Unmasking the 'Clinton magic'

Former president's speech reminded voters what Obama lacks

If Democrats were looking to create a climate of nostalgia at their national convention Wednesday night, it worked.

We never thought we’d miss Bill Clinton. But we almost do.

Well, almost.

At the risk of putting a damper on that nostalgia, though, the truth is that Bill Clinton was mostly in the right place at the right time.

Dispassionate historians may look back at the Clinton years with clearer eyes than most. If so, they’ll see a very pragmatic president with uniquely agile principles who managed to see which way the parade was headed in the 1990s – and jumped out in front of it.

Clinton’s penchant for Democratic rote – high taxes, big spending, sweeping regulation – was tempered by the times. Given a chance, America shot down Hillary Clinton’s attempted takeover of health care. And when two years of Clinton convinced voters to carry Republicans to control of Congress, Clinton deftly adjusted – suddenly becoming more of a budget hawk, and championing welfare reform.

America looks very, very different, even in the 1990s, if Bill Clinton really gets his way. Instead, he got what he could, and looked great doing it.

Moreover, consider the larger picture. We were largely at peace. And baby boomers, the largest demographic cohort in American history, were at their peak earning years. So our friends in Washington could pretty much put their feet up and look out their windows and watch the money trucks leave their loads.

Bill Clinton didn’t give us the ’90s. We did. The same hard-working, productive Americans who buried the Soviet Union in a pile of its own fraud also managed to lift up America. And Bill Clinton was there.

Yes, he had to be nimble enough to take advantage of it and work with a Republican Congress. If that’s the “Clinton magic,” so be it.

But Mr. Obama will clearly have none of it.

Even if you give former President Clinton more credit than we do – even if you give him all the credit for the roaring ’90s – why should anyone think the magic can somehow be taken off the shelf and rubbed off on the Obama administration? The times are different, and so are the men. Mr. Obama has simply shown none of the pragmatism or flexibility of Mr. Clinton.

President Obama, for instance, suffered a loss of power in the midterm elections, just as Mr. Clinton did. In fact, Obama called the 2010 Republican congressional victory a “shellacking.” And yet, he seemed neither humbled (for long) nor tempered. And his record of bipartisanship pales in comparison to Clinton’s.

Clinton perfected the pivot. Obama’s never tried it.

You can blame the Republicans in the House all you like for Obama’s frustrations. But Clinton had to work with Republicans who controlled both houses of Congress. He managed to get a ton more accomplished in the process.

“Clinton bucked most House Democrats to liberalize trade,” adds the National Review. “He signed Republican bills to reform welfare, restrain spending, and cut taxes on investment. Obama has done none of these things. He has weakened welfare reform by telling states that the administration will waive work requirements. He has greatly increased spending. He has raised taxes on investment and wants to raise them more. Obama is no Bill Clinton: good news for the first lady, not so much for the rest of us.”

It never hurts a guy to share in the aura of a political icon, one supposes. But it might help Mr. Obama even more if he shared some of Mr. Clinton’s dexterity.

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