For all intents and purposes, Bill and Hillary Clinton should be my candidates. On the political spectrum I consider myself center-left, and the Clintons have been center-left politicians since, well, they became politicians. You can call it centrist, or “Blue Dog,” or what have you, but they are political dealmakers in a system designed for compromise. However, the system seems to work well when those who are forced to compromise also have a set of core values that are different from the opposition. The whole notion of compromise might be a foreign thought to our ears after enduring the reign of W. and his contingent of “no compromise” congressmen and women; however, during Bill Clinton’s tenure as President, he frustrated the hell out of many Democrats by making whatever deal he could to insure that he would survive politically — even if that meant walking and talking like a Republican.
During his presidency, it seemed whenever Clinton decided to undertake a policy initiative designed to help middle-to-lower-middle class folks who elected him, he wound up doing more harm than good. From health care, to gays in the military, to reforming the social welfare system, to the Telecommunications Act, to the Defense of Marriage Act, it all seemed so antithetical to what Democrats supposedly stood for. Sure, he said he was trying to chart a “third way” in politics that would transcend the ideological clashes between New Deal Democrats and Reagan Republicans, but it seemed the only politically viable “third way” out of this clash was for him to support the party of Bill Clinton. Since Clinton is more like a “Rockefeller Republican” than a political leftie, it was easier for him to make deals with the current crop of Republicans (who became a majority in 1994) than it was with Democrats. The result of his impressive political acumen and tepid political ideology was a presidency that, at bottom, stood for one thing: political survival.
If elected, Hillary may be a different kind of President than Bill, but currently he’s dominating her campaign by doing what Bill Clinton does best: making it all about Bill. Sure, he artfully weaves Hillary’s name into his speeches, but if Hillary becomes president, I think the ’90s redux of Clintonism is bound to flounder due to the following realities:
1. We’re mired in an expensive war with no exit strategy.
2. We’re headed for (or already in) an economic recession.
3. A large majority of the Democratic base wants universal health care.
4. And if you read Dw. Dunphy’s excellent piece, Americans and the government need to get out from under the piles of debt we’ve accumulated. For the working stiff that means better paying jobs. For the government, it means stop decreasing taxes while going on a deficit spending spree. And for American businesses, it means stop boosting your profits on the backs of slave labor overseas.
If we’ve learned anything from Clintonism, or Third Way politics, it’s that it seems to do well in times of peace, ideological insouciance, and when members of your political party are not particularly united around a set of core issues. Just surveying the political attitudes of Democrats today will make it clear that having the Party of Bill back in office is the wrong way to go.
“Silver Lawyers,” by Elk City (download)