By Toby Harnden
PUBLISHED: 09:00 EST, 19 October 2012 | UPDATED: 12:34 EST, 19 October 2012
Bill Clinton has conceded that Mitt Romney is correct that the economy is ‘not fixed’ and said he thought Barack Obama was going to cry during Tuesday’s debate ‘because he knows that it’s not fixed’.
Former president Clinton, speaking in Parma, Ohio, during a campaign event with Bruce Springsteen, immediately added that Obama offered a better plan than Romney for getting out of the rut during the next four years.
But his frank admission about the state of the economy was immediately seized on by the Romney campaign as bolstering the republican argument that a change of leadership in the White House is needed.
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‘Governor Romney’s argument is “we’re not fixed, so fire him and put me in”. It is true, we’re not fixed,’ Clinton said at in Parma, Ohio. ‘When President Obama looked into the eyes of that man who said in the debate, “I had so much hope four years ago and I don’t now”, I thought he was going to cry because he knows that it’s not fixed.’
This was a reference to a question from Michael Jones, a young undecided voter, at the debate in Hempstead, New York.
He said: ‘Mr President, I voted for you in 2008. What have you done or accomplished to earn my vote in 2012? I’m not that optimistic as I was in 2012. Most things I need for everyday living are very expensive.’
Obama’s began by responding ‘well, we’ve gone through a tough four years; there’s no doubt about it’ but switched immediately to a litany of what he believed were his achievements followed by an attack on Romney.
It was a stark contrast with Clinton’s own performance in the 1992 ‘town hall’ debate in Richmond, Virginia, when he won rave reviews for his ability to tell voters, as he had previously put it to an angry AIDS activist: ‘I feel your pain.’
Ironically, it was the kind of question that might have prompted Candidate Clinton in 1992 to look like he was going to cry but Obama was characteristically unemotional in his reply.
After the Parma rally, Ryan Williams, a Romney spokesman, said in a statement: ‘We agree with former President Bill Clinton. The economy has not been fixed under President Barack Obama.
‘Today, more than 23 million Americans are struggling for work, poverty has increased and food stamps are at record levels. Mitt Romney believes we can do better by creating 12 million new jobs with higher take-home pay, cutting spending to put our nation on course for a balanced budget, and actually fixing our economy.’
Clinton’s comment was perhaps even more damaging to Obama than Vice President Joe Biden’s slip that the middle class had been ‘buried the last four years’ because it was an intentional remark.
At a rally in Fort Myers, Florida, Representative Paul Ryan, Romney’s vice-presidential running mate, said: ‘He [Clinton] is right.
‘And you know what, if the president can’t fix Washington from the inside, if the middle class has been buried for the last four years and if the economy is not fixed, it is time we change presidents and elect Mitt Romney the next President of the United States.’
Clinton did offer plenty of criticism on Romney during the Parma rally.
Buddies: Clinton’s ‘not fixed’ remark underlines the tension between he and Obama that stems from the 2008 presidential election when Obama went up against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination
He claimed Republicans were hoping for a high unemployment rate and were ‘crushed’ when it fell to 7.8 per cent last month. He said that even though the economy was ‘not fixed’ the private sector was nevertheless on an upswing under Obama.
But the ‘not fixed’ remark underlines the dangers of Obama having Bill Clinton, with whom relations were in the deep freeze after Obama defeated his wife Hillary for the Democratic nomination, as his top campaign surrogate.
In a recent piece for ‘New York Magazine’, John Heilemann, co-author of the best-selling book ‘Game Change’ about the 2008 election, wrote that Clinton had been ‘baffled by Obama’s failures at the basic blocking and tackling of politics, his insularity, and his alienation of the business community’.
Heilemann also spoke to Neera Tanden, president of the Centre for American Progress and a former top adviser to Hillary Clinton and, subsequently, Obama.
She offered a remarkably candid take on Obama, later apologising for her phrasing. ‘Obama engineered this reconciliation [with Bill Clinton], and I think the whole time he was, like, “Why do I have to do this?”,’ she said.
‘He did it because he wanted to win, and this was the way to do it. But in the process, he’s made Bill Clinton the king of the world.’
She added: ‘People say the reason Obama wouldn’t call Clinton is because he doesn’t like him. The truth is, Obama doesn’t call anyone, and he’s not close to almost anyone.
‘It’s stunning that he’s in politics, because he really doesn’t like people. My analogy is that it’s like becoming Bill Gates without liking computers.’