Obama, Bill Clinton Drop Personal Issues for Political Gain

Top Dems move past differences, toward re-election campaign.

President Barack Obama and former U.S. president Bill Clinton
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In the end, successful politics is all about survival. You could ask Bill Clinton about that--or you could ask Barack Obama. In fact, you could ask them both at the same time.

The former president and the current one just held one of three announced joint fundraising events last weekend and many predict the pair will be a common sight as the 2012 presidential campaign continues. It's a sign of just how far both men have come since the bruising 2008 battle that pitted Hillary Clinton and the then fresh-faced Obama against each other and also a nod to both men's obvious political chops in recognizing that this is a winning combination.

"This is just a reminder of how things can change," says Michael Duffy, assistant managing editor and Washington bureau chief for Time magazine. Duffy, who co-authored The Presidents Club, a book chronicling presidential relationships, adds that the "on-again, off-again" relationship is certainly in a warm phase now.

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In addition to the joint fundraisers, the popular former president also provided the voiceover for portions of the 17-minute video rolled out by the Obama campaign as part of its re-election pitch. His voice is also used in the more recent (and controversial) ad touting Obama's order to raid Osama bin Laden's compound.

"He was the star of that video. He is the endorsing celebrity," Duffy says of Clinton.

That sort of juice is needed by Obama now because he can't run the same race that got him elected four years ago, he adds.

"In 2008, [Obama] was a charismatic, global rock star, but he can't really run that way again because he's had to get his hands dirty with legislation and make compromises and suffered some setbacks," Duffy says. "What's interesting to me is that at the end of nearly four years, his presidency isn't that different from Bill Clinton's first term."

Duffy says that the critiques offered up by Obama in his book The Audacity of Hope about Clinton--namely that he wasn't bold enough and made too much of minor accomplishments--mirror the steps Obama is taking now.

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"They've passed a couple of big things, but he's also had, you know, voters have rendered a pretty tough judgment at the midterms and now he, like Clinton was in 1996, is being criticized for doing small things," he says. "So for those who are following the twisted tale of Clinton and Obama, it's full of ironies."

But from Clinton's side, there may be more to the effort than just acting as a loyal Democrat (and getting out in front of fired-up, adoring Democratic voters).

"From Clinton's perspective, it's a no-lose proposition," says Chris Arterton, political management professor at George Washington University. "If Obama runs and wins, and Clinton has helped, there are better relations among the Clintons and the current president and one can ask the question whether Biden is going to be too old in 2016 [to run for president]. On the other hand, Clinton does all that he can and Obama still loses, that means that Hillary would probably emerge as the front-runner in 2016."

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Arterton warns that by tying himself closely to Clinton, Obama associates himself more closely with Democrats than as "post-partisan," but that battle was likely lost after a series of power moves Obama made since taking office; namely, the decision to use parliamentary loopholes to push through healthcare reform despite the lack of bipartisan support.

"Obama has tried to be a post-partisan president and has run into, in some ways, a difficult time with that because it takes two to tango and many people on the other side have not been willing to reach out," says Arterton. "Campaigning with Clinton gives a more Democratic tilt to Obama's appeal than an appeal to the center. It makes the election a clear choice between a Republican and a Democrat, but I think that's how the administration wants to present this."