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Saturday, December 18, 2010


What worked for Clinton probably won't for Obama

What worked for Clinton probably won't for Obama


6:27 PM, Dec 16, 2010 

Ken Bode



     Watching Bill Clinton in the White House pressroom this week called back memories of the former president, 16 years ago, standing in the same place. Like Obama today, Clinton had taken a shellacking from the midterm voters, losing both houses of Congress.    In the pressroom he insisted, almost mournfully, "The president is relevant.   The Constitution gives me relevance . . . And the fact that I'm willing to work with the Republicans."

    Clinton's endorsement of the Obama tax compromise and his counseling visit to the Oval Office gave rise to speculation that Obama will seek to emulate the Clinton strategy -- ignore his base, tack to the center and seek compromises with the GOP.   If so, we might look at some of the differences between now and then.

     On the first day of Clinton's presidency, he discovered the federal deficit was $360 billion, up $60 billion from what George H.W. Bush admitted during the 1992 campaign.   A pittance perhaps in today's world, but it had a clarifying effect on the Clinton agenda, raising deficit reduction to a prime spot.

     Clinton found that his three major campaign promises -- a middle- class tax cut, health-care reform and ending welfare as we know it--were a difficult brew under the circumstances.   So he dropped the tax cut, postponed welfare reform and put Hillary in charge of reforming the health-care system.   "If I don't get health care done," Clinton said, "I'll wish I didn't run for president."

     Minority Leader Bob Dole promised there would be no Republican votes whatever for anything that raised taxes.   Facing that, the Clinton health-care plan emerged as a botched initiative that drew fire from nearly every special interest it affected.   The massive 2,409-page bill never even came to a vote in Congress.   Still, it was the defining issue in the Republican seizure of power in the midterms.

     Obama came to office facing a much different landscape: two wars, a collapsing financial industry, an auto sector facing extinction and a federal deficit that dwarfed that of 1993.   Facing an even more determined GOP opposition, Obama pressed forward and by any measure his legislative accomplishments dwarf those of Clinton's first two years.   Still, on Election Day, unemployment stood at 9.8 percent, there was an atmosphere of hostile partisan gridlock in Washington and Obama was hammered in the midterms.

     So, can Obama recover by following the Clinton playbook? Remember, Clinton wandered in the wilderness for nearly six months wondering what to do.   House Speaker Newt Gingrich was the ascendant leader in national politics, and Clinton's 1995 State of the Union was a surrender document.

     Then Clinton hit on his recovery strategy of "triangulation," getting halfway between Republican and Democratic positions, picking the issues and extolling the virtues of compromise.   That appears to be what Obama sought to do on the Bush tax cuts, though many Democrats think he went far more than halfway.

     The difference in the times, however, is that Clinton had real issues to work with.   Welfare reform was guaranteed to get Republican support, though Clinton had to use his veto twice before the GOP gave him a bill could sign. Trade liberalization, NAFTA, originally was a Republican idea and triangulating worked there as well.   Control over the sale of assault weapons and regulation of tobacco gave Clinton popular issues by which to define differences.

     Out of Clinton's season of doubt came a pragmatism that paid off.  Accepting his party's nomination in 1996, Clinton could trumpet 10 million new jobs, 1.8 million moved from welfare to work and a budget deficit down 60 percent and headed toward zero.

     If Obama chooses to follow the pragmatic, centrist path of his predecessor, it is hard to see where he finds the kind of issues that Clinton employed, hard to see where he gets similar accomplishments.   Education reform and renewable energy are possibilities.   But determined obstructionism still defines the GOP agenda -- repeal Obamacare, roll back financial regulation, deny Obama a second term.   If that's the game, the president will more likely spend the next two years fighting a rear guard action.

Bode is the former national political correspondent for NBC News and a former political analyst for CNN.

i just didn't know a person could lie to us so much on the campaign trail.bush was pulling wool over our eyes he said,and hoodwinking us,and i'll stop breaks for the rich,what a joke he is.
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