I never thought it would come to this. I never imagined a time post 2000 when I would actually lament a return to the past. But here we are, facing a recession as deep and even longer than the one in the early 1990s, a recession that ushered in none other than the Comeback Kid – President William Jefferson Clinton.
His was a presidency that brought us DNA samples, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, school uniforms, and wagging fingers regarding a certain intern.
But set all that aside (if you can), and recall some of the fiscal successes of his presidency. Yes, the United States enjoyed years of growing surpluses during the Clinton presidency – many of which could be attributed equally to the Republican Congress – but pair them together, and it’s easy to see why the country could use another Bill Clinton in place of the current Oval Office occupant. Here’s why:
I lead with this because it’s easily the quickest thing President Obama could accomplish to help set the economy on the right footing again. President Clinton bucked the powerful labor unions and even some of the most liberal wings in his party to push through Trade Promotion Authority during his tenure. For the first time, the Administration had the power to negotiate trade deals and send them to the Congress for an up-or-down vote. TPA was a signature legislative jewel in the crown of the Clinton presidency, and it took none other than Clinton himself to put his own political capital on the line to marshal it through the Congress.
Clinton was a master of acknowledging the concerns of labor rights yet channeling them into meaningful legislation. It was not enough to just fight and lose the battles. Clinton needed to win. And when it came to trade, and the United States’ continued dominance on the world commercial scene, he was one of the best trade envoys for the nation.
He didn’t always welcome freer trade policies, but in the end, he reasoned that expanded trade with the rest of the world was a net benefit for U.S. workers and manufacturers. President Obama would do well to emulate Clinton’s behavior in this regard, especially since many in Congress have teed up three free trade agreements (Korea, Panama, and Colombia) for him to carry over the finish line. Just as it took Clinton to move Trade Promotion Authority, so it will take the leader of the Democratic Party again to lead his members to pass these FTAs this year.