The Clintons of 2016 Will Not Be The Clintons of 1992


In 1992, Bill Clinton ran as a “new kind of Democrat,” one who would “end welfare as we know it” and craft a society that would reward those who “work hard and play by the rules.” Clinton knew that he could not win as a traditional liberal, so he crafted the now-famous “Third Way” approach, and campaigned and governed under a Third Way banner.

Of course, the Third Way was reinforced by the disastrous (from the Democrats’ perspective) 1994 Midterm Elections. Clinton accepted a Republican welfare reform bill (after two vetoes), balanced the budget (after much Republican prodding) and expanded free trade. At the same time, he proposed a bevy of micro-reforms that won bipartisan approval, in part because they were cleverly crafted so that Republicans could not vote against them. Through a combination of circumstance, accident, and design, Clinton became the Third Way president he had promised.

One might, therefore, expect him and his wife to revive the Third Way once the latter finally announces her candidacy for president. But based on Ira Stoll’s reporting of the Clintons’ recent appearance at the Harkin Steak Fry in Iowa, we shouldn’t count on the Third Way making a comeback:

One of Bill Clinton’s great achievements as president was to win passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, a tariff reduction treaty that Clinton’s Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers has described, together with other tariff reductions through GATT/WTO, as “the largest tax cut in the history of the world.” Yet at the Iowa Steak Fry, Clinton danced away from that accomplishment, emphasizing what he called “fair trade and not just free trade.”

[. . .]

Clinton’s great domestic policy achievement other than free trade, welfare reform, was not mentioned by him at the Iowa Steak Fry or in the DSCC letter.

To be sure, Stoll writes that “Bill Clinton will surely find a way, once the midterm elections and the Democratic primary is over, to tone down the partisan Leftism and reach out to more centrist and independent voters.” But for now, Team Clinton is veering heavily Left, which may make veering back to the middle difficult if and when Hillary Clinton locks up the Democratic presidential nomination. Recall that the Clintons were Third Way adherents during the 1992 primary season — not just during the general election — when they had to appeal to moderates, independents, and disaffected Republicans. In contrast, Team Clinton will allow no such language during the 2016 primaries and caucuses, and possibly through the general election.

So, for any who think that voting for Hillary Clinton will be a great way to bring back the 1990s and the Third Way, think again. The Clintons aren’t interested in creating some kind of permanent philosophical shift in the Democratic party, but in winning.  If that means repudiating Bill’s political and governmental legacy, well, he’ll be the first person to advocate doing so. That’s how devoted he and the rest of the Clinton machine are to ideas and principles.

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  1. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe

    All too true.

    • #1
  2. SallyVee Inactive

    Very, very well said. Nothing to add. S/he will win because the will to win is supreme. If only Progs could, for five minutes, turn that firehose of contempt on our existential enemies. Hey, I wonder what the meaning of ISIS is, in Clintonese? It all depends on the polls I suppose…

    • #2
  3. user_836033 Member

    Maybe I just don’t remember it well, but wasn’t Hillarycare part of the 92 platform?  Or shortly after he first took office?  I remember his SOTU address where he held up the insurance card.  Art Laffer always brags about how he voted for Clinton not once but twice.  I always wonder what it was about the first time that made someone with Laffer’s normally astute insight vote against George Bush.

    • #3
  4. Inactive

    I don’t think Hillary will actually run, or if she does, I really don’t think she will be the nominee. She has too much need to distance herself from Obama, and she needs it for the same reason that it won’t work — she is Obama. Hillary is a hard-core Alinskyite in a way that Bill never was. She’s all ideology, while he’s all id.
    The Hillary “positives”, from ideology to testicle count, are also available in the Warren package, with none of the attendant baggage. The Red Squaw has hurdles to overcome, but with the aid of the media, it won’t be an issue, and the media has been bruised covering for Clinton just as it has for Obama.
    Finally, the hatred between Obama and H. Clinton is total. He’ll pin Benghazi on her if she gets ahead. I suspect he would bring it up out of the blue just to get that done. Hillary wants a job, but Obama has a legacy to nourish. *that* is will to win.

    • #4
  5. user_138562 Moderator

    If Hillary has learned anything from Bill, what she says on the campaign trail won’t necessarily have anything to do with her thoughts on policy.  Bill Clinton was a master at telling a crowd what they wanted to hear.  He went to Wisconsin and gave a speech about how much he loved Wisconsin’s proposal on welfare reform.  But when he was back in the WH and reporters asked if he would sign the necessary waiver so Wisconsin could implement said welfare reform, the spokesman admitted that nobody in the WH had even read it.  Once they read it, No, he wouldn’t sign the waiver.  Just one little example, but I think Clinton did this all the time.  Giving a speech in Texas, Yes tax rates are too high, back in DC, No they aren’t.  Does anybody expect more honesty from the Mrs.?

    • #5
  6. user_657161 Inactive

    GirlWithAPearl: Hey, I wonder what the meaning of ISIS is, in Clintonese?

    Hey, I wonder what the meaning of ISIS is, in Clintonese?  Too funny!

    • #6
  7. Inactive

    Bob W

    “I always wonder what it was about the first time that made someone with Laffer’s normally astute insight vote against George Bush.”

    I wonder if Laffer is 75% conservative, but with 50 points of that coming from limited spending conservatism.  Once GHWB went for the tax increase, it may have soured Laffer enough.  I don;t know.  Buehler?

    • #7

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