The More Things Change...


In an interview with Bloomberg, Bill Clinton offered some tidbits of advice to Democrats:

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton said his fellow Democrats should stop "mealy mouthing around" and start taking the fight to Republicans in the final weeks before this year's congressional elections.

"The Democrats ought to stand up and fight," Clinton said in an interview for Bloomberg Television's "Political Capital with Al Hunt," airing this weekend. "The Democrats have 30 days to sort of stand up, embrace the challenge, and offer a worthy alternative," he said. "If they lay down and let it be a referendum, our side is going to get whacked."

For the last month or so, I've been (slowly) making my way through The Clinton Tapes by Taylor Branch. You can read the full story of the tapes here, but it suffices to say that they are something of an oral history of the Clinton years, told through eight years of interviews between Branch and Clinton. I just finished the chapters that dealt with the 1994 midterm elections, and it's striking how similar the circumstances are, right down to the pervasive cowardice among congressional Democrats. Here is Branch describing Hillary Clinton's complaints several months before the elections (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?

And here is Clinton a few days after the election, discussing the Democratic Party's disastrous performance (208):

Worse, he said, the Democratic candidates steadfastly refused to unite behind a campaign message. Blaming him for their unpopularity, they all demanded to tailor their own individual campaigns, but their disparate slogans seemed puny against Gingrich's unified call for smaller government and lower taxes.


The voters were hurting, and they wanted their government to hurt, too. Republicans were channeling widespread anxiety into resentment of minorities, cities, and government.

Even better, is what Clinton had to say about his left-wing critics (76):

He told [William] Gredier he had done things already that no other president would do. He had raised taxes on the rich and lowered them for the working poor. ... He had proposed fair treatment for gay soldiers. He was fighting for national health care coverage, and more, but liberals paid very little attention to any of these things because they were bitchy and cynical about politics. They resented Clinton for respecting the votes of conservatives or the opinions of moderates. They wanted him to behave like a dictator because they didn't really care about results in the world.

While some of these issues -- like gun control -- have fallen out of the political conversation, you could take each of these statements, replace a few proper nouns, and emerge with the Obama administration's likely views on congressional Democrats, Republican opposition, and liberal criticism. This isn't to make a point about anything, but to say that it's surprising to see the extent to which our politics haven't changed much since Bill Clinton entered office in 1992.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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