Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Just a little revisionism...

I'm generally a fan of Stephen Moore at the Wall Street Journal, but I think part of his review of Bill Clinton's new book, has a ... convenient interpretation of some fairly recent history.
Bill Clinton ascended to the White House as a New Democrat, wisely repudiating what had been a quarter-century of big-government liberalism and embracing instead welfare reform, deficit reduction, spending restraint, a strong and noninflationary dollar, and free trade. One might thus expect "Back to Work" to be a sharp condemnation of Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and, of course, Barack Obama for their abandonment of his centrist policies...But instead of offering Democrats a road map for a return to the center, "Back to Work" is an ode to big government.

Certainly, he claimed for himself the mantle of the "New Democrat" during the campaign, and certainly "welfare reform, deficit reduction, spending restraint, a strong and noninflationary dollar, and free trade" were all hallmarks of the period during which he was President.

But I take issue with the idea that he "ascended to the White House" on those issues. On the contrary, his first two years, with a Democrat-controlled House and Senate, was characterized by his attempt to pass the next great goal of the progressive left - National Health Care. Like Obamacare, Hillary-care was extremely unpopular with the voters, and cost the Democrats control of the Congress in the middle of the President's first term. Unlike Obamacare, Hillary-care was defeated.

The differences between Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, therefore, are not, as implied by Moore, differences in policy goals. One key difference is circumstance. Clinton, after the Democrats' 1994 drubbing at the polls, did not have to defend Hillary-care any further. Obamacare is the law of the land, and Obama's chained to it. The other big difference is that Clinton was more pragmatist than ideologue, more interested in maintaining the Presidency in 1996 than in furthering his agenda. Obama is more interested in the agenda. (Clinton was also a much better politician than Obama.)

Welfare reform wasn't a Clinton policy - it was a Republican policy to which Clinton acquiesced. The "deficit reduction and spending retraint" that Moore mentions came from the Republicans in the House of Representatives. To his credit, Clinton acquiesced. His "era of Big Government is over" speech came, not during his campaign, not during his first two years in office, but in the State of the Union address that followed the voters repudiation of his first two "big government" years in office.

But the idea that Clinton's policy goals differed significantly from those of Pelosi/Reid/Obama strikes me as revisionism. It's almost a Conservative version of the media/leftist trope of looking back with affection at the reviled conservatives of the past as a means of denigrating the current conservatives. It's not necessary. Clinton was a better, more pragmatic politician than Barack Obama, but the idea that he came into the White House with a substantially less "progressive," leftist ideology, is not accurate.

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