Tilting at Windmills

September/October 2012 Clinton’s catch-22

By Charles Peters

As the Clintons were entering the White House in January 1993, I wrote an article for the New York Times Magazine advising them about what to do and what not to do. Among my suggestions was not to repeat the mistake I thought Hillary had made with the Clinton education program in Arkansas.

Before introducing the Clinton bill in the legislature, she had toured the state, holding meetings to discuss the bill’s possible contents. By the end of her tour she had stirred up so much opposition to the possible reforms that the teachers held a near riot outside the governor’s mansion and the Clintons had to abandon the cause of education reform. So my advice was that when she had a major reform in mind, she should get her own bill together in private and send it to Congress.

That is exactly what she did with the Clinton health bill, and she was pilloried for it. As the criticism mounted, I was hoping no one would remember how wrong I had been. Or at least I thought I had been wrong, until Obama got savaged for not sending Congress a finished bill but instead allowing Congress and White House staff to shape it along the way. If there was ever a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t, this was it.

Charles Peters is the founding editor of the Washington Monthly and the author of a new book on Lyndon B. Johnson published by Times Books.