First, he reminds everybody that, in fact, Obama's campaign shares a lot in common with Bill Clinton's 1992 race, including the fact that he's running against an incompetent Bush administration.
It’s starting to feel a bit like 1992 again. A Bush is in the White House, the economy is a mess, and there’s a candidate who, in the view of a number of observers, is running on a message of hope, of moving past partisan differences, that resembles Bill Clinton’s campaign 16 years ago.Ah, for the good old days.
Now, I’m not sure that’s a fair characterization of the 1992 Clinton campaign, which had a strong streak of populism, beginning with a speech in which Mr. Clinton described the 1980s as a “gilded age of greed.” Still, to the extent that Barack Obama 2008 does sound like Bill Clinton 1992, here’s my question: Has everyone forgotten what happened after the 1992 election?
Let’s review the sad tale, starting with the politics.
Whatever hopes people might have had that Mr. Clinton would usher in a new era of national unity were quickly dashed. Within just a few months the country was wracked by the bitter partisanship Mr. Obama has decried.
This bitter partisanship wasn’t the result of anything the Clintons did. Instead, from Day 1 they faced an all-out assault from conservatives determined to use any means at hand to discredit a Democratic president.
Make no mistake, that bund is still around and they won't hesitate to do the same thing to Obama. That's the dirty little secret that you never want to tell the children. And believe me, some journalists, pundits and even progressives really are children, naifs even.
Because what they don't see is that the same unholy crew will declare another fatwa and unleash their unbridled rage and hatred against any Democrat who wins. For all their diatribes against "those who have a sense of entitlement" when it applies to the poor, the immigrant or inner city blacks, this group feels pretty damned entitled themselves to always hold the reigns of government. To them, any Democrat who wins an election is, by definition, an illegitimate leader. Again, here's Krugman:
For those who are reaching for their smelling salts because Democratic candidates are saying slightly critical things about each other, it’s worth revisiting those years, simply to get a sense of what dirty politics really looks like.And here's his caution about running on hope, inspiration and vague promises.
No accusation was considered too outlandish: a group supported by Jerry Falwell put out a film suggesting that the Clintons had arranged for the murder of an associate, and The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page repeatedly hinted that Bill Clinton might have been in cahoots with a drug smuggler.
Meanwhile, though Mr. Clinton may not have run as postpartisan a campaign as legend has it, he did avoid some conflict by being strategically vague about policy. In particular, he promised health care reform, but left the business of producing an actual plan until after the election.From all this, Krugman draws up some lessons for Democrats, especially Obama, who may very well be, not merely our nominee, but our president (and he's still very much my strong second choice).
This turned out to be a disaster. Much has been written about the process by which the Clinton health care plan was put together: it was too secretive, too top-down, too politically tone-deaf. Above all, however, it was too slow. Mr. Clinton didn’t deliver legislation to Congress until Nov. 20, 1993 — by which time the momentum from his electoral victory had evaporated, and opponents had had plenty of time to organize against him.
The failure of health care reform, in turn, doomed the Clinton presidency to second-rank status. The government was well run (something we’ve learned to appreciate now that we’ve seen what a badly run government looks like), but — as Mr. Obama correctly says — there was no change in the country’s fundamental trajectory.
According to Krugman, the most important lesson is to arrive in the White House with a workable plan for health care reform and, I might add, fixing the economy. Without some specifics to present to a Democratic Congress and the ability to hit the ground running, the opportunity to implement policy may pass quickly. We can expect hyper partisan attacks from the other side, just as Clinton received, and the only way to avoid Clinton's mistake, including squandering the moment and the momentum of victory, is to have a game plan and work it from day one. Because without that, the new president will be sandbagged. No talk about reaching out to Republicans and independents is going to protect a Democrat from partisan bickering and nastiness.
First, those who don’t want to nominate Hillary Clinton because they don’t want to return to the nastiness of the 1990s — a sizable group, at least in the punditocracy — are deluding themselves. Any Democrat who makes it to the White House can expect the same treatment: an unending procession of wild charges and fake scandals, dutifully given credence by major media organizations that somehow can’t bring themselves to declare the accusations unequivocally false (at least not on Page 1).And that's exactly my point. When I hear and read all the hperventilated hopes and dreams, I cringe, not because I want to be the cynical curmudgeon but because I know what's coming. The simple truth is that Bill Clinton, in 1993, did not bring all the scandal and scorn heaped on him upon himself. It really was the work of a vicious right wing smear machine. The same one, by the way, that took down the candidacies of Al Gore and John Kerry and gave us the word Swiftboating as a verb. Yes, Clinton gave them amunition because he was a womanizer and they eventually found a woman.
The point is that while there are valid reasons one might support Mr. Obama over Mrs. Clinton, the desire to avoid unpleasantness isn’t one of them.
But at the end of the day, his dalliance with Monica Lewinsky was the only thing Clinton was really guilty of. Most of the other stuff was either invented out of thin air or was a case simply built out of guilt by association and smears. I deconstructed one of them, Travelgate, earlier. The others being rehashed, could just as easily be vaporized. As Krugman observes:
My sense is that the fight for the Democratic nomination has gotten terribly off track. The blame is widely shared. Yes, Bill Clinton has been somewhat boorish (though I can’t make sense of the claims that he’s somehow breaking unwritten rules, which seem to have been newly created for the occasion). But many Obama supporters also seem far too ready to demonize their opponents.Let the corporate editorial boards marginalize or ridicule John Edwards all they want. The truth is he's the only one talking about issues in specific and concrete terms and has a plan that he will fight for and implement from day one. And if Obama wins and wants to be successful, he needs to avoid Bill Clinton's mistakes and take a leaf from John Edwards and have a concrete plan.
What the Democrats should do is get back to talking about issues — a focus on issues has been the great contribution of John Edwards to this campaign — and about who is best prepared to push their agenda forward. Otherwise, even if a Democrat wins the general election, it will be 1992 all over again. And that would be a bad thing.
He needs to have some solid policy proposals beyond his own very beautiful but misplaced idealism that Republicans in Congress are just waiting to sing Kumbaya with him while they walk off into the glowing sunrise of Sunday morning in America.
I've got a nasty surprise for Obama and everybody else. Most Republicans think that only Ronald Reagan had a right to use such inspirational language about the future. They think all talk of hope has a corporate copyright and a GOP brand.
Oh and they really hate Kumbaya.