Did Bill Clinton Forget About 1994?

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Bill Clinton, The Washington Post reports, is "baffled" by Democrats' inability to define themselves and their message:

Bill Clinton is baffled. The former president's friends say he is in disbelief that in the closing weeks of the midterm campaigns Democrats have failed to articulate a coherent message on the economy and, worse, have allowed themselves to become "human pinatas."

So Clinton is deploying himself on a last-ditch, dawn-to-dusk sprint to rescue his beleaguered party. And as the only president in modern times who has balanced the federal budget, he is leveraging his credibility to become one of the most fierce defenders of President Obama's economic policies.

More baffling, really, is Bill Clinton's surprise at the failure of Democratic messaging. Today's midterm environment -- with a few important exceptions -- is virtually identical to the one Clinton faced in 1994, when Republicans were on the verge of historic gains in the House. Like Obama today, Clinton tried to push against the tide with a message about his accomplishments and successful stewardship of the economy. In fact, Clinton made this exact complaint about Democrats when he was taking punishment from the public and the media (Branch 182):

On top of everything else, she said the congressional Democrats stood by and let Clinton get pilloried for their weakness. Here was a president who had taken on the gun lobby four times in his first two years, plus the "hopeless" deficit, the Middle East, his own allies on NAFTA, the tobacco moguls, and all the health care special interests. How could Democrats be so spineless?

This all goes to show that there isn't much the president or his party can do when economic conditions are poor. Playing up legislative success can motivate fellow partisans, but it doesn't budge the majority of voters who don't pay attention to Washington but notice when their paycheck is smaller and their friends don't have jobs. If the economy were better, Democrats would be safe in their majority. As it stands, the opposite is true.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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