Former President Bill Clinton defended President Obama’s handling of the economy late Monday night, saying he’s made progress in spite of “vicious” Republican opposition.
“No criticism is too vicious and too fact-free,” Mr. Clinton said of the GOP at one of three star-studded Democratic fundraisers in New York. “He’s had to get all this done while people as recently as last week were still saying he wasn’t born in America.”
The former president ridiculed House Republicans and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney as less interested in facts than the late communist-hunting Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy. Mr. Clinton said nobody in the Republican Party denounced Rep. Allen West, Florida Republican, when he claimed at a town-hall meeting in April that 78 to 81 House Democrats are members of the Communist Party.
“Neither the presidential nominee nor any of the leaders rebuked him for saying that,” Mr. Clinton said. “This is not the 1950s. At least Joe McCarthy could skate on the fact that there was one or two living Communists walking around. Nobody has seen a Communist in over a decade.”
Mr. Clinton said Mr. Obama “did the best he could with a lousy hand” and is on the right track to rebuild the American economy.
“I don’t think it’s important to re-elect the president; I think it is essential to re-elect the president,” Mr. Clinton said.
Mr. Obama said the GOP is counting on “fear and frustration” to win in November.
“The reason that they think they may be able to pull this off is because things are still tough,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s why I’m running again, because our job isn’t finished yet.”
Mr. Obama held fundraisers in New York with the theme “Barack on Broadway” Monday night, with Mr. Clinton helping him rake in millions for his re-election campaign. Among the celebrities partying with the president were James Earl Jones, Angela Lansbury, Stockard Channing and Patti LuPone.
There was even a fundraiser at the home of a wealthy hedge fund manager, Marc Lasry, who’s of the private-equity ilk that Mr. Obama often questions when he talks about the career of presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney.
Mr. Clinton told supporters at Mr. Lasry’s home that a Romney presidency would be “calamitous for our country and the world.” He said the GOP is adopting Europe’s economic policies.
“Their economic policy is austerity and unemployment now, and then a long-term budget that would explode the debt when the economy recovers so the interest rates would be so high, nobody would be able to do anything,” Mr. Clinton said. “So the politics is wrong on the Republican side; the economics are crazy.”
Mr. Obama’s big-money Broadway blitz, coming on the heels of six Midwestern fundraisers crammed into eight hours on Friday, prompted criticism from Republicans that Mr. Obama is tone-deaf to the dismal economic reports that came out late last week.
The jobless rate rose to 8.2 percent, from 8.1 percent. The stock market lost all of its gains for the year in one day of trading.
The Republican National Committee argued that Mr. Obama and his campaign are “out of touch,” citing the Democrats’ use of a fundraising video featuring Vogue magazine chief Anna Wintour on the same day as the disappointing jobs report.
RNC Communications Director Sean Spicer tweeted: “What’s not in Vogue this summer? Raising high end $ on the day you have disappointing job numbers.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Mr. Obama is as committed as ever to improving the economy and creating jobs.
“The president is focused far less on his job than on the jobs of the American people,” Mr. Carney said.
The president’s spokesman said more people would be working today if congressional Republicans had approved more of Mr. Obama’s initiatives from the $447 billion jobs package introduced in September.
“It’s not OK to simply root for failure and hope it pays off politically,” Mr. Carney said.
Mr. Obama departed for New York City in midafternoon. Among those traveling with him on Air Force One was singer Jon Bon Jovi. A White House official said the Obama campaign paid for Mr. Bon Jovi’s flight.
Asked by a reporter why the president was holding a campaign event with an “evil” hedge fund manager, Mr. Carney rejected the characterization.
“There’s nothing wrong with profit,” Mr. Carney said.
Mr. Lasry is a bundler who had already raised more than $200,000 for Mr. Obama’s re-election bid prior to Monday night’s event.
The other two fundraisers were a gala at the Waldorf Astoria hotel, and a concert at the New Amsterdam Theatre.
And Mr. Obama will return to New York City next week for more fundraising, with an event scheduled at the home of “Sex and the City” actress Sarah Jessica Parker.