Is Bill Clinton a Problem for Barack Obama?

Clinton is campaigning for the president but has also made public comments that could jeopardize Obama.

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Former President Bill Clinton has become an increasingly public figure in this busy campaign season, making appearances in support of Democratic candidates across the country and on television talk shows. Clinton has been exercising his political clout for his party, but that hasn't necessarily helped  President Barack Obama.

Clinton has made several public comments criticizing the Obama campaign’s attacks on Mitt Romney regarding Bain Capital. The Republican presidential candidate’s time at the private equity firm has been a major target for Obama, who argues that Romney’s focus wasn’t job creation but generating revenue for investors. Yet Clinton said on CNN that Romney had a “sterling business career.”

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

The former president also created a headache for the Obama campaign after saying on CNBC that he thought all tax cuts should be extended at least temporarily in hopes of boosting the struggling economy. Obama wants to discontinue the cuts for the wealthiest Americans, while keeping them in place for the middle class. (Clinton’s spokesman later clarified that Clinton did not want the cuts to be extended for the wealthy, but just that he doubted the issue would be resolved until after the election.)

The Republican Party made an effort to capitalize on these comments by Clinton, with House Speaker John Boehner saying, "Extending all of the current tax rates for at least a year is really important if we're going to help job creators gain a little more confidence and put Americans back to work ... Even Bill Clinton came out for it."

Clinton also made an appearance in Wisconsin before Tuesday’s gubernatorial recall election in support of Democratic candidate Tom Barrett. Obama distanced himself from the race, causing many to speculate, including U.S. News's Ron Bonjean, that Obama didn’t want to become involved in what was a likely loss for the Democrats:

Seeing this opening, Bill Clinton understands that by showing loyalty and risking political capital, he will be viewed honorably by the party faithful in a battleground state. It also sends a clear message to Democrats across the country:  "President Obama is only looking out for himself and has no chits to spare. The rest of you are on your own."

Indeed, Republican Gov. Scott Walker prevailed and survived the recall. 

Bonjean too points out that Clinton also put his weight behind two candidates who supported his wife and now-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her race against Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary, Rep. Brad Sherman of California and Rep. Bill Pascrell of New Jersey, further attracting negative attention to his and Obama's relationship.

Yet Clinton also appeared with Obama at fundraisers in New York City just this week, praising the president for his healthcare legislation, saving the auto industry, and supporting manufacturing growth.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]

"And I could give you 50 more things, but you get the idea," he said, also emphasizing that Obama inherited a struggling economy when he took office in 2009.

Clearly Clinton and Obama are still united against defeating Mitt Romney in the fall, but Clinton may not follow all of the Obama campaign’s cues on how exactly that must be done.

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