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There were the following lines in former President Bill Clinton's speech at the Democratic National Convention held on September 5th;

“In Tampa the Republican argument against the President’s re-election was pretty simple: We left him a total mess, he hasn’t finished cleaning it up yet, so fire him and put us back in.

I like the argument for President Obama’s re-election a lot better. He inherited a deeply damaged economy, put a floor under the crash, began the long hard road to recovery, and laid the foundation for a more modern, more well-balanced economy that will produce millions of good new jobs, vibrant new businesses, and lots of new wealth for the innovators.”

What does “put a floor under the crash” mean? Does it mean to lay the solid foundation by cleaning up rubbles? Is it a popular idiom?

Additionally, I’d like to know why it’s ‘We’ in the phrase referring to the Republican argument “We left him a total mess.” Who is “We”? Is it Republicans? Isn’t it Republicans’ argument that “He (President Obama) left us (American economy) a total mess, not Republican left Obama a total mess? This sounds like Republicans destructively left President Obama (and his policy) a total mess.”

I don’t think former President misspoke, but I can’t understand who “We” are. Can you clarify the logic?

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Remember that was Clinton mocking a "fictitious" Republican position - so "we" (and the later "us") means the Republicans, who Clinton blames for the poor state of the economy when Obama took over (Clinton is pretending that a Republican might speak those words). I think the "put a floor under" part means "set a lower limit on how far things could deteriorate". –  FumbleFingers Sep 6 '12 at 22:34
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I think I've just reallised why you have a problem with "We left him a total mess" - it means "What we left for him to deal with was a total mess", not "He was a total mess when we left him" (although in some other context those words could have that second meaning). –  FumbleFingers Sep 6 '12 at 22:40
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@tchrist: I'm pretty sure about the other two points, but I'm only guessing at the "put a floor under" part, which I assume is Yoichi's primary question. That looks to me like American "politico-speak", which is virtually a foreign language to me. –  FumbleFingers Sep 6 '12 at 22:44
    
@FumbleFingers.I took “We left him a total mess” literally as if Republicans are sorry for leaving President Obama in quagmire, which obviously contradicts their stand. I didn’t realize that is a mockery to Republicans. It’s always difficult for a foreigner to distinguish humor and irony (or mockery) in a different language from a serious statement. –  Yoichi Oishi Sep 7 '12 at 0:26
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@YoichiOishi It is much easier to see and hear the humor and irony in the video than in the printed text. This is especially so with President Clinton who has a very expressive style. –  bib Sep 7 '12 at 2:36
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3 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

"We" and "us" refer to the Republicans; "he" and "him" refer to President Obama. This would be clearer if the quote was punctuated differently:

In Tampa the Republican argument against the President’s re-election was pretty simple: “We left him a total mess, he hasn’t finished cleaning it up yet, so fire him, and put us back in.”

Reporters probably didn't want to include quotes, because nobody actually uttered those words. That was just Clinton's paraphrase of the theme of the Republican convention, and, as would be expected, it's a very partisan paraphrase.

During their convention, the Republicans hammered home the point that the economy hasn't improved very much. Clinton is essentially making the argument that the economy is in bad shape, because (a) it could not have been expected to improve any more than it has, and (b) it was the Republican's fault that the economy was so bad to begin with.

As a historical footnote, Ronald Reagan successfully campaigned for reelection in 1984 by asking the American public "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" Clinton used that same line on his road to reelection in 1996. That line won't resonate well with Americans in 2012, so Clinton is trying to push the blame for that fact back an extra four years, to when the Republicans held the White House.

As for “put a floor under the crash,” that is Clinton trying to praise Obama's handling of what many regard as a weak economy. He is saying something along the lines of, “Sure, the economy is bad, but it would be worse if not for Barack Obama's leadership and policies.”

No, “put a floor under the crash” is not a common idiom.

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The reference is to the Democratic position that Obama inherited an economy that was going over a cliff. The likely crash was at the bottom of a long fall. President Clinton was suggesting that the extent of that crash was significantly limited. Obama put a "floor under the crash" at a level that was much higher than it would have been had Obama not acted the way he did.

[This is not an analyis of what President Obama did, but rather an interpretation of what President Clinton said he did.]

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Meaning 5 in Wiktionary of crash as a noun gives

the stock market crash

by extension, it can describe the economy as a whole getting worse (or "going south", to use another phrase)

While for floor, meaning 13 gives

A lower limit on the interest rate payable on an otherwise variable-rate loan, used by lenders to defend against falls in interest rates. Opposite of a cap.

I'd use the term more broadly than that, to mean any kind of minimum below which something cannot sink.

If you're in a room, you can't go any lower than the floor, nor any higher than the ceiling, hence this meaning of "floor".

So a "floor under the crash" means "a limit to how bad the economy can get".

I wouldn't call this a common phrase, but using two words with figurative meanings in economics in the same sentence isn't very weird.

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