recession in part because his economic team was drawn largely from the Clinton era, notably, Larry Summers, who served for both presidents.