February 6, 2016


Bill Clinton's Legacy Haunts the Democratic Debate : In Thursday's debate, the Sanders-Clinton squabble over the progressive future was rooted in a dispute about the past. (JEET HEER, February 5, 2016, New Republic)

Both political parties are now having debates about the legacy of former presidents. The Republican debate, spurred on by Donald Trump's digs at George W. Bush, seems a more natural one to have, since Bush was a divisive figure in the nation at large and in his own party at the end of his presidency. T[...]

By contrast to Bush, Bill Clinton is warmly remembered by many Democrats. The surprise is that Sanders has been able to make a formidable attack by focusing on aspects of the Clinton legacy that are no longer popular among party members. The debate about the current Democratic president has been far more muted by contrast. Clinton has taken on the mantle of being Barack Obama's heir, the one who can best defend and consolidate the current Democratic president's legacy. Sanders has a more complicated relationship with Obama, praising him for helping the country recover from the Great Recession of 2008, but also saying that the country now needs to move in a more aggressively progressive direction. In the debate tonight, Sanders said that Obama did a "fantastic job" and "excellent job" on the economy even though he disagrees with the president on trade. 

But if Sanders is ambivalent about Obama, he's doesn't hold back when it comes to Bill Clinton. And this puts Hillary Clinton in a tough bind. It's hard for her to disavow the presidency of the man she is married to--and whose policies she defended vigorously as first lady--but Clinton is acutely aware that the Democratic Party has moved on from 1990s Clintonism and is a much more progressive party.

Consider the litany of ideological sins that Sanders checks off to prove that Hillary Clinton is a moderate and not a progressive. Many of them are legacies of the Bill Clinton presidency, when the Democratic president tried to triangulate between the left of his own party and the Republican right. Sanders's list of evidence is long: Clinton supported NAFTA; championed the 1996 welfare reform; supports the death penalty in federal cases; supported the Defense of Marriage Act; opposes re-instating Glass-Steagall; supported Don't Ask, Don't Tell; and backed "three strikes and you are out" sentencing. They're all centrist Democratic policies that Bill Clinton enacted in opposition to the left wing of the Democratic Party in the 1990s. 

...that the next president will be the nominee who most closely resembles Clinton/W/the UR.

Posted by at February 6, 2016 9:00 AM