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Bill Clinton tells Obama: 'Embrace people's anger, then make your case'

Former President Bill Clinton has been all over the media, dispensing advice to President Obama ahead of what looks to be a dreadful election for Democrats. He is speaking from experience.

By Staff writer / September 23, 2010

Former President Bill Clinton speaks at a rally for Ohio Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland Sept. 14 in Cleveland.

Tony Dejak/AP

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Former President Bill Clinton is all over the place giving President Obama and congressional Democrats free advice on how they could turn what’s looking like very grim midterm elections into a winning scenario.

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In essence, he says in a series of interviews this week: Suck it up, welcome the fight, go on the offensive, and make clear the differences in the two parties’ records and agendas. If they do, Mr. Clinton says, Democrats can “honorably embrace the results and not feel bad” – no matter what.

"If the Democrats can make this a choice, not a referendum, they can win," he told the Associated Press. "If it's a referendum on anger, apathy, laced with amnesia, they're going to have a problem."

Until very recently, Clinton says, Mr. Obama has not been as aggressive as he should have been in both defending his accomplishments and hammering his Republican opposition.

“He’s being criticized for being too disengaged, for not caring,” Clinton told Politico.com in another interview. “So he needs to turn into it. I may be one of the few people that think it’s not bad that that lady said she was getting tired of defending him," he added, referring to Velma Hart, the town hall participant who recently told Obama that she was "exhausted" from having to defend him.

"He needs to hear it," Clinton said. "You need to hear.”

Democrats need help

Pollsters and pundits agree that Obama and the party he leads are in trouble.

What Democrats hoped would be seen as major accomplishments – health-care reform, help for the economy, more equitable federal taxes – are not going their way. Obama’s approval rating is just 45 percent, according to a recent Politico/George Washington University Battleground poll. Among independent voters – those who flocked to Obama in 2008 – it’s even worse: 37 percent.

Clinton’s advice: “Embrace people’s anger, including their disappointment at you,” he told Politico.com. “And just ask ‘em to not let the anger cloud their judgment. Let it concentrate their judgment. And then make your case.”

Clinton speaks from experience. Two years into his first term, he got whacked by Newt Gingrich and the GOP’s “Contract with America.” Obama now faces a GOP whose base is more energized than Democrats are (although both parties have the "tea party" movement to worry about), and which has just unveiled its “Pledge to America.”

Show some scrap, Clinton says

In a way, Clinton is like Obama’s corner man in a boxing match, encouraging him to do his best in a tough fight.

“We need to make this election about something real and clear, and if it is, then we should honorably embrace the results and not feel bad. I don't think we're putting up a good fight yet,” Clinton said on PBS’s "NewsHour" Wednesday night. “The president's out there now, and I think it's high time. And it's good, and it's good that he's taken some shots. That's what people want to see. They like to see their presidents get hit a little bit.”

Along the lines of what Clinton has been telling him, Obama this week acknowledged the problem he and his party face.

“The single biggest threat to our success is not the other party,” he told donors at a fundraising event for House and Senate Democratic candidates in New York. “It’s us. It’s our complacency. It’s apathy.”

The only way to fight that apathy, says Clinton, is to take the fight to the opposition.

"I think the Democrats ought to stand up and say ... 'You gave them eight years to dig this hole, and to double the debt of the country, and not to produce any jobs, and then to have a financial collapse and all this calamity. At least give us four to dig out of it,' " Clinton said in his interview with the AP. “If we're wrong, throw us all out. But don't bring back the people that dug the hole."

Obama and his party now have just over five weeks to prove whether they can successfully take Bill Clinton’s advice.

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