The PJ Tatler

If Bill Clinton Was President...

I take second place to no one when it comes to not admiring the Clintons. They’re slick and slimy and always looking out for themselves, and farther to the left than they tend to let on.

They’re also totally unprincipled, but in politics that’s occasionally a useful advantage.

Take the current debt fight. President Obama seems to be sticking close by his base on this, insisting on tax increases until forced off of that position, and allowing himself to be exposed for having no plan of his own (unless you buy the “secret plan” nonsense that WH chief of staff Daley trotted out on CNN). Obama is allowing Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi to roll out idiotic remark after idiotic remark, demonizing the Tea Party and creating more and more division. He has allowed Harry Reid to draft a plan that just guts our national defense, once again exposing the Democrats for their weakness in an area that has been a bane to them since Vietnam. There is no discipline at all on the Democratic side, and they’re taking the lack of leadership as an opportunity to engorge on hate for the Tea Party, which is made up of everyday American patriots who care about our country. And, by calling on Americans to tweet their Congressman, Obama shows his own impotence and frivolity. Now he’s whining about a lack of sleep. Good grief. Can someone close to him just tell him to man up, already?

There is a word for all of this: Pathetic. Obama is totally exposed as a dreadful leader, and is diminishing himself and the office he holds.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Bill Clinton, for all of his other many repulsive traits, would never have let it all come to this.

Look back at the welfare reform battle of 1995-96. Clinton is a Democrat and in his heart of hearts was fine with the status quo on welfare. But reforming welfare polled well because Americans were rightly sick of people who stayed on the dole for decades and generations. So he talked a good game on welfare reform. When the Republican Congress called his bluff in 1996 and passed a sweeping welfare reform bill, Clinton did not do what Obama is now doing. He didn’t demonize it (much) to paint himself into a corner against it, and he didn’t just keep declaring it DOA. He abandoned his base on the issue — they hated the GOP welfare reform and lied like rugs about how it would mercilessly throw millions out into the streets. Clinton signed the bill and took credit for it. It took a special shamelessness to do that, but he did it, and that signature moved him credibly to the center in the public’s eye. His base, having nowhere else to go in the following election, stuck with him. He was re-elected, for a whole lot of reasons, and welfare reform was part of why he won.

In the current debt fight, Obama could have capitalized and gotten something done. He could have abandoned his base on a temporary and tactical basis, goaded Reid to move on whatever the House passed, and then signed it and taken credit for it. This would have moved him credibly to the center, which is where independents are. It would have been good for the country, as the welfare reform bill has proven to be. And it would have been good for Obama. Given everything else that’s going on it wouldn’t have guaranteed his re-election, but he’s crazy if he thinks this brinksmanship helps him win next year. It doesn’t. Whatever happens, his lack of leadership will stick to him.

If Clinton were president right now, we would have had a deal. It would have irritated his own base, and he would have stolen all the credit from the Republicans who wrote it, passed it, and forced him to sign it. But we wouldn’t be looking at the prospect of a US credit downgrade. Bill Clinton cared too much about his own skin to allow that to happen.