With the era of the Clintons now over, Democrats should feel liberated.
By William McGurn, The Wall Street Journal
Blame Monica Lewinsky.
More precisely, for Democrats wondering how their party ended up in the ditch, Bill Clinton’s sexual dalliance with a then-22-year-old intern is an excellent place to start. Because it’s clear in retrospect that the most significant aftermath of l’affaire Lewinsky was not the subsequent impeachment of President Clinton but the death of the New Democrat movement that was until then driving his administration.
Now, there’s always been more than a little mythmaking about Mr. Clinton’s political moderation. Notwithstanding some campaign rhetoric and a stint as chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council when he was governor, there wasn’t much sign of the New Democrat in President Clinton until Newt Gingrich and his fellow Republicans gave him a drubbing in 1994. Before Republicans took the House and reset the national agenda with their “Contract with America,” the “moderate” President Clinton had reneged on his promise of a middle-class tax cut and tried to push through the unpopular HillaryCare bill.
But give the Big Dawg his due. When the Republicans took Congress, he had the wit to recognize he’d been too far in front of the American people. So instead of fighting the GOP agenda he tried to co-opt it, especially on the economy.
The result? With the exception of the North American Free Trade Agreement signed in 1993, the achievements of the Bill Clinton presidency date mostly from after the Republican revolution and include welfare reform and repeal of the Glass-Steagall restrictions separating commercial from investment banking. As Mr. Clinton himself put it in the 1996 State of the Union, “the era of big government is over.”
So what happened? In a word, Monica.
When the Lewinsky scandal broke, it was the New Democrats such as Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman who were Mr. Clinton’s chief critics within the party. By contrast, the Democrats who came to Mr. Clinton’s rescue were liberal stalwarts such as Reps. Barney Frank and John Conyers.
Democrats have been tacking left ever since. Yes, Barack Obama in 2008 campaigned as a moderate, but he never governed that way. What marks this year’s Democratic primary was how antediluvian it all was: a battle between Mrs. Clinton and an aging socialist, each trying to outdo the other in how much he/she would tax, spend and redistribute.
Now Mrs. Clinton has lost to an outsider many on both sides confidently declared could never be elected—and the recriminations are starting. This is standard fare for a party after an unsuccessful presidential campaign, and the GOP would be doing the same had Mr. Trump lost.
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