Former President Bill Clinton said he believes President Obama was "shocked" and "disoriented" by the intensity of Republican opposition to his efforts to move the country forward.
Appearing on CBS' "Face the Nation" this morning, Clinton also said that speculation over Mr. Obama losing his touch - owing to Washington gridlock - is not the whole story. He said that Republicans who learned during his own presidency that saying "No" can be rewarded at the ballot box are reusing that playbook now, regardless of how such tactics might stall economic growth.
Yet in a telling comment, when asked if President Obama's reelection chances might be improved if the Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives in the midterms, Mr. Clinton said yes.
The former president discussed the current state in Washington, in relation to his own two terms in office; Democrats lost control in Congress after a rise in anti-government fervor in 1994, and yet President Clinton was able to score several major legislative victories with the help of Republicans.
Mr. Clinton said, even before running for president, that Mr. Obama had begun to build friendships among Republicans, and made overtures towards continuing to work in a bipartisan manner.
"When he got elected, the first thing he said was, 'I don't want any investigations into the Bush years; I want to go right ahead. We want to get this country moving again,'" Mr. Clinton told host Bob Schieffer. "He kept thinking that he would find some partners in the Republican Party. He didn't.
"It was clear that Mr. Boehner and Senator McConnell, they weren't going to vote for any meaningful health care bill. They weren't going to support any student loan reform that the banks didn't like. They were going to oppose the financial oversight bill (we got a couple of Republicans for that).
"I think he was shocked at the intensity of the Republican opposition," he said of President Obama. "But they learned from my first two years that if you just say 'No,' even though people hate it, you get rewarded for it, because it discourages the Democrats and it inflames your base.
"So they're doing just what they did in '93 and '94. And so far it appears that they're being rewarded for it."
Of the opposition coming from Republicans to any proposal put forth by Mr. Obama, Clinton said, "I think that it disoriented him for a while. He just kept trying and kept trying. I also think he believed that if he accomplished a lot on the legislative front, that would be reflected in a better political climate. But the problem is there's a huge lag time once you get in a deep economic hole between digging out of it and having people feel it.
"Look, Bob, if the unemployment rate were 5%, we wouldn't be having this discussion," Clinton said. "There would still be the conservative critique that he was for too much government, but we'd be in better shape.
"I think he is getting his groove back now. He's still fighting for specific things on small business and manufacturing and all the stimulus money that hadn't been spent for clean energy stuff. He's out there combating the opposition now. Maybe that will make a difference. I think it will make some difference; I think we'll do better."
Mr. Clinton offered a lesson on Democratic victories: "The people only hire us when things are messed up. They'd much rather hear the Republican rhetoric than ours. We only get hired when the country is in a mess. The Democrats should focus on what we're going to do."
"When the Republicans took the House and Newt Gingrich came to power," said Schieffer, "a lot of people said that that's also when your administration finally began to focus and get some things done. You were having your problems going into that election, you lost a bunch of seats in the House. But after that, you did things like welfare and NAFTA. You got some tax cuts in. You balanced the budget.
"Would it be good for [Obama], in a way, if he lost the House and the Republicans came to power and had to share some of the responsibility here?" Schieffer asked.
"Well, I think it would increase his chances of being re-elected," Clinton said. "Whether it would be good for the country or not. I don't know. You said that's part of the narrative.
"But, yeah, we passed a balanced budget bill, but it was easy to pass the balanced budget bill because 90% of the deficit was reduced by the budget that only Democrats voted for in 1993, that the Republicans beat them for, because that's what reversed trickled-own economics. That's what put the country on a whole new course. It was that budget, and the people who got beat were the people who voted for it."
Clinton said he was worried about the loss of incumbents who voted for moving the economy forward, "who voted for a lot of the policies that will bring this country into the 21st century. And then we'll have a Congress that won't support building a green economy anymore. That's the thing that really bothers me.
"I could deal with all the shenanigans they pull," Clinton said, "but I hate to see the people who are more likely to generate manufacturing and small business opportunities and more likely to train the American people to do the jobs that are open and more likely to deal with the remainder of the mortgage crisis thrown out of office."