Political Animal


May 31, 2012 10:22 AM Clinton Betrays Clintonism

By Ed Kilgore

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 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.


  • c u n d gulag on May 31, 2012 10:26 AM:

    Clinton was their white Rorschach Test.

    Obama's their black one.

    They project and see whatever they want to.

  • martin on May 31, 2012 10:36 AM:

    Democratic party being skeptical of Clinton, then pushing him so far to the left that he lost public opinion,

    I sometimes think Republicans live in some Marvel alternative universe and we're just living through a reboot.

    I remember well calling Clinton the Best Republican President since Nixon, and I still think so, though Obama is giving him a run for the money.

    And lost public opinion?? He was more popular than Reagan or Bush 2 at the end of his term, which is much more than the Republicans who organized the impeachment can claim.

  • Barbara on May 31, 2012 10:49 AM:

    I don't think Artur Davis needs an excuse to move to NoVa if he really wants to. It's a nice place with good schools. However, I kind of doubt whether it would send him to Congress over Gerry Connolly, whose 2012 race will likely not be nearly as close as the 2010 one (for reasons of reapportionment if none other -- they have to keep restocking Frank Wolf's district so that it sops up more and more of the fewer and fewer R spaces in NoVa, leaving most of the inside the beltway areas practically midnight blue). Even Jim Moran is being tested from the left, not the right.

  • Mudge on May 31, 2012 10:50 AM:

    Changing Martin's highlighted quote a bit,

    Republican party being skeptical of Romney, then pushing him so far to the right that he lost public opinion,

    They are projecting again, and I hope it is true as modified.

  • stormskies on May 31, 2012 10:52 AM:

    As if we needed more evidence that these Repiglicans have created and live within a utterly fact free universe. Instead they have created a reality that is utterly based on fiction, and a fiction that they need desperately to 'believe' in. And not just for themselves either. They need to ENFORCE their fictional universe on everyone in order to feel fully secure.

    Any cracks that are created in their fictional universe equals outright psychological hysteria that then manifests as a sadistic and viscous attack on anyone who creates that crack.

    These folks are truly psychologically perverted, infantile, and deeply sick. That, in fact, will describe a large amount of our fellow citizens. You know the one's that vote for the likes of Louie Gomert, Michelle Bachman, want to reelect Walker, and so on.

    And that is the true tragedy of our country, a country that has a large part of it's population that needs to believe in pure fiction defined by 'beliefs' that have no link to actual reality.

    And it is that part of our population that the oligarchy, the plutocrats, the corporations and the media that it owns, depend upon in order to enact their actual agenda's which they keep hidden from this part of our population who is so desperate to sustain their beliefs in their fictional universe that they end up voting against their own actual self interests.

    Welcome to the United Stupid America.

    USA ! USA ! USA !

  • Mimikatz on May 31, 2012 10:59 AM:

    Right. The party that saw Clinton as white trash that had no business in "their" DC, whose own trashier elements impeached him and nearly threw him out of office and who vilified him and his wife in the 2008 election now claim his legacy?? It is no accident that Clinton, for all his faults, left office more popular than the GOP and more popular than any recent GOP President when he left.

    That the GOP is using this tack to appeal to any remaining moderate Republicans who are rightly put off by the crazy and more deluded elements in today's GOP is pretty obvious.

  • Peter C on May 31, 2012 11:05 AM:

    The Weakly Standard exists to spew out 'arguments' that Republicans can use. Their mission is quantity, not quality, because Republicans know that arguments need only make sense for those who evaluate them with logic against objective reality. However, Republicans (and too many Americans, alas), don't take the time or effort to evaluate arguments this way; they 'react' to an 'argument' with emotion and against their preconceived beliefs.

    When their base hears things like this from hacks like Jay Cost, they think, "Obama BAD! Clinton too liberal!" and (since they don't really understand the logic) they also think "Ooooo, that Jay Cost is so wise; he's figured out things we NEVER would have seen."

    He also sets a trap for us. When we respond, their base thinks both "HA! Cost got under their skin and made those liberals mad and jealous of his brilliance!" and "Those EGGHEAD liberals are always using words I don't understand!". I think we should leave all our criticism to Jon Stewart; he points out the ridiculousness of Republicans better than all the rest of us put together.

  • boatboy_srq on May 31, 2012 11:24 AM:

    It's amusing that the King of TrianguNation, whose moves Rightward were many and notorious, was somehow "push[ed] so far to the Left" by Democrats (especially New Democrats).

    It's especially amusing that the RWNM is seeking the mantle of Clintonianism, given eight years of muckracking looking for the least fault in Bill Clinton himself, the repeated smearing of Gore, and the especially vitriolic treatment from 1992 to present of Hillary Clinton. These people obviously don't remember "Contract On - er, With - America" -era Gingrich, Ken Starr, or any of the 90s "ongoing investigation" efforts, never mind the nastiness spewing from Limbaugh et al when HRC was running in the 08 primary.

  • nitpicker on May 31, 2012 12:18 PM:

    You overlook the most blatant bullshit. Clinton never "lost public opinion." The man left office with the highest approval rating of any modern president. Period.

    And Gore lost despite running somewhat against the Clinton legacy.

  • martin on May 31, 2012 2:12 PM:

    And Gore lost despite running somewhat against the Clinton legacy.

    Don't ever forget, Gore WON the popular vote.

  • mmth42 on May 31, 2012 6:18 PM:

    Publican revisionism never ceases to amaze me. They may be right in thinking that the voting public has no memory, and is moved only by its own particular position in the moment. I like to think, however, that Democrats take a longer view and remember what happened under the last GOP president, if not under his daddy: the Clinton surplus vanished into two unfunded wars, deficit spending took off like a rocket, and the worst recession since 1929 (easily avoidable had the Bush people been less careless about deficit spending) took millions of jobs away from people who were already struggling to keep up while the richest 1% made out like bandits. No one on the right seems to remember this, or to want to. Instead, they (Romney et al.) put out the Big Lie that Obama has outspent all his predecessors. In fact, the deficit has grown more slowly in the last three years than it had in any of the last 65 years. But people will believe what they want to believe, and if Koch-funded Romney keeps shouting that this is the most profligate administration blah blah often enough, people who don't like Obama for any reason (black, uppity, cool, cerebral, pro-public) will vote against him happily in favor of the charlatan who left Massachusetts in such a mess. People like me, old enough to remember the damage to the social fabric done by Reagan, will enthusiastically support Obama again. My memory of Republicans goes back to Eisenhower, who would be far too liberal for today's GOP. He at least had some honor and was motivated by a desire to do what is best for all Americans. Today, he'd be a middle-of-the-road Democrat.

  • T-Rex on May 31, 2012 8:54 PM:

    What do you mean Republicans shouldn't presume to speak for Clinton? Speaking for people they don't know is who they are and what they do. They claim to read the minds of every Democrat like an open book. They know that no matter what he says, Obama does not love America. They know that although he has never once mentioned the matter, he's biding his time until he can implement a total ban on gun ownership. They know he wants to use the fairness doctrine to stifle the free speech of Rush Limbaugh. They KNOW. They're good Christians, they've got faith, who needs proof?

  • Sparko on May 31, 2012 9:47 PM:

    The lying GOP mobs began in opposition to Clinton.

    The problems we suffer today are a result of not facing up strongly enough to the 1994 right wing terror that started with OKC and Murdoch's ascendancy. Watching the Romney hirelings shouting down Axelrod like he was JQ Adams speaking out against slavery, the GOP is officially dead to me. They are a brown shirt short of a load.

  • manapp99 on June 03, 2012 12:42 PM:

    "Bill Clinton seems to “get” this. It’s about time Republicans stopped presuming to speak for him and his legacy."

    The GOP has no problem letting Bill speak for himself. Especially when he talks about Romney's "sterling business record." Or when he defends his signing off on the repeal of Glass/Steagall. Bash him on NAFTA or GATT and you will hear a bunch of GOP talking points on the merits of free trade.

    Absolutely the Republicans should let Bill speak for himself.