So does this mean we take it all back?
In a speech in Lansing, Mich., Mitt Romney drew the following parallels between President Obama and former President Bill Clinton:
President Obama chose to apply liberal ideas of the past to a 21st century America. Liberal policies didn’t work then, they haven’t worked over the last four years, and they won’t work in the future. New Democrats had abandoned those policies, but President Obama resurrected them, with predictable results.
President Clinton said the era of big government was over. President Obama brought it back with a vengeance. Government at all levels now constitutes 38 percent of the economy, and if Obamacare is installed, it will reach almost 50 percent.
President Clinton made efforts to reform welfare as we knew it. President Obama is trying tirelessly to expand the welfare state to all Americans, with promises of more programs, more benefits, and more spending.
This smells rank. When it appeared that he might have a shot at the GOP nomination, Newt Gingrich made similar noises, saying of his professional relationship with Clinton in the 1990s: “There was something going on there that allowed a liberal Democrat and a conservative Republican to put the country first.”
Yet this was not the official conservative line during and after Clinton’s presidency. In his book Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years, Rich Lowry lambasted Clinton for championing the forerunner of Obamacare: “a perfect concoction of baby-boomer elite arrogance (in thinking it could remake a seventh of the American economy).”
Such grandiose liberal designs were repudiated by voters in 1994, after which a chastened Clinton made like a slug under salt. Clinton was said to have been dragged kicking and screaming to welfare reform. Dick Morris told him he needed to make a deal in order to win reelection, so he made he deal.
Similarly, Clinton’s nodding toward the end of big government and the need for a balanced budget were, conservatives said, rhetorical feints—the triangulations of a closet McGovernite with his finger to the wind.
According to Lowry, Clinton’s New Democrat pose may have helped his party win the White House, but in practice Clinton “shrank liberalism and the presidency”: “He kept busy by working on what didn’t matter—it was safe and popular.”
Now, Romney, the new head of the Republican party, needs to treat the New Democrat pose as a genuine article in order to tag Obama as an “old-school liberal” and make room for himself in the center.
Perhaps I’m being too cynical. Perhaps Romney, whose pose as a conservative is just as artificial as Clinton’s centrism seemed back then, really does admire Clinton in this regard.