You know what grinds Bill Clinton's gears? When liberals attack him for selling out to Republicans for the final six years of his presidency. Clinton addressed these attacks yesterday, referencing a months-old Rachel Maddow barb about his "Republican" presidential record.

Bill Clinton was hosting an event with former British prime minister Tony Blair in Philadelphia yesterday, to discuss their work in the '90s moving liberalism towards a more practical centrism. Both were advocates of "third way" politics, a Democratic governing style that adopts the more pro-business, small-government language of Republicans to make progress towards supposedly liberal goals. In Clinton's case, Democrats and Republicans just despised him even more, although a convenient tech boom took the bite out of it. (As for Blair, he soon developed a "fourth way," which was to bomb random countries with George W. Bush.)

Anyway, during this discussion, Clinton took up a comment that MSNBC's Rachel Maddow — whom he didn't mention by name — made on March 31:

"One of the leading television commentators on one of our liberal cable channels said I was the best Republican president the country ever produced, which would come [as] quite a surprise to the Republicans, half of whom still think I'm a closet communist," Clinton said during an appearance with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. [...]

"What she meant by that was I didn't necessarily follow their ‘conventional wisdom,'" he said. "I said, ‘What do you mean?!'" [...]

"What gave birth to the Third Way in America was that the Democrats kept getting beat because people saw us as the party of big government, and our own political base very often was more concerned with means than ends," he said. "I think the people on the right that say that, ‘government is the enemy, we don't need it,' are wrong, particularly in this economic time. And I think people on the left that say, ‘the only way to deliver services or solve problems is with a bigger state,' are not always right and are more often wrong than not."

As evidence of his third-way liberal successes, he touted his Republican-sponsored welfare reform bill and expansion of the earned income tax credit. And while these policies did get more people off of poverty rolls and into the workforce, they were still fundamentally Republican policies — they punctured a large hole in the safety net, which has deepened poor peoples' suffering during this Great Recession.

Still, he should debate this with Rachel Maddow! She has a TV show; they can do it there. It would be interesting to watch now, since the current Democratic president is essentially following Clinton's model (with an even less cooperative minority party.)

Tony Blair's not invited, though.

[Images via Getty, AP]