Another maxim: in a time of elections, the only victim is the truth.
Case in point: the Clinton campaign’s portrayal of Obama as a Reagan lover, thereby trying to discredit him in the eyes of Democratic primary voters.
The truth: Bill Clinton, more than any other Democratic politician in recent history, steered the Democrat party toward the right by using Reagan-esque rhetoric and adopting Reagan-esque policy positions, albeit to a lesser degree than Reagan’s own policies. He does this because Reagan created a hugely successful and powerful political coalition which is only now beginning to fracture.
Clinton adopted Reagan’s fiscal conservatism and anti-welfarist stances by dismantling AFDC. In otherwise, he dismantled the welfare state as we knew it. In this he was no different than Reagan or Thatcher, two political leaders, who in the 1980s, created a sustained campaign against the traditional liberal welfare state. Granted, Clinton’s rhetoric is not as to the right as Reagan or Thatcher, but his policies implicitly acknowledged the success of the Reagan program and imitated it and packaged it for a generation of Democratic politicians in a safe, presentable, and more importantly, something they can sell.
Clinton also adopted Reagan’s tough-on-crime policy, because this kind of crime politics has been proven successful. The most obvious example of this is the continuation of the War on Drugs. In fact Clinton elevated the Drug Czar into a Cabinet-level position.
What about in foreign policy? Clinton was not as explicitly militaristic as Reagan; indeed he even cut military spending and shut down military bases. On the surface, this is as anti-Reagan as it gets. But look deeper and one will see that Clinton is not a dovish president. Aside from the withdrawal of troops from Somalia at the beginning of his first term, Clinton had a fairly interventionist foreign policy: under Clinton, the US military intervened in the Balkans conflict, East Timor, Haiti, and air bombing of Iraq.
Of course Clinton did not explicitly acknowledge that he was following Reagan’s lead. Instead he called it “The Third Way”, which is another way of packaging Reagan-esque policies in a tamer way so as to sell it to a centrist, moderate constituency. A similar movement occurred in Britain with the election of Tony Blair, who called his policy positions “New Labor.”
So it is extremely hypocritical for both Hillary and Bill Clinton to try to paint Obama as some kind of Reagan-lover who is not intent to bring a new politics as he promised in his campaign. How the fuck can the Clintons even make this claim when Bill Clinton built his political success precisely based on following Reagan’s policies?
In fact, the modern Democratic party is the product of attempts to imitate Reagan’s political success in building a powerful coalition by following his policies and packaging it in a more moderate, more presentable way to centrist voters.
So is it so unreasonable for Obama to suggest that Reagan had some good ideas? Of course not! I am not going to make any normative judgments about Reagan’s policies (but believe me, I could), but what is undeniable is that Reagan was a tremendous politician who successfully built a political coalition that has endured for 20 years, produced Republican dominance in both Congress and the Presidency. Of course any politician and party would kill to have that kind of success, which is exactly what Bill Clinton did–he followed Reagan, which is itself not unreasonable–after all, why not imitate something that has proven to be successful?
What is unreasonable is this sudden about-face, this attempt to portray Obama as a Reagan-lover and discredit him in the eyes of Democratic primary voters, because that is just pure hypocrisy.
The maxim repeated: in a time of elections, the only victim is the truth.