Can Reagan Save Another Clinton Presidency?

First of all, I’ll pause for a moment to let you get over the shudder at the thought of “another Clinton presidency” in this headline. Take a shot or two of whiskey if necessary. Or deep cleansing breaths. Whatever it takes.

Now, to the main topic. I’ve been thinking for a while that there’s not much wrong with this country that a sustained period of 4 percent economic growth wouldn’t cure. Even without the Great Recession of 08-09, the pace of growth over the last 15 years has been inadequate for our social and fiscal needs. The last time we had robust growth was in the 1990s under Bill Clinton—a fact that Hillary was hoping you’d recall when she mentioned offhand a few weeks ago that she’d put Bill in charge of the economy if she’s elected in November. Never mind that Hillary and liberals are running away from so many of Bill Clinton’s pro-growth policies of the 1990s. (Never mind also the rumor that the White House Council of Economic Advisers office in a Hillary Administration will be next to the White House Interns office.)

There’s a whole lot of confused and inaccurate revisionism going on here. This is the point that Allan Ryskind, the long-time editor of Human Events, wants to remind us about in a recent column that deserves to be clipped and kept handy by people who think we should move fully to a post-Reagan era (which may include Donald Trump in some crucial ways). Writing in the Washington Times, Ryskind notes:

Mr. Clinton’s first two years in office ended in an electoral disaster for the Democrats. Determined to go on a high-tax, big-spending binge after winning the presidency in 1992, Mr. Clinton narrowly won a major income tax increase, but the Republicans blocked his other important initiatives, including a big-spending “stimulus” program, a major energy tax and Hillary’s nationalized health care plan. When 1994 rolled around and with Newt Gingrich leading the Republican charge with his Reaganite “Contract With America,” the GOP swept both houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years.

The consequence: Mr. Clinton executed a policy somersault worthy of the Flying Wallendas. He became, well, Reaganized. He permanently ditched his wife’s health care plan, informing us that “the era of big government is over.” He now favored balanced budgets and apologized for having “raised [taxes] too much.” With the Republicans calling the shots, he enacted significant tax breaks for business and the middle class, including a 30 percent cut in the capital gains tax, and he signed a welfare reform law based on the highly effective plan enacted in California by then-Gov. Reagan. The measure proved stunningly successful, reducing caseloads nationwide by 50 percent and cutting child poverty in half.

In other words, Clinton owed his success and popularity chiefly to Reagan and Reaganism. (Paul Krugman’s cat hardest hit.) As liberal columnist Richard Reeves remarked at the end of Clinton’s presidency, “Clinton essentially threw in the towel and joined the Reagan revolution.” And it was the robust growth that came in Clinton’s later years that saved him when all of his pants zippers suffered simultaneous failure in the presence of White House interns.

One takeaway here is that Hillary Clinton won’t be as accommodating as her husband when it comes to economic policy. She’s fully on board with the renewed liberal emphasis on redistribution over growth. Bill Clinton at least had the perception to realize after his mid-term drubbing that liberalism was still on probation with American voters. Reaganism won’t save a second Clinton presidency because the next one—if there is one—will follow Obama in acting on the premise that the probation of liberalism is over. And so get ready for four more years of mediocre economic growth.

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