Obama No Longer Clinton 1992 Redux?

Sully found a very interesting 1996 piece by Tom Edsall on Bill Clinton. I defy anyone to read it and tell me Barack Obama was not, until recently, reprising Bill Clinton's 1992 election campaign.

But what is really interesting is Edsall's focus on the mandate Clinton won in 1992:

Clinton not only overestimated the magnitude of his election victory but initially proceeded to govern as if cultural and social post-sixties liberalism had won, when in fact a moderated centrism had won.

Of course, that seemed to be what was possible in 1992 - a win for moderated Democratic centrism. In 2008, we can seek more for the mandate. We must. More . . .

Back in 2006, when Jeralyn met with Bill Clinton, I mused a question to ask the former President:

I asked myself what I would have liked to discuss with Clinton. I thought of this issue most of all - 'does Clinton think his Third Way/New Democrat approach, that worked so well for him (did it work for the Dem Party?) in the 90s (of course since he is the best politician of his generation it is not clear that using of other approaches would not have worked for him) is the right political approach in today's hyperpartisan age of Bush Republicanism?'.

Anyone who has read my posts here knows by now I tremendously admire the work of the late Richard Hofstadter . . . and believe that our current Democrat political rock star - the new Bill Clinton - Barack Obama (a tremendously talented politician in his own right) has much to learn from him, as well as FDR.

This issue is one I have continued to explore for the past few year, especially in relation to barack Obama's campaign. I wrote about the alleged Death of Triangulation and the DLC. I wrote about the DLC's embrace of Obama.

As for the similarities between the 2008 Obama campaign and the 1992 Clinton campaign, I was not the only one who noticed. See E.J. Dionne and Paul Krugman. The importance of this is not to denigrate Barack Obama. My admiration for Bill Clinton the politician and President is extremely high. My point is to argue that Obama and the country can do better because the country is truly ready for real substantive change. Bill Clinton probably did as well as any Democrat could have in the 1990s. He rebuilt the Democratic Presidential brand. It is a new day. Thus while Tom Edsall may have been right in 1996 when he wrote about Clinton:

Clinton responded to the Republican sweep of 1994 by radically altering the goals and character of his presidency. He has adopted the role of a tactician facing a larger, better-equipped, but not necessarily better-led army. His daily task is to determine how much ground to cede to his adversaries on the right while maintaining his image as the defender of certain core liberal values.

It would be wrong for Obama and his supporters to embrace this crouched and defensive approach. Obama is in a political climate as favorable to Democrats and progressivism as I have ever seen since Watergate. Bold, principled, progressive leadership will be embraced, not triangulation. Not surprisingly, folks in the Village like the DLC's Harold Ford want and applaud Obama's "move to the middle." They believe it is still 1992. They are wrong.

By Big Tent Democrat, speaking for me only

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    Maybe but.... (5.00 / 3) (#3)
    by masslib on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 09:10:05 AM EST
    Bill Clinton ran during the ascention of conservatism, not two years after it had crested.  I think today Bill would have ran as Hillary did.  No, anyway.  I think you are wrong.  Tsongas ran against the system, which is a posture.  Obama ran, in the same manner, on process.  Bill ran on program.  So, no, I disagree.

    Maybe what? (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 09:10:50 AM EST
    Your comment echoes my post.

    Oops. OK. I stopped (none / 0) (#10)
    by masslib on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 09:28:52 AM EST
    reading half way through.  I finished now.  Sorry.

    Perfect (5.00 / 3) (#25)
    by Edgar08 on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 09:55:25 AM EST
    Program vs. process.

    What do you think of BO's... (5.00 / 3) (#5)
    by Shainzona on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 09:14:18 AM EST
    "leadership" so far?

    Non-existent IMHO.

    Barack Obama has never lead on any issue in his life - including Iraq where he voted with the middle every time.

    Barack Obama has always been ALL TALK AND NO ACTION.

    Unfortunately, now his talk is the kind that we don't want him to take action on.


    Leadership (5.00 / 4) (#22)
    by lobary on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 09:46:11 AM EST
    I agree wholeheartedly. Obama has shown absolutely no leadership whatsoever. Bill Clinton was right, and the events of this week should drive that "fairy tale" message straight into the thick skulls of the fawning hipsters who insist Obama is the One True Agent of Change.

    His entire campaign originated from the claim that he was the anti-war candidate who opposed the Iraq War from the beginning, so he has the judgment to be elected President of the United States. However, his pattern of capitulation at a time when Republicans are weaker than they've been in decades undermines that argument.

    Why should anyone believe that Barack Obama would've had the political courage to vote with the 21 Senate Dems who opposed the Iraq War Resolution, one year after 9/11, when he doesn't even have the courage to stand up for the Fourth Amendment seven long, difficult years later?

    What leadership has he shown to prove that Bill Clinton's assessment was wrong?

    He's a spineless centrist who is so concerned with being everything to everyone that he can't take a stand on anything without worrying about what the Big Bad Repuglies will say about him.

    I'll vote for him over McCain, but I won't defend him in my watercooler chats like I've defended other flawed Democrats.

    I fear the Dems wasted a golden opportunity in 2008. Prove me wrong, Barack Obama. I dare you.


    Another one that particularly galls me (5.00 / 2) (#31)
    by lobary on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 10:52:02 AM EST
    Don't forget about his vote to censure MoveOn for the General Betray Us ad.

    That one was so easy. The Republicans were wasting valuable Senate time on a really dumb gesture, and Obama stupidly reached across the aisle to help them spank his own supporters.


    Actually... (none / 0) (#43)
    by OrangeFur on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 02:51:44 PM EST
    ... he disappeared from the Senate for the MoveOn vote--i.e. he voted "absent". Hillary Clinton voted against, however.

    Yep. Bill Clinton had already shown (5.00 / 4) (#34)
    by Montague on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 11:12:45 AM EST
    leadership as governor of Arkansas.  

    What disappoints me (5.00 / 5) (#11)
    by Steve M on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 09:30:20 AM EST
    is the people who respond to Obama's timidity on this issue or that by saying "he's right, the country isn't ready for a contrasting Democratic argument on that."  The netroots used to be virtually unanimous on this stuff, but some of them have ceded their better judgment.

    The damage in that respect (5.00 / 1) (#13)
    by andgarden on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 09:32:06 AM EST
    is quite severe.

    ummmmmmmmmm, no, it isn't. (5.00 / 4) (#16)
    by cpinva on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 09:34:11 AM EST
    bill clinton's campaign didn't rely on accusations of racism, to win the primaries.

    with regards to the GE, "it's the economy, stupid", was the carville mantra, highlighting the seeming indifference of bush to the suffering of the middle and lower classes, resutling from the recession then ongoing.

    clinton actually understood basic economics, obama seems either mystified, or intentionally ignorant. witness his comments regarding social security; totally, completely, 100% wrong factually.

    now, to be fair, he has been consistent in his stated intention to repeal the bulk of the bush tax cuts, those on the wealthiest. in fact, so far, that would appear to be about his only consistent position.

    for me, there's also a psychological difference: bill clinton seemed to truly represent a breath of fresh air and optimism, obama not so much. clinton's selection of gore as his running mate, and assertion that he would be more than merely a pen holder in the clinton administration, also signaled a new era.

    i just don't get this from sen. obama.

    Well (4.00 / 1) (#21)
    by Steve M on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 09:45:59 AM EST
    Whether he chooses Hillary as VP will tell us a lot about whether he's willing to surround himself with talented people with their own ideas, even at the risk of sharing the spotlight a little.

    The other big difference (5.00 / 3) (#23)
    by Carolyn in Baltimore on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 09:52:41 AM EST
    between Bill Clinton (and his equally talented wife) and Obama is that the Clintons are policy wonks - they live and breathe this stuff, had plans coming into the WH, made the adjustments needed as they were harassed and attacked and faced with Newt and the Contract On America.
    'They work very hard and obviously enjoy working, and working for us, even if imperfect.

    Senator Obama does not have distinct plans, does not delve into the details of policy and how to get it done, does not seem to enjoy real work and all of his actions have been related to his career. (Makes me wonder what he'll think his next career move would be if he were Prez)

    So while Obama should be a -partisan fighter for the people and figuring out how to work with the disaster he would inherit, he is playing a Vichy defensive game.
    How I would love a fighter in the WH - we need one to dig out with.

    Obama thinks we're post-parrtisan (5.00 / 2) (#39)
    by Dadler on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 12:15:22 PM EST
    So I don 't think he knows how to even USE the reality that any specific political "climate" exists to be taken advantage of.  True post-partisanship would mean there is no such thing as a political climate, only a social climate.  So there would be no political change to effect, only social.  Meaning, don't expect an Obama administration to go out of its way to do anything too "political" to solve any problem -- and by that I mean, don't expect his admin. to do anything genuinely bold or progressive.  His will be, I fear, as fence sitting an administration as has ever existed.  He seems afraid to go out on any limb, to really lead.  Sound and fury, I fear additionally, adding up to nothing.

    But compared to McCain, well, we're back to this depressing argumetn again.

    We're in lean times for the national intellect.  So lean there seems to be not a shred of meat on the bones.

    If Obama truly (5.00 / 1) (#42)
    by oldpro on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 01:20:55 PM EST
    thought we were post-partisan, or should be/could be, then shouldn't he be testing it?

    Good analysis (5.00 / 1) (#46)
    by john horse on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 08:07:10 PM EST
    Good analysis.  Another reason for "bold, principled, progressive leadership" if Obama gets elected - it would be good for our country.  Obama doesn't need to paper over the differences between him and Bush.  What he needs is a big broom to clean up the mess that Bush and the Republicans will leave behind.  

    Yes. (4.50 / 2) (#38)
    by oldpro on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 12:01:36 PM EST
    You and FDR are 'on the money' -- the fight is not for the center...the fight is for who gets to define the center.

    The problem in this case may be that it might not matter to progressives and liberals.  Obama's FISA vote this week does not bode well.  It's triangulation in the wrong way, wrong time, wrong issue.

    And for what?

    If that vote is how Obama defines the center (and I don't know how else one can read it) then Obama is to the right of the public and will miss a rare opportunity to drive important policy if he is elected with a cooperative congress.

    Who knows what the H_xx he really thinks, wants, believes (if anything) or what he'll do?

    It's all a crapshoot IMHO...but this time 'what happens in Vegas' won't 'stay in Vegas.'  It will resonate worldwide...

    Scary.  He may be a pol in the big-dog campaign mold but the real question is "how will he govern?"

    I don't have a clue.  Do you?

    Yes, (3.66 / 3) (#32)
    by frankly0 on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 11:06:59 AM EST
    that is the truly tragic aspect of Obama's candidacy.

    He will come into office having no real mandate in terms of policy, because he will never have defined one. Yes, he'll have getting out of Iraq as a goal, and some compromised form of a health care plan. Talk about a low bar.

    But the truth is, I don't think he even cares much about policy, in his heart of hearts. As best I can see, he only supports a health care plan because his hand was forced by Edwards and Hillary. His policies have always been perfunctory and boilerplate.

    Everything about his candidacy has been geared strictly to his own ascension to power. What happens after that is mostly irrelevant, other than his maintenance of that power. Insofar as he has a vision, it's a vision of himself: his ability to "inspire", his ability to bring "unity", his ability to bring "change" (never defined). From his point of view, all of this is mostly accomplished by delivering pretty speeches that his fellow academics and the NY Times extol as "remarkable" and "deep" and "unprecedented". From his point of view, that would seem to suffice as Mission Accomplished.

    It saddens me (5.00 / 2) (#35)
    by Montague on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 11:16:48 AM EST
    to say this but I'm in total agreement.  Well, what saddens me isn't our agreement, but that Obama is going to be the Dem nominee.

    Mandate? (3.40 / 5) (#6)
    by talex26 on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 09:15:10 AM EST
    You got to be kidding. First of all there is an election to win - for someone. Obama is not a lock IMO.

    And yes today is 1994. The Republicans are not going to cede ground. In fact Obama is empowering them if you haven't noticed Armando. How can you have a Liberal mandate if the guy you think is in position to do it falls all over himself to reach out to and impress Republicans? How? Are you even paying attention?

    It's like this. If Obama continues, and he will, his rightward ways then it will be governance by committee and everything will be split down the middle. Just watered down policies dominated by Blue Dogs and Republicans. I've been saying this for over a year now and anyone paying attention sees it unfolding right before their eyes.

    Now if Obama grew a set and did a 180 and decided to become a Progressive then the Republicans are just going to stop him in his tracks via the Senate minority.

    Those are your two realities.

    And don't forget that Bill Clinton did not have to deal with the world we live in today with energy problems at their peak. With global warming. With a ramped up post-911 Terrorism. With the ME as fragile as ever. With an embolded Iran. With a national debt that no President could dig us out of in four years. With an economy not only suffering domestically but is also now tied to world economies. With a shrinking middle class, declining wages, and a falling American dollar. And on and on.

    Mandate?!!! You got to be kidding.

    So let's see here, Armando wants to try again to pump up Obama. "Great President" didn't work. "Pols are Pols" didn't work. So now he tries to sell us the silliest promotion of all - Obama will have a mandate!!!

    No. It's more like Obama will have 4 and out because he is ill equipped to handle the the challenges that are already on his plate and need fixing, little on govern as if he had a mandate and introduce new exciting things.

    You really jumped the shark on this one I'm afraid Armando. You talk mandate with no consideration at all of Blue Dogs, Republicans, and Obama and his actions themselves. Not to mention the partial list of just what a screwed up mess he would face which really is an insurmountable mess.

    Good luck with this theme. The Obots will love it. The realistic, informed and pragmatic will just shake their heads.

    Stop commenting in my threads today (1.00 / 1) (#20)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 09:45:36 AM EST
    You are suspended. I am not kidding.

    you will either learn to behave more civilly or you will stop commenting in my threads permanently.

    the first thing you do is respect when I say you are suspended from commenting in my threads today.

    I have said it. So stop commenting in my threads today or you will be suspended from my threads permanently. And the step after that is to recommended you for complete banning.


    Yes (none / 0) (#9)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 09:26:34 AM EST
    I am a shill.

    You are suspended from my threads for the rest of the day.


    Like I said yesterday... (none / 0) (#15)
    by Dr Molly on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 09:33:04 AM EST
    It amuses me to no end how, for some, you are an Obama shill trying to prop up a horrible candidate and, for others, you are an Obama hater trying to tear down a great candidate.

    You must be doing something right if you're upsetting both ends of the spectrum.


    To be clear. What follows (5.00 / 1) (#33)
    by my opinion on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 11:10:44 AM EST
    is not about BTD. Your comment is not logical. This is the same false argument the media uses to show it's propaganda is not biased.

    Thanks for the scintillating logic lesson (none / 0) (#36)
    by Dr Molly on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 11:43:55 AM EST
    But I don't think you understood my point.

    I believe BTD upsets both ends of the spectrum of commenters here because those commenters are quite rigid in either their unwavering support for Obama no matter what he says or does or their unwavering non-support for Obama no matter what he says or does. Because BTD is often focusing on issues and strategy, not personalities or specific candidates, he tends to upset those commenters that are on both ends of that spectrum.


    That doesn't make your original (5.00 / 1) (#40)
    by my opinion on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 12:33:46 PM EST
    comment true. I specifically said "What follows is not about BTD."

    Um, OK, you win the logic wars (none / 0) (#41)
    by Dr Molly on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 12:43:26 PM EST
    I hope that makes your day.

    Because winning logic points on the internet is very important.


    It seems to me that Hillary Clinton's campaign (none / 0) (#1)
    by andgarden on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 08:45:34 AM EST
    answered the question you had for Bill in 2006: no. As you say, let's hope Obama sticks with that now.

    Premature (none / 0) (#2)
    by koshembos on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 09:09:26 AM EST
    We should jump the gun on identifying and classifying Obama's campaign and his potential presidency. Events may change everything and we better be patient and evaluate the daily action as it comes along.

    By aspiration, Bill Clinton was a populist. This made him the "first black president" and gave him tremendous support among the poor and blue collar workers, etc. Obama is much more of an elitist and has long ago thrown the lowest earners under the bus.

    Obama is excellent at scripted events. He is quite clumsy when it comes to debates and responding to questions. Intellect wise, Obama is way inferior to the enormous world covering mastery of issues and impromptu talk of Bill Clinton.

    If I thought a reasonable assessment existed (none / 0) (#7)
    by Edgar08 on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 09:24:00 AM EST
    of this:

    his Third Way/New Democrat approach

    existed on the internets then the question would be worth discussing.

    It's too bad that this discussion was instigated by a group of people who spent more time lying about Bill's alleged capitulations, then actually discussing the effectiveness of his political philosophy.

    I have no idea what you are talking about (none / 0) (#8)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 09:25:46 AM EST
    I wrote my piece on Clinton in 2006.

    Your comment is absurd.


    Just from what I've seen (none / 0) (#12)
    by Edgar08 on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 09:30:26 AM EST
    One might as well ask Cinton:

    "Why were you such a weenie and do you think being a weenie would work today?"

    If you take everything that's been written about "Third Way/New Dem" stuff in the Netroots it's impossible (for me at least) to see the question any other way.

    I don't think he'd buy the idea that he wasn't contasting with Republicans at the time.  I honestly think the question presents a strawman of Bill to himself.


    WTF? (none / 0) (#18)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 09:40:10 AM EST
    your comment has nothing to do with my post. Discuss my post or stop commenting in this thread.

    I was talking about (none / 0) (#24)
    by Edgar08 on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 09:53:47 AM EST
    The question mentioned above in your post.

    I thought of this issue most of all - 'does Clinton think his Third Way/New Democrat approach, that worked so well for him (did it work for the Dem Party?) in the 90s (of course since he is the best politician of his generation it is not clear that using of other approaches would not have worked for him) is the right political approach in today's hyperpartisan age of Bush Republicanism?'.

    I called Clinton a weenie? (none / 0) (#26)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 09:57:27 AM EST
    For eff's sake, I tell you the contrast I see with you and some Obamabots -        .  

    OK (none / 0) (#28)
    by Edgar08 on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 10:10:01 AM EST

    "Why did you adopt a set of strategies that were  potentially harmful to the democratic party and only worked cause you were so talented and charismatic, and would you still adopt those political strategies today?"

    (D-Troll-State) Rep's abound (none / 0) (#14)
    by methuselas baby on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 09:32:54 AM EST
    Opposite to the immortal words of Perry Farrell, "No talking and all action," we seem to have "All talking and no action."

    Words are nice.  Words are fine.  What has Obama done?  Oh, yeah, I remember now.  He has acted against every single reason I supported him to be the nominee in the first place.

    Also, @edgar08 huh?

    Agree (none / 0) (#29)
    by squeaky on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 10:12:19 AM EST
    Apart from the BS new politics meme regarding change, I do believe that Obama is tuned into this:

    Obama is in a political climate as favorable to Democrats and progressivism as I have ever seen since Watergate.

    And that does relate to his "change" meme. Unfortunately, whether it is out of greed or a sincere belief that he can represent a wider constituency than he needs to win, I think his move to the center is akin to walking on thin ice.

    It looks to me that Obama's being more careful... (none / 0) (#37)
    by EL seattle on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 11:44:43 AM EST
    ... than Clinton was in at least one significant way.  He's trying to diminish the expectations of specific changes that he'll make once elected.

    As I remember it, quite soon after he was elected Clinton took actions on a few subjects that turned out to provide effective red meat for the anti-clinton side.  Clinton acted as though he "owed" it to the various groups of people that voted for him to change some particular things. But as the "gays in the military" changes showed, if the majority of public opinion was not ready for a new change, that effort could become a tool that Clinton's opponents could use against any other change that was being proposed.

    Since Obama doesn't seem to be making any specific promises to any particular groups, he isn't under any obligation to rock the boat in any particular way if he's elected.  He seems to be trying to let the voters assume a lot about his positions, but he's not signing off on any  contract with them.  This way, he can just say "I never specifically said that I'd do that anything like that" about a particular issue, and can then try to make incremental changes without worrying about having to fight for them if he doesn't want to.  

    It sort of looks to me as though even if Obama has a "mandate", he may not want to excersise it on those things that he doesn't feel are important.  He'll be the the decider about what things are on the agenda, and where they go on the list.

    Dont attribute the gays in the military fiasco to (5.00 / 1) (#45)
    by Jammer on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 03:40:12 PM EST
    Clinton as it would not be historically accurate.  That issue was deliberately brought to the fore in the Congress by the Republicans as the first order of business when Clinton had no intention at all on acting on the issue early in his administration.  He was forced to act on that issue then held hostage to Powell on the solution. It was designed from the start to embarrass and weaken him based only on promises made in the campaign, not on any legislation he proposed.

    The things Clinton acted early on were Brady Bill, $36 billion for infrastructure improvements and implementing Clintonomics (Rubinomics) through a balanced budget, giving us in turn low interest rates fueling strong growth.  Not a single Repub voted for the balanced budget.  The Dems and Repubs scuttled the infrastructure bill and Brady passed and cost many a good senator his seat with the forces of the NRA in full swing.

    I dont know if Obama is being more careful or not; hopefuly so.  Its unquestionable it took Bill a while to get the swing of the office and become the super prez we saw at the end of his term.  I assume Obama will build on Bill's shoulders and try to avoid his errors too.

    One thing Clinton did for sure to grease the skids for future Democrats: he removed welfare, tax and spend, and weak on defense forever as bugaboos around the necks of Dem candidates.  Building on what he started is up to them.


    This is a perceptive post... (none / 0) (#44)
    by Jammer on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 03:32:14 PM EST
    the real question being who is right: those who think that running a Bill Clinton 1992 campaign in 2008 is a winner or those who think that more can be achieved now with bolder positions.  I agree completely that Clinton achieved as much as could be achieved in the 19909's given the ascendancy of conservatism during his administration.  His congressional allies were not voted out of office because he failed to grasp at policies that would strengthen the party, they were voted out of office for voting for a balanced budget with higher taxes and for the Brady Bill.  They were brave and paid a political price while Dole and the Repubs predicted a depression from Clintonomics.  Wrong again right wingers...doh!

    I do think Obama had at least a chance to transcend Clintonism but concluded at the last minute that he had to lurch center just like everyone else.  Of course this could have been the plan from the start, look at the typical suspects running his campaign, just clumsily executed.  Whether or not he can reclaim that chance is the $64 million question.  If, as I think, you think the Republicans are akin to bullies who when pushed at hard tend to melt away somewhat, I had hoped for a stronger position by Obama on more contrasts between he and McCain.  By opting to make many of their differences almost similarities for the general campaign, does Obama lose a percentage of the change vote to McCain?  Has he diminished the strength of his candidacy by diminishing the enthusiasm of his strongest young supporters?

    And would Hillary have been the stronger candidate given that she had already moved to the center for the primaries?  Would her voters have remained just as passionate as they were in the primaries given that she would not have had to lurch center so quickly and clumsily?  Or does Clinton Derangement Syndrome all by itself motivate the press and the Repubs to rally with enthusiasm?  They are hitting Obama hard right now, sure, but would they have been hitting Clinton even more?

    This is such a fascinating campaign season.