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Government, Politics & Issues

Refuting Clinton, Missouri GOP leaders contend nation is 'not better off' than 4 years ago

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 6, 2012 - WASHINGTON – Taking issue with former President Bill Clinton’s claim that the nation’s economy is finally stepping up, leading Missouri Republicans contended Thursday that it remains mired in a morass – and won’t recover quickly unless voters send a new occupant to the White House.

“Right after taking office, President (Barack) Obama said that if he didn’t fix the economy in three years, he’d be a one-term proposition,” said former U.S. Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond, now a private attorney and business consultant.

“He gave himself a grade of ‘Incomplete,’ but I think there are other ‘I’s that it may stand for, like ‘Incoherent,” on the policies. The American people deserve better.”

Speaking in a conference call a few hours before Obama was to outline his vision for America’s future at the Democratic National Convention, Bond joined three other leading Missouri Republicans – Auditor Tom Schweich, former state House speaker and U.S. Attorney Catherine Hanaway and GOP Attorney General candidate Ed Martin – in seeking to refute Clinton’s arguments that Obama deserves reelection.

“All [Clinton] succeeded in doing was reminding people of how good the economy used to be,” said Hanaway, a RNC committeewoman who is now a partner in the Ashcroft Law Firm, headed by former U.S. Attorney General and Sen. John Ashcroft. “As a working mother, I am living day to day the experience … of fearing that our childrens’ future is not going to hold the promise that ours did.”

In what many regarded as a strong speech in defense of Obama, Clinton told Democratic delegates Wednesday night that neither he nor any other president could have “repaired all the damage” and completely restored the nation’s economy in the four years after the 2008 financial crisis and the ensuing deep recession.

While fact-checkers picked a few nits with Clinton’s claims, most did not refute his basic statistics in arguing that the economy is now slowly recovering and Americans are “clearly better off” than when Obama took office – even if many people aren’t yet sensing the upswing.

But Schweich, a delegate to the GOP convention last week in Tampa, contended that “there is absolutely no credible case that we’re better off now than we were four years ago.” As proof, the auditor said, “we have $16 trillion in debt – that’s the worst ever – and 43 months of unemployment over 8 percent.” College tuition is the highest ever, he added, housing prices remain low and household income has declined.

“The rhetoric was very good, the quality of the speakers – their speaking ability – was very high,” Schweich said of the convention lineup. “But almost every one of them wove into their speech how much more government we need . . . and I just don’t think Americans are going to buy that.”

Martin, who chairs the state GOP's Victory 2012 campaign – which organized the conference call before Obama’s convention remarks – told journalists that most Missourians feel that Democrats rely far too much on government.

“There’s a real sense of disconnect” with the Democrats’ vision, Martin said. “I think we saw last night the continuing effort to divide and agitate.”

Both Martin and Schweich also decried the original Democratic platform, which failed to mention the word God and to state that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital – two omissions that convention delegates restored on Wednesday. Martin called the Jerusalem miscue “an insult to Israel and the Jewish people.”

Schweich, a former State Department official, expanded on that view. “In addition to the unforced errors on Israel and the removal of God from the platform, the Democrats also had a problem yesterday when, initially, some of their surrogates acknowledged that we aren’t better off than we were four years ago,” said Schweich. “Then there was a quick pivot and an attempt to turn that around.”

Some pundits have argued that the strong lineup of female convention speakers – led by First Lady Michelle Obama – may succeed in widening what surveys indicate is a significant gender gap – with a higher percentage of women backing Obama over GOP nominee Mitt Romney. But Hanaway argued that the messages sent by speakers who focused on what they described as women’s issues “were a little bit insulting to women.”

Added Hanaway: “Yesterday was a day when Democrats, once again, tried to sort of paint women into a box instead of treating women with respect” by recognizing that they care about the same big issues as all Americans – such as a thriving economy and opportunities for their children – “whether we choose to stay home and raise children or whether women choose, as I have, to go into the workplace.”

And while some Republicans conceded that the nation’s economy had indeed thrived during Clinton’s second term, Bond said the former president took too much credit for that – and failed to credit congressional Republicans for their positive influence on his administration’s policies.

“President Clinton was saved because No. 1, we elected Republicans in the House [in 1994] and, No. 2, President Clinton decided to triangulate and start working with Republicans,” said Bond, who as a senator had working on several bipartisan initiatives during the 1990s.

“And President Clinton’s great successes in creating jobs and growing the economy,” Bond argued, came about because Republicans insisted on balanced budgets and pushed him to revamp welfare and reduce the capital gains tax.

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