Wednesday, October 5, 2011

How quickly we forget

A busy schedule and a tight budget unfortunately kept me from attending last weekend's Clinton '92 campaign reunion in Little Rock. I have no idea if the Washington Post's coverage of the event is representative of what really went on there, but I really hope not:
The class of ’92 cast its reunion as a tacit — and sometimes not so tacit — rebuke of the current president and his un-Clintonian aversion to the political fray. Some erstwhile Clinton aides wore “I Miss Bill” T-shirts and “It’s Still About the [Expletive] Economy, Stupid” buttons. Others privately regretted Hillary Rodham Clinton’s acceptance of the secretary of state post — the theory being that she would be better positioned to replace Obama if she had stayed in the Senate.
I'm pleased to see President Clinton himself in the article dismissing the Obama comparisons as off-base. But really, do these folks remember what that first term was like? I remember showing up to work when Clinton's approval ratings were in the 30s, lower than Obama's have ever been. And yeah, there was a lot of soul searching -- Were we doing it right? Why wasn't his message getting through? Did we misread the voters in 1992? Was he doomed to be a one-termer? But I don't remember any of us saying that the country would have been better if we'd backed Harkin or Tsongas or Brown.

I would agree that Clinton had more of a love for the rough-and-tumble of partisan politics than Obama does, but exactly what did he have to show for it by this point in his first term? Yes, Clinton's first budget passed, including a tax hike on upper income earners, but he lost on the stimulus that year. Health reform was in ruins. Don't-ask-don't-tell was a compromise that no one liked. His only other big legislative wins were NAFTA and the crime bill, both of which were staunchly opposed by sizable chunks of liberal congressional Democrats. Contrast that with Obama's record on health reform, student loan reform, financial sector reform, the Lilly Ledbetter Act, the end of DADT... it's really quite impressive, and not something liberals should be dismissing. Sure, liberals have plenty of reasons to be upset with Obama's concessions to Republicans on budgetary matters, but does no one remember Clinton's concessions? His triangulations after the 1994 election? His hiring of Dick Morris?

This is not to disparage Clinton's accomplishments as president. There were many, and I am proud of the very small role I played in them. But the fierce partisan fighter some folks seem to recall is largely fictitious, and to the extent it was real, just how great was it? Winning the news cycle is not the same as enacting an agenda.

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