Another interesting discussion kicked up by Bill Clinton’s speech last night is made unavoidable by the Romney campaign’s official response, per Brother Benen:
“Bill Clinton worked with Republicans, balanced the budget, and after four years he could say you were better off,” Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams said. “Barack Obama hasn’t worked across the aisle — he’s barely worked with other Democrats — and has the worst economic record of any president in modern history.”
This isn’t just amnesia—it’s double amnesia.
As Benen goes on to point out:
Look, there’s no great mystery here. President Obama appointed Republicans to key posts in his administration, and incorporated Republican ideas into his policy agenda. He demonstrated a willingness to work with GOP officials on just about every issue under the sun.
On the other hand, there were congressional Republicans who huddled, literally on Obama’s first day, and agreed to adopt “unyielding opposition” to every White House measure. The Senate GOP leadership decided before the president was even inaugurated that they would not compromise on anything. Shortly after the inauguration, one House Republican leader said his caucus was prepared to emulate the “insurgency” tactics of “the Taliban.”
I’d take that a few notches higher: on his three most important signature policy initiatives, Obama directly adopted policy approaches that were highly associated with the Republican Party of the very recent past—the stimulus legislation’s reliance on tax cuts far beyond anything justified by the likely effect; the adoption of the 2008 Republican nominee’s longstanding cap-and-trade proposal for dealing with carbon emissions; and of course, the 2012 Republican nominee’s mandate-and-private-insurance-options strategy for expanding access to health care. On another important policy front where violent Republican opposition made it futile to make any legislative push, Obama adopted the 2000 and 2004 Republican nominee’s proposals for comprehensive immigration reform. Said nominee’s standards-and-accountability approach to education reform, moreover, found a champion in Obama even as Republicans rapidly abandoned it for the snake oil of private-school vouchers. None of these gambits by Obama attracted any Republican support beyond the tiny band of GOP Senators who grudgingly voted for the stimulus legislation after shaping it to their own heart’s desire.
So much for Obama’s refusal to “work across the aisle.” But the fiction that Republicans were happy to work with that nice man Bill Clinton is equally bizarre.
Jon Chait is at his irrefutable best on that one today:
[T]he truth is that the Clinton-era Republicans believed, just as the Obama-era version of their successors, that the president was a wealth-confiscating Marxist. (The role of Chicago/Kenya, as the incubator of the president’s secret radical agenda, was the sixties-Yale-Hillary Clinton.) And this forgotten past actually lends us crucial insight into the economic debate occurring at this very moment.
Clinton’s first year was consumed by a massive conflagration over his plan to reduce the deficit. The contours of the fight were nearly identical. Democrats accepted the need to reduce federal spending, but demanded an upper-income tax hike, so that the middle class would not bear the whole burden of reducing a deficit that had originally been created in large part through regressive tax cuts. The tax demand rendered the plan radioactive to the GOP. Zero Republicans supported Clinton’s deficit reduction plan.
I’ve written many times about the wildly fearful invective that characterized the opposition. Republican dogma held as an absolute truth that raising tax rates on the rich must, by reducing the work incentive, slow the economy and thereby fail to raise the projected new revenue. Even the most respected Republican-affiliated economists, like Harvard’s Martin Feldstein, insisted “there is no possibility that the Clinton plan will produce the deficit reduction that it projects.”
Ground zero of opposition was the Wall Street Journal editorial page, which fashioned a running graphic for its crusade against Clinton’s plan, entitled “The Class Warfare Economy,” decorated with an illustration of a guillotine. The day Clinton’s plan passed the House of Representatives in a dramatic vote, the Journal editorialized, “We are seeing the early signs of the stagflation that we knew so well during the Carter presidency.”
And then there’s this little matter of trying to drive Clinton from office via impeachment once the electoral route failed.
Chait goes on to discuss why nobody has an interest in telling the truth about this quite recent history. But it won’t just go away:
The Republicans’ current line rests upon a historical revisionism so blatant they are holding up Clinton himself as an ideological ally, a fellow moderate, in opposition to Obama’s radical class warfare. It’s important to remember that Republicans made the same hysterical accusation against Clinton, even if Clinton himself has no interest in reminding us.
Team Romney could have engaged in a substantive rebuttal to the substantive arguments in Clinton’s speech. But despite having elevated the brave truth-teller Paul Ryan to the national ticket, they don’t want to go there. It’s easier to rewrite history, even the history most of us witnessed with our own eyes.
Feed the Political AnimalDonate
Washington Monthly depends on donations from readers like you.