Once elected -- with only 43 percent of the vote -- Clinton seemed to betray his promises to govern from the center. His heavy-handed "Hillarycare" effort was exactly the sort of thing the Perotistas didn't want (never mind gays in the military and all that). The Democrats were shellacked in 1994, losing the Senate and the House to Newt Gingrich and his "Contract with America," which was a carefully calibrated appeal to centrism.
The liberal interpretation of this sea change has always been freighted with denial. The late ABC News anchor Peter Jennings said the election was a giant hissy fit: "Ask parents of any 2-year-old and they can tell you about those temper tantrums. ... The voters had a temper tantrum."
In part because Perot voters and sympathizers were disproportionately white and male, and because they expressed their dismay with Clinton by voting for the GOP, the Democrats and the media ginned up the "angry white male" theory of American politics. The same voters who were part of a "vital center" when attacking a Republican president were increasingly recast as dangerous minions of Rush Limbaugh and the forces of hate when they aligned with Republicans.
Fast-forward to today. The tea-party protesters are in large part the heirs of Perotism, and they are being subjected to the same insults. Liberal commentators are deaf to the tea partyers' disdain for both political parties, preferring to cast the protesters as a deranged band of birthers and racists or hired guns of a Republican "AstroTurf" campaign.
Meanwhile, as National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru has argued, the Democrats have convinced themselves that the moral of Clinton's failed health care push is not that he was wrong to try, but that he was wrong not to cram it through against popular opposition.
President Obama promised a "new era of fiscal responsibility," but he's governing as if exploding the size of government is what Americans want, polls be damned. The Democrats' budget games and giveaways amount to poking the angry Perotista beast with a stick.
If the GOP can convincingly align with and exploit the growing Perotista discontent, it very well might ride to victory on a tsunami the Democrats can't even see.
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