Former President Bill Clinton is slated to deliver a prime-time address at the Democratic National Convention. No doubt, he’s going to give one hell of a talk. The man is on his game, enjoying the highest favorable ratings he’s seen since 1993; a robust 66 percent of Americans think highly of the former president.
It’s a politically astute choice by Barack Obama, as “there isn’t anybody on the planet who has a greater perspective on not just the last four years, but the last two decades, than Bill Clinton,” David Axelrod explained to The New York Times. “He can really articulate the choice that is before people.”
He sure can. Or, rather, he sure could, if he felt like it. Problem is that if Clinton actually used his perspective, he’d be giving a rousing convention speech on the benefits of free trade and free markets at the Republican convention. After all, if the man from Hope has taught America one thing, it’s that even a power-abusing letch can be great for prosperity if he just leaves the economy alone.
It’s likely that Clinton never really believed that the era of big government was actually over — or going to be over — or that it should have been over. But it is nearly inconceivable to imagine him telling voters that government was the primary source of progress and prosperity or arguing that the central reason for entrepreneurial success is not smarts or hard work or even luck but rather the yeoman’s work of bureaucrats who cobble together much-needed wind farms and such.
Clinton doesn’t seem to have much against profit-mongering, either. He’s the kind of guy who could praise someone who worked in the private equity business as having a sterling business career, a career that could cross the qualification threshold to be president even. Under his presidency, inequality increased to the highest rate of any industrialized country. Then again, the entire nation grew richer, as well, which is, as Clinton probably knows, what really matters.
Clinton will tell us how he, like President Obama, had to face down a newly invigorated conservative Congress — and did it to his political advantage. What he won’t tell us is how he recalibrated his goals when it happened and, rather than allow the economy and his presidency to sink under the weight of stubborn ideology, gave in to a rare bipartisan achievement, welfare reform. I doubt he’ll have the time to talk about it, considering Obama has now gutted this reform into oblivion.
Perhaps Clinton will remind us of a time when the president was a champion of global growth policies, an era in which we saw the expansion of scary things such as “outsourcing,” offshoring and globalism and, not coincidentally, in which the economy boomed and expanded by 50 percent in real terms. Considering our president’s penchant for isolationist and populism tropes, it’s doubtful.
The former president will, no doubt, also point out that the Republican Party has gone all loco on America. But his presence will remind some voters that Democrats have gone an equal degree, if not further, to the left. Put it this way: Senatorial candidate in Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren, whose overt socialistic rhetoric would have made her candidacy a non-starter 20 years ago (maybe even five years ago), is likely to be the big man’s opening act.
You can romanticize Clinton because he supported higher tax rates all you want, but mostly he did what he did by doing little.