Big Dog in the (White) House

BIG DOG IN THE (WHITE) HOUSE…. As unpleasant as it’s been to cover political developments lately, yesterday offered some memorable moments that might as well have come from an Aaron Sorkin script.

First, there was Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) marathon display on the Senate floor. Then there was a fascinating presidential meeting at the White House.

President Obama had invited former president Bill Clinton to the White House for a private talk, the details of which neither man chose to describe. But their public appearance will be long remembered. The sight and sound of Clinton going solo in the White House briefing room, as Obama slipped away to a holiday party, was certainly a head-turner on a slow Friday afternoon.

After brief remarks by Obama, Clinton slid behind the lectern as if he’d never left the building. For a time it looked like he might never leave, as he fielded questions from a White House press corps eager to keep him as long as it could. He stroked his chin. He folded his arms and looked pensive. He gesticulated expansively. He was part professor and full politician enjoying the spotlight.

The current president politely excused himself, explaining that he’d been “keeping the first lady waiting,” leaving the former president to hold court. And with that, the Big Dog was once again standing behind a White House podium, fielding questions, pontificating on matters large and small, rattling off data points, and perhaps most importantly, explaining why the current occupant of the Oval Office is making the right decisions.

I’ve seen some questions about whether Obama made a mistake yesterday afternoon, and the concerns are not baseless. One could make the case that Obama allowed Clinton to overshadow him and/or gave the impression that he needed Clinton to help make an argument the president has struggled to make. A president has a Bully Pulpit, which shouldn’t be loaned to anyone, even predecessors.

For what it’s worth, though, I found yesterday afternoon’s display quite compelling. Clinton remains the single most popular political figure in the country, with unrivaled popularity among Democrats. Having him offer a high-profile, widely-publicized endorsement of a controversial tax policy certainly won’t hurt.

Besides, as Greg Sargent noted, the former president is a unique messenger with a message the White House wants people to hear.

[A]s Obama well knows, no Democrat is as good at making an argument about the economy as Bill Clinton.

Bill is in a unique position to appeal to Dems across the spectrum, as well as Dem-leaning independents. He commands respect among Dem Congressional officials and liberals who might be upset about the tax deal. There’s no guarantee Bill will change many minds, but it can only help. Meanwhile, Bill’s suggestion that Obama is making the right decisions about the economy might prove generally reassuring to the conservative Dems and indys the President needs to win back.

Indeed, Bill was particularly interesting in making the meta case that the deal was necessary, if only to remind people that Obama — and government in general — can still be effective. “A lot of people are just breathing a sigh of relief that there’s finally been some agreement on something,” Bill said.

Yes, I love the fact that Greg refers to the former president as “Bill.”

If I’m a White House staffer, I suspect I’d have one complaint: don’t wait until Friday afternoon at 4:30 to do something like this.