Robert B. Reich, a co-founder of The American Prospect, is a Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. His website can be found here and his blog can be found here.
Former President Bill Clinton on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Shortly after the Democrats' "shellacking" last November, I phoned a friend in the White House who had served in the Clinton administration. "It's 1994 all over again," he said somewhat gloomily. "Now we move to the center." The supposed parallel between 2010 and 1994 is something of an article of faith in the Obama White House.
That's partly because so many of President Barack Obama's current aides worked for Bill Clinton and vividly recall Clinton's own shellacking in 1994. It's also because the Clinton story had a happy ending, at least electorally. The fact that Bill Clinton went on to win re-election is a source of comfort to the current White House as it looks ahead to 2012.
Americans want to know what happened to the economy and how to fix it. At least Republicans have a story -- the same one they've been flogging for 30 years. The bad economy is big government's fault, and the solution is to shrink government.
But what exactly is President Barack Obama's story or the Democrats'?
That Wall Street screwed up big time and the solution is to fix the Street? That Americans have lived beyond our means and now we have to tighten our belts? That our trade imbalance got too big and the Chinese have to spend more and we have to save more? That American companies have been outsourcing jobs abroad and must be deterred?
Several years ago, I was put in the window of a Midwestern bookstore next to a large sign announcing, "Robert Reich is here to sign his latest book." Some passers-by glanced curiously into the window; a few stopped to gawk. I lamely smiled and waved. The ordeal lasted only a half-hour, but the humiliation is still with me. Here I was, having written from conviction on an issue I felt deeply about, being forced to sell myself like one of those ladies on display in storefronts of Amsterdam's red-light district. (At least those ladies attracted eager customers. I don't recall anyone coming into the bookstore for my signature.)
President Barack Obama. (White House Photo/Pete Souza)
A friend whom I'll call David raised a ton of money for Democrats in 2008 and now tells me they can go to hell. He's furious about the no-strings bailout of Wall Street, the absence of a public option in health reform, financial reform that doesn't cap the size of banks or reinstate the Glass-Steagall wall between investment and commercial banking, and a stimulus that was too small to do much good but big enough to give Republicans a campaign issue. He's also upset about tens of thousands of additional troops being sent to Afghanistan, a watered-down cap-and-trade bill that's going nowhere, and no Employee Free Choice Act. David won't raise a penny this fall and doubts he'll even vote. "I busted my chops getting them elected, and they caved," he fumes.
In 2006, congressional Democrats accused Republicans of wallowing in a "culture of corruption," pointing to the peccadilloes of Tom DeLay and the excessive political generosity of Jack Abramoff. Now, in the months leading up to the 2010 midterms, congressional Republicans accuse Democrats of much the same.