Different Obama message follows path laid out by former President Clinton

Jon Ward Contributor
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Former President Bill Clinton weighed in Wednesday on two hot button topics — the Goldman Sachs controversy and the Arizona immigration law — with some outside the box thinking and deft political messaging.

Goldman may not be guilty of wrongdoing, Clinton said. On immigration, he expressed his famous empathy for the plight of Americans in border states.

Hours after the former president spoke, President Obama said much the same thing as Clinton on both topics.

Obama, speaking to reporters on Air Force One coming back to Washington from Illinois, indicated that Goldman Sachs traders may not have broken the law in a trade that is at issue in a civil suit being brought by the federal government.

Asked about the Goldman case, Obama said he didn’t want to comment on an ongoing suit, but said “even if it’s legal,” much of the activity on Wall Street “doesn’t seem to serve much of an economic purpose.”

That sounded similar — if a bit more equivocating — than Clinton’s remarks earlier in the day in Washington.

“I’m not at all sure they violated the law,” Clinton said of Goldman at a fiscal summit in Washington hosted by the Peter G. Peterson Institute, later adding it was “not self-evident” that Goldman did anything wrong.

Clinton, however, also questioned the value of much derivatives trading, stating that “too much of this stuff has no economic purpose no matter who wins or loses.”

“To me that’s the bigger problem,” the 42nd president* said.

On immigration and the issue of a new law in Arizona allowing law enforcement to stop persons they suspect of being in the country illegally, Obama once again expressed disapproval of the law, as he has since it passed last week.

But, echoing Clinton’s comments earlier in the day, Obama said twice late Wednesday that he understood the frustrations of Americans along the border who are dealing with drug- and human trafficking-fueled violence and disorder.

“I understand people’s frustrations about the border,” Obama said.

He added moments later: “I understand the frustration of people in Arizona and the border states.”

Clinton, earlier in the day, had moderated his expression of censure with a classic common touch.

“I don’t like that Arizona bill but I get why it happened,” Clinton said. “I also just came from Mexico. It’s horrible what’s happening along the border.”

Obama, in his comments on Air Force One, said that he had talked about understanding people’s frustrations at a town hall meeting in Iowa on Tuesday.

But a review of the transcript shows no comments to that effect. Obama did talk about immigration, but his comments on the subject were solely devoted to explaining to the crowd why they need to accept more immigration.

In Obama’s initial comments last Friday on the Arizona law, he called it a “misguided” act of “irresponsibility” by the state government.

Clinton talked about the need for more immigrants as well Wednesday in Washington, but argued that a solution to the current problem that increases flows of immigrants to the U.S. must be part of any strategy to reduce the national debt.

Clinton argued that the manufacturing sector needs labor, and that the immigrant spirit of hard work and industry is needed in the U.S. now.

“We’ve got to be a tomorrow country,” Clinton said.

An Obama spokesman did not respond when asked by e-mail if Clinton’s messaging at all influenced the president’s updated rhetoric on Wednesday.

*This article originally identified Clinton as the 41st U.S. president.

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