Since the Republican Senate victory in Massachusetts on January 19 and the collapse of Obama’s domestic agenda, the parallels between Obama now and Clinton in 1994 have come into sharp focus....
To save his presidency after his stiff rebuff in the midterm elections, Clinton lurched to the political center. He adopted a strategy of “triangulation” that involved painful compromises with Republicans, who had captured the House and Senate. It worked. Clinton glided to reelection in 1996, defeating Republican Bob Dole by 7 points.
Though it’s rarely acknowledged, Clinton’s most significant successes in the White House were all in conjunction with Republicans: the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993, welfare reform in 1996, and balanced budget legislation in 1997 that included a cut in the capital gains tax rate from 28 percent to 20 percent that spurred the financial boom and budget surplus of his second term.
Barnes' comparison is, not surprisingly, very misleading. Sure, there's an obvious parallel between Obama's 2010 political struggles and Clinton's in 1994. But Barnes can't simply point that out, because -- as he notes -- Clinton ended up rebounding and winning a re-election landslide in 1996. (Quibble: Barnes slightly understates the margin of Clinton's '96 win over Dole; it was actually 8.5 points, not 7.) And no self-respecting Weekly Standard writer is about to forecast such a happy ending to Obama's first term. So Barnes' challenge is tell us why Obama is much more screwed than Clinton was 16 years ago. Which is where he goes off the rails.
His argument, as you can see, is that Clinton turned his presidency around by essentially governing as a Republican. There is some truth here: I can certainly remember how frustrated many progressives were when Clinton signed welfare reform, or when he ran ads on Christian radio stations bragging about his decision to sign the Defense of Marriage Act.
But Barnes conveniently leaves out the single most significant moment for Clinton's post-'94 turnaround: his fall '95 confrontation with the Republican Congress over its budget priorities, which resulted in a shut-down of the federal government that November. To most voters, the incident starkly illustratrated the differences between the president and his Republican opponents. Clinton came off as a tough, decisive and principled protector of the social safety net. The Republicans looked like fanatical ideologues. After the shut-down, Clinton's re-election was virtually assured; Bob Dole never got close to him in the polls.
More galling, though, is Barnes' claim that "Clinton's most significant successes in the White House were all in conjunction with Republicans." Again, there's something to this (although any post-'94 achievment had to come through cooperation with Republicans -- since they ran Congress); and again, Barnes conveniently ignores the elephant in the room: Clinton's 1993 budget, which was passed without a single Republican vote in the House or Senate.
That budget, which raised income tax rates on the highest-earning Americans, was instrumental in arresting the runaway deficits of the Reagan era, restoring the confidence of Wall Street, and laying the foundation for the economic prosperity that marked most of Clinton's reign. Without it, Clinton would never have been able to hand off a budget surplus to George W. Bush in 2001. (And I don't need to remind you what Bush and the GOP Congress did with that surplus.)
I don't have the time to go pull quotes now, but if you're looking for a laugh, go back and read through the news coverage of Clinton's budget from the summer of 1993. One Republican after another cast it as a threat to life as we know it -- a guaranteed jobs killer that would strangle growth and investment and plunge the country back into a recession. It passed the House on a 218-216 vote and only got through the Senate with Al Gore's tie-breaking vote. Zero Republicans voted for it. (Sort of like the stimulus last year, and health care now.)
Just like all of the Republicans who voted against Clinton's budget, Barnes seems to have forgotten all about it.