President Clinton takes center state tonight at the Democratic Party convention in Charlotte.
His wife is conveniently out of the country, so she won't be testifying as to what a great husband he's been. How about calling on Monica Lewinsky instead?
In any event, Mr. Clinton was a good president, and I wish he still held that office. He's quite a contrast with both former Presidents Bush and the current incumbent, Barack Obama.
Which Bill Clinton will be on stage tonight is the relevant question. Will it be the one who said in his 1996 State of the Union address that "The era of big government is over."? Or will it be the 'Slick Willie' who waxed so eloquently during the 1998 Monica Lewinsky scandal about the proper meaning of the word 'is'?
Presidents Clinton and Obama are both Democrats but they are much different Democrats. In fact, my view is that Clinton and Romney, personal behaviors and morals aside, have much more in common than do Clinton and Obama. But that's another story.
My guess is that we'll see exactly why politics sucks tonight and that politics indeed makes for strange bedfellows (no pun intended).
Of Bill and Barack is worth reading in its entirety. It's appropriately subtitled 'Clinton learned from his mistakes and changed policies. Obama hasn't.'
Here's a background refresher on the Clinton years:
"Bill Clinton takes to the Charlotte stage Wednesday night to do what he does
best—talk . . . about the virtues of Democratic economics. He'll certainly make
a better witness than President Obama, and his goal will be to burnish the last
four dreary years with fonder memories of the 1990s. Which means it's a good
moment to remind everyone about the real economic history of the Clinton years,
and why the results differ so much from those of Obamanomics.
In the nostalgic Democratic telling, Mr. Clinton got elected, raised taxes on
the rich in 1993 to close the budget deficit and reduce interest rates, and thus
kicked off one of the great booms in history. The truth is very different,
starting with the fact that there really were two Clinton economic Presidencies.
Much like Mr. Obama, in his first two years the Arkansan bowed to the
priorities of House Democrats and tried to govern from the left. He raised
income and gas taxes while trying to impose a BTU energy tax, a government
takeover of health care (HillaryCare) and a $31 billion stimulus, but putting
off welfare reform.
Unlike Mr. Obama, Mr. Clinton failed to get his main agenda other than a tax
hike through a Democratic Congress. This turned out to be an economic blessing
for the country because it didn't weigh on growth, and a political benefit for
Mr. Clinton, who didn't have to defend an unpopular agenda in 1996. Republicans
rode opposition to the early Clinton agenda to take Congress in 1994, and that's
when the second Clinton Presidency began.
Mr. Clinton moved sharply to the political middle. Remember "triangulation"?
He embraced the goal of a balanced budget, using it to outmaneuver Newt Gingrich
and Republicans over a government shutdown. After two vetoes and shortly before
the 1996 election, he signed a GOP welfare reform.
As for economic growth, Mr. Clinton inherited an economy that grew 3.4% in
1992, including 4.3% in the fourth quarter. The expansion stumbled in the first
nine months of 1993, no doubt in part due to the uncertainty of the Clinton tax
hike. In 1994 stocks were flat and interest rates actually rose throughout the
year, peaking on the very day in 1994 that Republicans took Congress. As the
nearby chart shows, that's when the real 1990s boom began.
On policy, the rest of the decade was defined by a virtuous Beltway gridlock.
Washington did little to interfere with private investment, and Congress even
helped by restraining spending growth. Only toward the end of the decade did
both parties began to spend like politicians again as surpluses rolled in.
Consider the policy contrasts between Messrs. Clinton and Obama. Under Mr.
Clinton, federal outlays as a share of the economy fell to 18.2% of GDP in 2000
from 21.9% in 1992. Nearly two percentage points of that was from the post-Cold
War cut in defense spending, but domestic spending also fell as a share of the
For his part, Mr. Obama has presided over the largest spending binge since
World War II, increasing outlays to 25.2% of GDP in 2009 and close to 24% of GDP
for the next three years despite an economic recovery. Deficits have been above
$1 trillion for four years.
Mr. Clinton did raise the top income-tax rate to 39.6% from 31% in 1993, and
Democrats credit that with shrinking the deficit. But even two years after that
tax hike, the Congressional Budget Office was estimating annual deficits of $200
billion a year. Only as rapid growth continued in the later part of the decade
did the deficits vanish.
Meanwhile, Mr. Clinton agreed to cut the capital-gains tax rate to 20% from
28% in 1997. Revenue rushed into the Treasury as investors cashed in their
Mr. Obama says he only wants to return to the Clinton-era tax rates, but he's
already raised investment tax rates by 3.8 percentage points as part of
Obamacare. Combined with the expiration of the Bush rates, that would leave some
tax rates higher than in the 1990s.
Arguably the most memorable phrase (not related to a scandal) that Bill
Clinton uttered during his Presidency came in his 1996 State of the Union
address: "The era of big government is over." And for a few years, it was over.
By contrast, Mr. Obama's four years have been spent expanding the government
willy-nilly—with more spending, the promise of higher taxes, and intervention
across the economy. His only economic plan now is still-more spending.
So as Mr. Clinton tries to lay hands on Mr. Obama and rewrite the history of
the 1990s, the real story isn't how much policy the two Democrats have in
common. What matters is what they did differently.
Bill Clinton learned from the
mistakes of his first two years. Mr. Obama has doubled down on his—and, on all
available evidence, he will double down again if he's re-elected."
Which Bill Clinton will appear in Charlotte tonight?
Let's hope it's the one advocating small government, and that the word 'is' still means 'is' in the 1996 sense that 'The era of big government 'IS' over."
Let's also hope Mr. Clinton recaps his many Presidential accomplishments, and the timing thereof, accurately.
Finally, let's also hope that President Obama is listening carefully and taking detailed notes.