In the end, Clinton- under pressure from the Gingrich Congress—turned big deficits from the first president Bush into surpluses; Obama took moderate deficits from the second president Bush and tripled them.
No wonder news reports suggest that Bill Clinton, not Barack Obama, is the most popular campaigner for Democrats in this election cycle. Embattled candidates who want the current president to stay away because they fear close association with his unpopular record, welcome President Clinton with enthusiasm and gratitude.
But those candidates fail to acknowledge that the turning point that saved Bill Clinton’s presidency came in November, 1994, with the Republican sweep of the midterm elections. Newt Gingrich and the “Contract with America” GOP captured 53 Democratic House seats, and 8 Democratic seats in the Senate. Almost immediately, Bill Clinton reoriented his presidency toward a strategy of “triangulation”: positioning himself as the sensible centrist who stood mid-way between the aggressive conservatives who controlled Congress and his own stridently liberal Democratic allies on Capitol Hill. Abandoning the activism and sweeping goals that characterized the first two years of his presidency, Bill Clinton rediscovered his identity as a New Democrat and governed successfully for the next six years as a pragmatic centrist.
Ironically, yesterday’s GOP gains could provide Barack Obama with the same opportunity to shift to the center that enabled Clinton to win his most notable political and budgetary successes. But Anne Kornblut of the Washington Post reported that “White House officials” privately resist comparisons between the two presidents. “If the House falls into Republican hands, they say, Obama will not repeat the Clinton governing script of 1995,” she writes. “Obama advocates argue that he is temperamentally ill-suited to such a strategy, both because is more interested in broad change than small bore tinkering and because it requires a level of deal-making that he has not appeared comfortable with.”
In other words, the president (who leaves on an Asian tour this Friday rather than meeting with the newly elected Congressional leaders) counts as the sort of haughty, inflexible ideologue who isn’t capable of adjusting his approach, even when his own political survival may require it. Having declared repeatedly during the campaign that Republicans must ride “in the back seat” while he continues to drive the government in the far left-hand lane, he’s hardly ready to invite them to ride shotgun, regardless of yesterday’s election returns.
In other words, it never made sense for the stiff, sour and self-righteous Barack Obama to compare himself to the ebullient, resilient, cheerfully amoral Bill Clinton. Despite the former president’s vigorous campaigning for beleaguered Democrats, a yearning to recapture the Clinton years played little apparent role in helping protect Obama’s Congressional allies.
Instead, even self-described moderates and independents who greatly admired President Clinton turned overwhelmingly to the GOP, voting for more balanced and mainstream policies in the only way they could – sending Republican re-enforcements to provide a sharp and decisive block to Obama’s calamitous lurch to the left.