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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Who’s the “Clintonian” Candidate?

E.J. Dionne today put his finger on an aspect of the Obama-Clinton rivalry that’s been percolating under the surface for a while. Noting the similarities between Obama’s frequent beyond-left-and-right talk–and more specifically, the tribute to Ronald Reagan’s leadership qualities that Hillary Clinton’s campaign has been pounding him about–and the 1992 campaign message of one Bill Clinton, Dionne concludes:

In many ways, Obama is running the 2008 version of the 1992 Clinton campaign. You have the feeling that if Bill Clinton did not have another candidate in this contest, he’d be advising Obama and cheering him on.

E.J. might have added another parallel: Bill Clinton’s trump card in the 1992 nominating contest was his overwhelming support among African-Americans.
I’ve written before (as has Matt Compton) that Obama’s “Clintonian” trans-ideological and trans-partisan rhetoric has been a source of considerable ambivalence towards his candidacy by self-conscious Left Progressives in the party and the blogosphere (indeed, Armando Llorens of Talk Left today plays off Dionne’s column to blast Obama for an insufficiently partisan approach). But there’s a little-noticed flip side to this phenomenon. Despite the long association of the Clintons with the Centrist/DLC/”New Democrat” wing of the party, there’s pretty strong pro-Obama sentiment in centrist circles as well (something I first noticed at the DLC annual meeting last summer, where there was quite visible support for Obama among the several hundred state and local elected officials in attendance). Some observers were surprised by the raft of recent endorsements of Obama by red- and purple-state centrist elected officials in recent weeks (e.g., Janet Napolitano, Claire McCaskill, Jim Doyle, Tim Johnson, and Ben Nelson). Less attention has been paid to support for Obama in SC by long-time white centrist Democrats like former Gov. Jim Hodges, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, and former state party chair Dick Harpootlian.
In general, the early caucus and primary results have shown relatively little consistent correspondence between voter ideology and candidate preference; that’s a key reason that identity factors (age, race and gender) have played so obvious a role. So the “Clintonian” features of the Obama campaign aren’t just a small, ironic quirk. They are part and parcel of a contest where pinning down the candidates on a conventional left-right spectrum is exceedingly difficult.

3 comments on “Who’s the “Clintonian” Candidate?

  1. DrRenShen on

    Perhap’s Obama’s infatuation with Reagan gives insight as to what his plans are as to how he will president as President. From Arthur Schlesinger Jr.’s History of Presidential Elections, 1789-1984:
    Reagan’s political strength was similar to that of Dwight D. Eisenhower. It was a personal not a party, phenomenon. Without Reagan, the Republicans would be much weaker. The first major political event of the year, therefore, was Reagan’s decision to seek reelection despite his age. At 73, he was already the oldest man ever to serve in the White House. The Democrats dared not to make Reagan’s advanced age an issue; his evident physical vigor and unbroken record of good health made the fact of his age a matter for public admiration rather than concern. This admiration was bolstered by the presidents insouciant response to the shooting attempt on his life in March 1981. “I forgot to duck,” he joked to his wife. As he was about to undergo surgery for removal of the bullet, he’s wisecracked to the surgeons, ‘I hope you are all Republicans.’
    If reporters noted that Reagan worked only five or six hours a day, spent long weekends at Camp David, and took frequent vacations, this too, was not circumstance the Democrats could easily convert into an issue. After President Carter’s long hours and studious work, and the earlier crises of the Nixon and Johnson years, Reagan had hung President Calvin Coolidge’s portrait in the Cabinet room as a symbol of his esteem for that Republican predecessor. Like Coolidge’s famous naps, Reagan’s relaxed approach to the Presidency was not only acceptable to the country but actually reassuring. It was as if the man at the top was signaling the nation that things were not as bad as the news media would have the public believe.
    Reagan’s administrative style was not an accommodation to his advancing years. It was a continuation of the way he had governed California for eight years from 1967 to 1975. He viewed himself as a chairman of the board, rather than as an active executive. He delegated to senior aides most of his administrative power over appointments, legislation, the budget, and supervision of departments and agencies. He involved himself on a day-to-day basis in only a few issues. He was content to prove by broad policy direction and to serve as his administration’s most persuasive spokesman. A at the middle and upper levels of his administration, there were frequent struggles for power and for control of policy among Cabinet officers and factions of the White House staff. Rivals waged ideological and personal feuds through “leaks” to the press. These conflicts did the President no political harm; Reagan stayed above these battles, clearly unconcerned about any inefficiency or loss of morale that infighting might produce, and serenely confident of his ability to impose his will if and when he chose to do so. Since the huge expansion of the activities of the federal government had begun under Franklin Roosevelt a half-century earlier, no President had governed with such a loose rein.
    Reagan was unfamiliar with the details or even the main issues in many disputes, both foreign and domestic. Indeed, the breath of his ignorance was sometimes startling. In October, 1983, for example, at a time when U.S.–Soviet arms control negotiations were breaking down, The New York Times reported that Reagan told a group of visitors that he had only recently learned that most of the Soviet nuclear deterrent force was in land-based rather than submarine-based missiles. Surprisingly this disclosure evoked relatively little public comment.
    Like Eisenhower, but to an even greater extent, Reagan stayed politically popular by distancing himself in public from his own administration. Scandals occurred and controversies flared, but the President, not ever having involved himself closely with most of these appointees or the problems confronting them, was untouched.
    Having been elected as an opponent of big government, Reagan said in his inaugural address government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem. Once in office, he continued in speeches around the country to attack Washington and the bureaucracy. He faltered to believe that he and his fellow citizens were allies against the government rather than that he had been chosen by them to direct the affairs of that government.
    Reagan’s detached style of governing, his distancing himself from his own appointees and the career bureaucracy, and his blithe cheerfulness and impertubable optimism was central to the political problem faced by the Democrats in 1984. Reagan was dubbed “the Teflon President: nothing sticks to him.” It was significant that in the fourth year of his Presidency there were no anti-Reagan jokes of the kind that normally circulate about Presidents. There seemed to be no audience for them. Politicians of both parties reported that many constituents disagreed with the President’s policies, distrusted his intentions, or questioned his competence, and yet avowed that they liked him personally. Democrats in Congress and at the state level were consequently reluctant to mount against him the kind of sustained attacks that had weakened other recent Presidents.
    This liking for Reagan did not have the firm foundation of respect for past accomplishments that undergirded a liking for Eisenhower in the 1950s. Nor was there the profound gratitude and loyalty from broad masses of people that Franklin D. Roosevelt’s innovative programs had evoked. Still less was Reagan a hero who inspired emulation and enthusiasm, particularly among younger voters, as John F. Kennedy did. The liking for Reagan was a reflection of his sunny disposition, a reciprocation of his positive approach. It also correlated closely with the trend of the economy.
    If this is what we are ion for, I prefer to pass and prefer the Clinton gamble. Obama’s handlers are filled with “hasbeen” Democrats who would love to govern by committee!!!!! In my humble opinion, Obama is no JFK, RFK, and is being used as a poster child for evryon’es dream of a real capable African-American politician which he is average, and is a coriporation filled with deception. His hiuse and land deal, his arrogance, and lack of content in his speeches are indications of status que bunk.
    Professor/Dr. Neil Garland-We Deserve Better Than Average Presidents

  2. Badger on

    I don’t believe Jesse Jackson ran in 1992. I know he ran in 1984 and 1988. The only African-American I recall making a bid for the presidency was Doug Wilder and I’m not sure that he ever officially announced or made it to any caucuses or primaries.

  3. blesto on

    “E.J. might have added another parallel: Bill Clinton’s trump card in the 1992 nominating contest was his overwhelming support among African-Americans.”
    One problem with that analogy is that “overwhelming black support” is a “trump card” only if one is a white candidate………..otherwise, if the candidate is African-American, he runs the risk of being seen as just another Jesse Jackson-like candidate, having an African-American base with support from upscale, educated whites and the young…
    If I recall, Bill Clinton didn’t “win” the African-American primary vote in 1992……….he just got more of it than any of the other white candidates…….the “winner” of the A-A vote was, of course, Reverend Jackson….
    I’ll be interested in seeing how Obama’s voter demographics change (or don’t change)as he is perceived as getting more and more of the A-A vote…


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