More Revisionist History About Clinton and Obama

I briefly mentioned Michael Gerson’s “Are Democrats Stuck in 1979?” column yesterday, but wasn’t in a big hurry to smack it down. It’s precisely Gerson’s history as the rare conservative willing on occasion to criticize his party’s extremism that probably makes this sort of claim that the other side is even more extreme inevitable.

But some editor or maybe even a history-conscious intern might have warned Gerson that choosing 1979 as the mythical apogee of Democratic liberalism was a bad idea. That’s a year in which a Democratic president began to prepare for a re-election campaign by pushing for a balanced budget and a big increase in defense spending, even as liberal icon Ted Kennedy headed for a humiliating defeat in the primaries.

In any event, here’s the tiresome assertion that really annoys me as a veteran of the New Democrat thing:

President Obama has now effectively undone everything that Clinton and the New Democrats did in the 1980s and ’90s.

Gerson’s not real specific about this claim, though I assume part of his argument would involve resuscitating the Romney-Ryan campaign’s lie that Obama had “gutted” welfare reform. But what else?

Since Gerson appears to assume that Clinton was strictly about appropriating conservative themes, I guess he cannot come to grips with the fact that the Affordable Care Act was based on the “managed competition” model that a lot of New Democrats preferred to Clinton’s own health care proposal, or that Obama’s “cap-and-trade” proposal was relentlessly and redundantly promoted by the New Democratic think tank the Progressive Policy Institute. Just about everything Obama has proposed on tax policy, education policy, infrastructure policy, trade policy and even national security policy has been right out of the Clintonian playbook. Has Gerson noticed that Obama’s not real popular with people on the left wing of the Democratic Party?

Well, never mind; I guess the Obama-the-lefty construct, threadbare as it is, was necessary for Gerson to set up the heads-we-win tails-you-lose proposition that HRC needs to move the Democratic Party to the right or accept that “the political achievements of her husband [have] been washed away.” I do believe Obama was the first Democrat since FDR to be elected twice with a majority of the popular vote; that ought to count for something.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.