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Bill and Hillary: Driving the Left into a Ditch?

The Clintons' legendary penchant for triangulations takes a Machiavellian turn as the midterms approach.

by
Tom Bowler

Bio

February 27, 2010 - 12:00 am
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It’s bizarre. Why does President Obama insist upon driving public option health care legislation through Congress when voter opposition to it is at an all-time high?

Unhappiness with Obama and the other leading Democrats is so high that a national tea party movement has virtually brought the Republicans back from the electoral grave. The president’s job approval numbers have been in a year-long slide. In almost every election since he took office, Democrats have gotten trounced.

Yet he continues to push extraordinarily unpopular policies. Could it be the advice he’s been getting?

In the face of this disastrous performance by President Obama and the Democrats, the Clinton team has been actively advising that they keep doing what they’re doing. It’s as if Bill Clinton has just discovered that his beloved party is firmly in the clutches of the extreme left, and he’s decided to encourage their leaders to drive themselves into the proverbial ditch.

The one exception has been Lanny Davis, former special counsel for Bill Clinton, who on the day after Martha Coakley lost to Scott Brown in the Massachusetts special election wrote a column in the Wall Street Journal arguing that the left was to blame for her defeat. What, he wondered, had become of the party of Bill Clinton?

We liberals need to reclaim the Democratic Party with the New Democrat positions of Bill Clinton and the New Politics/bipartisan aspirations of Barack Obama — a party that is willing to meet halfway with conservatives and Republicans even if that means only step-by-step reforms on health care and other issues that do not necessarily involve big-government solutions.

Why is Davis the only former Clintonista to take aim at the left? You might think the others would join in, including Bill Clinton himself, especially since he has so much in common with Barack Obama. But that just isn’t happening.

Like Obama, Bill Clinton won his presidency by campaigning as a centrist. Clinton called himself a New Democrat, but once inaugurated he veered left, and for the first two years of their “co-presidency” the Clintons promoted Hillary’s health care reform plan. That lasted from 1992 until the 1994 midterm elections, at which time voters, for the first time in decades, elected a Republican majority to Congress rather than hold still for nationalized health care.

Those midterm elections were cataclysmic in their impact, causing the Clinton administration to dramatically switch gears. HillaryCare, which had been the primary Clinton administration focus for two years, was shoved aside and forgotten. Bill Clinton turned on a dime, very suddenly becoming the centrist president his campaign promised he would be.

Transformed, he went on to enjoy two very successful terms in the White House as a New Democrat — passing landmark welfare reform, signing the North American Free Trade Agreement, and balancing the budget for the first time in decades.

Sixteen years later, as history stands poised for a repeat, the former president has advice to offer the current president. This time around, it’s ObamaCare that has people so stirred up they put a Republican into the Massachusetts Senate seat that had been held for 46 years by Democrat Ted Kennedy. The irony of it is priceless. Massachusetts voters elected Scott Brown because he promised to be the 41st vote, the vote that torpedoes Ted Kennedy’s lifelong dream of nationalized health care. And in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 3 to 1 margin, it was not a close vote.

In similar circumstances, Bill Clinton listened to the voters. But in late November Bill Clinton paid a visit to Senate Democrats and urged them to pass President Obama’s health care reform bill. He told them the political consequences for Democrats would be grim if they didn’t, and the rewards would be great if they did.

Addressing the Democrats at their caucus luncheon, Clinton noted the grim consequences of his own failed reform effort in 1994: Democrats lost control of Congress in the November midterm elections, health-care costs skyrocketed, and the uninsured rate continued to rise.

The worst thing would be to do nothing, he said. Granted, this was well before Scott Brown rocked the political landscape, but as the dust settled from the Massachusetts aftershock there was no moderation of the Clinton message — and in fact Clinton team members were moving to reinforce it.

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