Clinton Betrays Clintonism

Looks like a lot of Republicans (and future Republicans) are taking their cues from Mitt Romney’s bizarre sub-message that Barack Obama has betrayed the legacy of Bill Clinton. Yesterday this was one of the main rationalizations used by former Rep. Artur Davis to justify his opportunistic move from hard-scrabble Alabama to the comfortable Virginia suburbs of DC, and from the Democratic to the Republican Party. And now today the Weekly Standard’s Jay Cost tries out the more complicated trick of arguing that in 2008 Obama destroyed the Clinton tradition which Democrats had never accepted in the first place.

Here’s Jay’s one sentence summary of his hypothesis, which is apparently the subject of a book he’s published:

[W]hat we have then is a history of the Democratic party being skeptical of Clinton, then pushing him so far to the left that he lost public opinion, then rebuking his vice president, and then his wife in the 2008 election.

I’ll have to admire Jay Cost’s chutzpah in asserting that the party which nominated Clinton for president twice, nominated his vice president once, and then nominated a man in whose White House you cannot throw a rock without hitting one of Clinton’s former staffers (or his wife!) in fact never accepted Clinton at all. Moreover, like Artur Davis, Cost feels clairvoyant enough to assert that Clinton himself doesn’t actually support Obama, and in Cost’s case, didn’t support his own agenda, but was “forced” by the party that never accepted him to live a lie.

Lord-a-mercy! I thought, having lived through the nineties and ‘oughts as a self-conscious supporter of the “Clinton legacy” in the Democratic Party, with reasonably good contacts at high levels in ClintonWorld, maybe I understood it. Turns out I was being duped all that time, as Bill Clinton sold out Bill Clinton.

Enough. Suffice it to say all this revisionist history revolving around Clinton has the transparent purpose of projecting the Republican Party’s steady drift (and then, more recently, violent lurch) to the right in recent years onto the opposition party. It helps that the Democratic Party is sufficiently diverse to support all sorts of interpretations of what it means to be a Democrat. But at bottom, the Donkey Party hasn’t much changed recently, with the important exception of its growing acceptance of LGBT rights. The Obama administration, stuffed with Clintonites, is championing the tax rates, the approach to health care and the environment, the fiscal and monetary policies (including a cautious openness to big changes in Medicare), and the international policies, of the more conservative elements of the Clinton administration. Bill Clinton seems to “get” this. It’s about time Republicans stopped presuming to speak for him and his legacy.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.