Fairy Tales Of Yore

by digby

Jonathan Schwarz addresses this myth that Clinton came in and tried to do all this crazy leftist stuff which resulted in his losing the 1994 election. It's driving me nuts:

Their latest masterpiece is the Terrifying True Tale of How the Early Clinton Administration Was Crippled by Liberals. You see, Bill Clinton began his presidency by giving into his wild-eyed leftist instincts. But the wise American people rejected his class warfare! They punished him and the Democrats by giving control of congress to Republicans in the 1994 midterm elections. So Clinton sobered up and governed from the center. Obama better not repeat Clinton's mistakes by giving into the left! The End.

In reality, of course, Clinton knuckled under to the center right—much of which was located within the Democratic party—from the very beginning. Following their advice, he went all out to pass NAFTA, then failed to pass universal health care. People who'd been desperate in 1992 saw no economic improvement by 1994. And with the low 45% voter turnout in the midterms, the Democrats lost control of Congress (mostly via the defeat of center right Democrats).

Here's an especially fine example of the Terrifying True Tale, by John Heilemann in New York Magazine. Heilemann deserves extra credit for berating people who remember history for not remembering history

Be sure to read Heileman's fairy tale. It's a masterpiece of the genre. I particularly liked this:

Picking Summers would send a powerful message that Obama isn’t going to let himself be pushed around, as Clinton was, by the various factions on the left during his transition. That merit matters to him more than ideology or identity politics...

Indeed, several sources in the Obamasphere tell me Emanuel’s installment is meant to send a crystalline message to congressional liberals: that the president-elect has no intention of allowing them to set the agenda, let alone roll him as an earlier generation of Capitol Hill pooh-bahs did to Clinton in 1993 and 1994...

Gays in the military was the only crazy leftist thing he did --- he thought that something he'd explicitly campaigned on would be uncontroversial and that a dirty hippie could be Commander In Chief. He learned quickly. I suspect that Obama will not make the mistake of thinking that his campaign promises have necessarily been endorsed by the people who matter --- the villagers --- and he certainly will be aware that the military brass are comprised of a bunch of unreconstructed wingnuts who will have to be handled with kid gloves because they are looking for reasons to sandbag him.

Other than that, Clinton's crazy, leftwing proposals were raising taxes on the wealthy, an energy tax, universal health care and NAFTA. He ended up having to pass his budget on a strict party line because itcontained a modest tax hike on millionaires. NAFTA was one of those bipartisan bills that the village praised as an example of how things should be. The others were tanked. They harrangued him endlessly about the deficit and "fiscal responsibility" and simultaneously about not enacting the middle class tax cuts.

There was no honeymoon. Here is an example of the environment Clinton was operating in just four months after he was inaugurated. You'll see what those "liberal poohbahs" in the congress were actually doing:

President Clinton conceded today that he would have to reduce his tax proposals and cut spending more deeply to get his economic program through the Senate, but he held out the hope that his plans to put more money into education and job training would not be gutted in the process.

In a speech here, Mr. Clinton acknowledged that large changes in his budget plan were inevitable and set out five areas that he did not want touched. He asked negotiators to leave intact his goal of reducing the deficit by $500 billion over four years, to approve only those new taxes that affect the rich more than the poor, to keep measures for small business and for the working poor and to retain spending cuts.

Although he voiced support for his energy tax proposal, it was not included in his guidelines for the negotiators. The White House has been signaling its willingness to trim the energy tax increase and cut Medicare more deeply since the House of Representatives narrowly passed the economic plan on Thursday. The conciliatory tone has been praised by Senator David L. Boren, of Oklahoma, a Democrat who had vowed to block the package.

"We'll cut the taxes and have more spending cuts next week," Mr. Clinton said in his speech today, delivered before an invited audience at the Milwaukee Exposition and Convention Center. "But when we do, let's leave the money in there that will shape these children's economic future. Let's have the money for education and training, for investment in technology for help for the defense industries that are building down."

Jobs Are Paramount

"After all," he added, "you can cut all the spending you want. If people don't have jobs, we're still not going to be able to balance the budget."


In a challenge to the Senate, which will take up his program next week, Mr. Clinton laced his 50-minute speech with frequent references to issues like welfare reform that appeal to the conservative Democrats he is hoping to win back to his side.

"This is a historic moment," he said. "Now that the House has passed this budget plan to reduce the deficit and to target investments in our future, and it's going to the Senate for further debate, we can make a decision to seize control of our economic destiny."

Passing his budget, Mr. Clinton said, would be a sign that members of Congress are willing "to try to find bipartisan responsibility in place of bipartisan blame and irresponsibility."

In the face of criticism from moderates in his own party and independents like Ross Perot, Mr. Clinton has been furiously maneuvering back toward the center of the political spectrum in recent days, even going so far as to add David R. Gergen, a longtime adviser to Republican Presidents, to his White House staff.

He continued on that path today, saying he favored "not entitlement, not abandonment, but empowerment."

Mr. Clinton was warmly received here today, but the latest CBS News poll showed that the public's optimism over his economic plan faded in the last several months. Only 28 percent of Americans now say the Clinton economic plan, if adopted, "will help the national economy" in the next few years. At the time the plan was proposed in February, 53 percent expressed such optimism.

Further, the poll now found that just 37 percent said 'yes' when asked if plan "is fair to people you." In February, 59 percent perceived such fairness.

The new CBS News poll was conducted Thursday through Saturday with 1,184 adults. The nationwide telephone poll had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

The passage of Mr. Clinton's economic plan by the House did not immediately improve the President's standing with the public. In the CBS News poll, 37 percent of Americans approved of the way Mr. Clinton is handling his job as President, while 49 percent disapproved. Two other national polls, by Newsweek and Time magazine, taken just before the vote in the House, measured his job approval at a statistically indistinguishable 36 percent.

This level of job approval means Mr. Clinton's overall standing with the public at this point in his term is the lowest of all Presidents since World War II, when measured at the equivalent point in their terms by the Gallup poll.

When asked specifically about Mr. Clinton's handling of the economy, 33 percent in the CBS News poll approved, while 55 percent disapproved.

Although the President's remarks today were clearly aimed at a mainstream Midwestern audience, he refrained from the Washington-bashing that had lately become a hallmark of such trips. Even when he offered criticism of Congress, it was muted. No Faith in Bureaucracy

"Some, but not all, in the national Democratic Party placed too much faith in the whole politics of entitlement, the idea that big bureaucracies and government spending demanding nothing in return can produce the results we want," he said. "We know that is simply not true.

"On the other hand, some, but not all, in the national Republican Party have practiced the politics of abandonment, of walking away from common concerns like dropping test scores or rising crime rates or insufficient infrastructure or taking care of the people who won the cold war for us and now don't have anything to do in the wake of defense cutbacks.

"Well, that's not right either."

Mr. Clinton also offered a lengthy critique of Reaganomics, normally a standard feature of his talks but one that took on a different flavor given his recent decision to hire Mr. Gergen.

"I think it's fair to say that the only reason I was elected in 1992 is that the American people thought that it hadn't worked very well, and that there were problems," he said of the 12 years of Republican governance. "While the Government was used as punching bag -- everybody talked against big Government -- nobody ever really did anything fundamentally to reform the way it operates."

The President is still smarting under the weight of a heavy dose of critical assessment. The cover of Time magazine featured an inch-high President with a stark, bold headline that said, "The Incredible Shrinking President." And Newsweek magazine countered with a photograph of a troubled Mr. Clinton and a headline reading, "What's Wrong?"

That wildeyed liberal bastard!

The omnibus budget bill he's trying to sell in that speech was eventually voted against by every single Republican and quite a few Democrats, including that asshole David Boren. Al Gore had to break a tie in the Senate.

Here's the outline of the crazy left wing thing:

Socialism, obviously.

I'm not saying that Clinton didn't screw up. But if you look at what he actually did, it wasn't playing too far to the left. He was one of the architects of DLC corporate politics and made a veritable fetish out of appeasing big business and wingnuts. It's that he couldn't manage his own Democratic egomaniacs, mostly in the Senate, and he allowed the Republicans and the villagers to poison the public against his program before he even had a chance to implement it, despite his constant capitulation to their demands. He could never control the narrative and it narrowed his options to small bore, incrementalist centrism, which is as far to the left as the political establishment wants any Democrat to go.

Jonathan quotes Kevin Philips writing in 1994 on Clinton, and if this is "too far to the left," we've got serious problems:

Clinton came in. I'm not certain what he meant and how sincere his intentions were, but he ran against Washington and he came to Washington and he got rolled...

In part, he was self-rolled. He set himself up in different ways. It's difficult to believe that he was 100 percent sincere in his outsider claims, because as soon as you start to see his modus operandi with all these Arkansas fat cats, it becomes clear that his way of dealing with things in Arkansas was to be part of the lobbyist crowd, to get contributions from the CEOs, and to basically work with them. In the context of Arkansas, he would have been slightly left of center, I suppose, but not in any way that he couldn't work with Walton and Tyson and the whole crowd. He did. And Hillary was on the boards of some of those companies. So, we shouldn't have believed it. He talked the talk, but he didn't walk the walk.

When he came to Washington, who did he sign up? Lloyd Cutler, Ron Brown, Vernon Jordan, Mickey Kantor—obviously not people who were enemies of the lobbying establishment.

Then, when he did the tax and budget package, the administration made deal after deal after deal with lobbyists. They did the same thing on NAFTA. So basically, they legitimatized interest group politics by the way they behaved as well as the way he dealt with the insiders almost from the start.

Everybody says that the tough DLCer Rahm will make sure that this new White House will not make the same mistakes that Clinton did. I sincerely hope that's true. One thing I do know is that this is not 1992. (I was a lot younger then.) If the Democrats are going to refight the last war, I sure hope they understand what actually went wrong in the last one. The villagers certainly don't.

Update: I left out that Clinton also made the mistake of naming a couple of actual liberals to his cabinet. He was told by the village in no uncertain terms that they had to go and he withdrew their nominations. The result was that he nominated an Attorney General who appointed a special counsel every time the Republicans sneezed (even while the Democrats controlled congress.) And in his further zeal to appease these "critics" he appointed an FBI head who was a rightwing zealot and who actively conspired with Republicans against him. Let's hope they've learned from those experiences as well.