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The Clintons Want to Go Back to the Future

In the final weeks before the early contests, Clinton's team isn’t emphasizing the future so much as it’s creating a referendum on the 1990s.

To this day, when Bill Clinton makes appearances on behalf of his wife's presidential campaign, he'll frequently take the stage to the sound of his signature song from the 1992 campaign: "Don't stop thinking about tomorrow."

Increasingly, there's ample evidence that the song's chorus is actually the opposite of the message the Clinton campaign is emphasizing now. In the closing weeks before the early contests, the senator's team apparently isn't emphasizing the future so much as it's creating a referendum on the 1990s.

After months of discussion within her campaign over how heavily she should draw on her husband's legacy, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is closing out her Iowa and New Hampshire campaigns in a tight embrace of Bill Clinton's record, helping fuel a debate about the 1990s with Sen. Barack Obama that she thinks she can win.

As part of the Clinton strategy, the former president is playing an increasingly prominent public role as an advocate for his wife. He appears to have overcome concerns within the campaign over how closely she should associate her candidacy with his time in office and over whether his appearances could draw attention away from her.

Both Clintons are making the case that theirs was a co-presidency -- an echo of Bill Clinton's controversial statement during the 1992 campaign that voters would get "two for the price of one" if they elected him. At times, the former president has seemed to cast the current race as a referendum on his administration.

To be sure, this may be a pretty good campaign strategy. Bill Clinton isn't just a popular figure in Democratic circles nationwide; he's the dominating political figure of the generation and the most popular politician on the planet. Whenever Hillary Clinton is confronted with the "legacy" question, she has a quick and well-received retort: "I thought my husband did a really good job in the 1990s." The implicit, if unstated, message: "If one President Clinton produced peace and prosperity, what's wrong with another?"

Steve Benen is a freelance writer/researcher and creator of The Carpetbagger Report. In addition, he is the lead editor of's Blog Report, and has been a contributor to Talking Points Memo, Washington Monthly, Crooks & Liars, The American Prospect, and the Guardian.

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