Bill and Hillary: Driving the Left into a Ditch?
The Clintons' legendary penchant for triangulations takes a Machiavellian turn as the midterms approach.
February 27, 2010 - 12:00 am
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.
Within a few days former Clinton political consultant Paul Begala wrote an article for the Huffington Post that urged Democrats: “Pass the Senate Bill, Please.” It was a challenge. Man up, you wussies.
You’re going to get the attack anyway, you may as well get the accomplishment. I don’t mean to be rude, but if health care is the kiss of death, you’ve already been kissed.
On that very same day the Financial Times carried an editorial by James Carville, chief political strategist for Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. He advised Democrats to just blame George W. Bush for all of their problems.
Democrats would not be playing the blame game with one another for the loss or for the health care debacle if they had only pointed fingers at those (or in this case, the one) who put Americans (and most of the world) in the predicament we’re in: George W. Bush.
Blaming Bush is just what President Barack Obama has been doing for his entire first year in office, and it isn’t working anymore. While paying lip service to bipartisanship, Obama has restated his promise to keep pushing his own brand of health care reform — opposite of what Bill Clinton himself had done.
Bill Clinton has been engaged in the kind of politicking that would have been considered unseemly not so long ago. Former presidents just don’t do politics after serving two terms in the White House, but Bill Clinton is not like other former two-term presidents. It’s still possible, though not necessarily probable, that he could be back for another two terms at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, this time as first gentleman to the first woman president of the United States.
In the Clinton strategy for getting there, three elements emerge. First is to attack the left. Lanny Davis launched the first wave, blaming the left for Martha Coakley’s defeat in Massachusetts and calling for the more centrist New Democrats to save the party.
The second element of the strategy is to goad the leading leftist Democrats into ramming their policies down American throats. Bill Clinton, Paul Begala, and a host of others are pressuring Obama, Reid, and Pelosi to keep pushing that health care legislation, and don’t worry that the majority of voters oppose it. Those tea party Americans are too dumb to know what’s in their own best interest, and it’s up to the left to impose it on them.
The third piece is Carville’s finger of blame. After more than a year listening to Obama blaming George W. Bush for all of America’s problems, the message is losing its potency. It’s just another way for the left to insist that it bears no responsibility for anything ever. The laser-like focus on avoiding their own blame for past problems convinces more and more people that Democrats haven’t the slightest clue and even less interest in really solving problems. Instead, any legislation to make its way through this leftist dominated Congress is designed first and foremost to strengthen their grip on power.
If Democrat leaders diligently follow the Clinton team prescription, by the time November 2010 rolls around they will be intensely unpopular. The tea party faithful will be incensed and motivated, and the left can expect to get an historic shellacking on Election Day.
But Hillary will have no connection to that defeat. She stands ready to step in as that New Democrat Lanny Davis is looking for. By opposing the far left of her party she might even tap into tea party outrage at the leftist assault on our liberties, our health care, and our free market economy. She could offer herself to tea party independents as the New Democrat alternative to a return to Republican rule.
Hillary Clinton will be running for president. A challenge to Obama in 2012 is not outside the realm of possibility, but it would be very risky. Failing to win the nomination in 2012 would most likely kill her chances for a run at it in 2016. She’ll do it only if Obama’s poll numbers continue to slide.
The Clinton team is helping those numbers along.