The American Debate: Republicans for Clinton

Posted: September 08, 2012

In an attempt to rewrite history that should have George Orwell spinning in his grave, Republicans have been heaping praise on the presidential tenure of Bill Clinton.

The Romney campaign is suddenly lauding Clinton as a wise moderate who reached across the aisle and inspired Republicans to meet him halfway. Romney surrogate John Sununu is extolling Clinton's "credibility" on economic issues. Paul Ryan says Clinton is reminding us "how good things were in the 1990s," when the budget was balanced and 20 million new jobs were created. And back in June, conservative activist and ex-presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said Clinton was so pragmatic and conciliatory that "Republicans want to get the bumper strips that say, 'I miss Bill.' "

Obviously, Republicans are embracing Bill for political reasons. He is making an eloquent case for President Obama's reelection - most recently in his convention speech Wednesday night. So the GOP, mindful of the ex-president's 69 percent approval rating and the public's nostalgia for the peace-and-prosperity '90s, is intent on convincing voters that Obama is no Clinton. This critique of Obama as a failure hinges partly on the idea that Clinton was a rousing success.

Orwell spins, and the mind reels. Isn't this the same Bill Clinton the Republicans impeached in 1998, wasting a year of America's time because the guy had lied under oath about sex? Their moral crusade prompted a substantial majority of Americans to side with Clinton.

Killer Bill?

Let's revisit the '90s - the actual '90s, not the alternative-reality '90s the GOP is determined to dwell in - and take a look at what Republicans were actually saying and doing while the Big Dog had the big job.

As I well recall, the GOP was not trying then to depict Clinton as a combination of Cicero and Pericles. Quite the contrary: It viewed him as an illegitimate president by dint of his victory with only 43 percent of the vote in the three-way election of 1992.

Then came the really fun stuff. GOP-friendly media, led by Rush Limbaugh, the National Review, and the American Spectator, attacked Hillary Clinton so relentlessly that a Chicago Tribune columnist wrote that their antipathy suggested "a need for psychological help." Bill, meanwhile, was accused of ordering the deaths of several associates (the Rev. Jerry Falwell distributed a video featuring a "Clinton body count") and smuggling drugs through an Arkansas airport.

Some congressional Republicans amplified these charges, calling for hearings to investigate the "frightening" number of Clintonites who had died "under other than natural causes." After Clinton aide Vince Foster killed himself in a public park, one top House Republican tried in vain to prove that he had been murdered, conducting ballistic tests on a watermelon in his backyard.

Meanwhile, in the policy realm, Republicans sought to paint the president as a doctrinaire liberal who would wreck the economy.

It's amusing now to hear Team Romney praise Clinton as someone who "worked with Republicans," because the truth is that, at a pivotal juncture in 1993, they refused to work with him. Clinton was determined to mop up the red ink that had been bequeathed to him by Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. So he pushed for an ambitious budget reconciliation package that would slash the deficit, in part by raising taxes on the richest Americans.

Care to guess how many House and Senate Republicans worked with Clinton on this budget package and voted for it in the end? The answer is none.

Dr. Kevorkian

Today, some Republicans are saying Clinton was a sage economic steward; back in the day, they denounced his budget package (which passed anyway) as folly. Newt Gingrich predicted that the '93 tax hikes would "kill the current recovery and put us back in recession." His GOP colleagues in the House agreed. Christopher Cox said, "This is really the Dr. Kevorkian plan for our economy." Robert Michel said Americans "will remember who set loose this dreadful virus into the economic bloodstream." John Kasich said Clinton's plan would put the economy "in the gutter."

Actually, Clinton's plan slashed the deficit and put the economy on the road to recovery. But it's odd now to hear Republicans praise him for creating 20 million jobs, when they did their best at the time to thwart the budget package that planted the seeds for those jobs.

Revisionist Republican love for Clinton is only a temporary election season tactic anyway. But considering how fiercely Clinton spurned them on Wednesday - mocking the GOP's "alternative reality" and denouncing its "you're on your own," "winner take all" ideology - Republicans aren't likely to feel the love much longer.


Dick Polman can be reached at dickpolman7@gmail.com and followed on Twitter at @dickpolman1.

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