It has been widely observed that Hillary Clinton is having to repudiate the policy legacy of her husband’s tenure in the White House in the 1990s, which is extremely telling about how far down in the deep end Democrats are today. After all, Bill Clinton’s tenure coincided with robust economic growth, a balanced budget, and expansion of free trade. It also saw two of the greatest social policy achievements of the postwar era—a radical reduction in the welfare rolls, and the beginning of a sharp drop in the crime rate. Ah, yes—liberals don’t like those last two things. And they don’t much like the balanced budget either—and they really hate free trade. Remember that it was near the end of Bill Clinton’s tenure that saw the famous “Battle in Seattle” of leftist protesters against the World Trade Organization, which is ironic, since the Left usually likes any organization that has “World” in the title. Despite this, and Clinton’s shameful personal life, he left office in 2001 with high public approval ratings.
In short, you would think that Democrats would celebrate, and hope to emulate, the success of the Clinton years just as Republicans look back to and hope to recreate the Reagan years. Instead, Democrats are rushing to repudiate nearly all of Clinton’s successes. “Hillary Faces a Liberal War Against the 1990s,” NBC News reports today:
Even as she remains a strong favorite to win the Democratic nomination, the 2016 campaign is forcing the former secretary of state to distance herself from her husband’s record. . . the debate on the campaign trail illustrates a profound rethinking and reshaping of the Democratic Party.
So who is the last Democratic president the party leaders and activists admire? Surely not Jimmy Carter, who, while a fool on foreign policy, governed as a relative tightwad on domestic policy. He threw out a proposed welfare reform initiative when he found out it wouldn’t save any money, vetoed (rightly) a pork-laden water bill, and his incremental approach to health care reform so enraged Ted Kennedy that it more than anything else prompted his primary challenge to Carter in 1980.
Lyndon Johnson? He ought to be a major liberal hero, having set in motion the modern entitlement and regulatory state that is now the lifeblood of liberalism. But there was that whole Vietnam War thing—plus his Texas mannerisms—that ensure that enlightened liberals will never openly profess admiration for him. (One of my favorite LBJ stories was the time he heard a report that rioting had spread to Georgetown: “I’ve waited my whole life for this day.”)
Ah, yes, you say—John F. Kennedy. Of course! The crown prince of liberalism, though it is easy to imagine that had this anti-Communist, tax-cutting, go-slow-on-civil-rights centrist served two full terms, it is likely the Left would have turned against him, too. Just because he had a Hahvahd accent doesn’t mean he could have gotten away with Vietnam. It is only because his life was cut short that liberals can admire him. But there’s not much there to point to in his brief record of non-achievement.
Harry Truman? Fuggedaboutit. He dropped the A-bomb on Hiroshima, started the Cold War. And Ronald Reagan campaigned for him. Shouldabeen Henry Wallace instead. He’d have prevented the Cold War and made nice with Stalin.
Well then, there’s always FDR. The guy who dragged his feet on anti-segregation measures, and interned hundreds of thousands of Japanese. Also built a lot of large, environmentally destructive dams (seriously—many environmentalists hate FDR for this). Others on the Left dislike Roosevelt precisely because he “saved” capitalism and didn’t take the country toward socialism. Shouldabeen Eleanor Roosevelt instead.
That takes us back to Woodrow Wilson. Oops—the Left recently discovered Wilson was a racist. That’s no good, then.
Grover Cleveland? Hah. He was the most conservative president prior to Harding and Coolidge.
Andrew Jackson? Pick me up off the floor. (Even though he went all Bernie Sanders on the banks. Most liberals today only know he didn’t like Indians.)
Thomas Jefferson? Nah—can’t have him. He not only owned slaves, but canoodled with one of them.
After that, most Democrats today would be hard pressed to name other Democratic presidents, and even if they could conjure up Martin Van Buren or James Buchanan, couldn’t tell you a single thing about their administrations.
In other words, today’s Democrats dislike all of their presidents. Why is that? I have a theory, but I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.
Besides, the more important implication is that liberals will turn on Barack Obama some day, too. In future post I’ll explain why you can see the seeds of this already in the Sanders campaign, and why this means Hillary Clinton, should she win, will have the most miserable presidency since Herbert Hoover.