Bill Clinton and George W. Bush – have there ever been two presidents more unlike one another? One was so articulate that you knew he was lying, the other so inarticulate that you knew he wasn’t. One was elected as a big government liberal and then balanced the budget, the other was elected as a small government conservative, expanded social programs, and eventually began the bailout bonanza that ushered in the Obama administration.
The eight-year terms of the 42nd and 43rd presidents confused a generally disinterested electorate, and, more than anything else, it was that confusion that led to the current eight-year term of the 44th. But President Obama is now providing the nation some much needed, albeit painful, clarity. For that, in this season, we should be thankful.
Clinton, impeached for lying under oath about an indiscretion with an intern (Oh for the days when that was the problem!), promised his base the world and never delivered. His cooperation with Newt Gingrich and the Republican Congress led to the country’s first budget surplus in decades. Say what you will about Bill, but if you think it immoral to pass off debt to future generations, he deserves some credit.
George W. took that surplus and found ways to spend it – and then some. He lacked the Reagan intuition that government is usually the problem and not the solution. His catchphrase “compassionate conservative” left one asking – “Compassionate with whose money and at the point of what gun?” That language confused his own base, maybe even confused Bush himself. Much debt ensued.
The fiscally responsible liberal and big government conservative blurred what it meant to be a Republican or a Democrat. Spin replaced the tracing of cause and effect. What the country needed most at the end of those 16 Clinton and Bush years was for a president to own an agenda – to be either a conservative or liberal so the issues might regain some definition. With President Obama, we are getting definition in spades.
Obama, despite the disastrous midterm elections and his party fleeing from his policies in attempts to save themselves (Did anyone catch Chuck Schumer renouncing Obamacare this week?), continues to go all in on each and any progressive policy available. The nation will suffer in the short term, but we will be better off for the eventuality this induces.
It would take another column to list the lawlessness that started with the implementation of Obamacare, went through the gun-running, Benghazi and IRS scandals, and topped itself last week with amnesty. But unconstitutional action is just part of this ongoing glimpse into the soul of liberalism. Just in the last few weeks, Obama conquered climate change by promising China to cripple our economy and sent his attorney general to fight for a black burglar’s right to punch a police officer in the face.
Unfortunately, the best argument against progressive government is a period of progressive governing. Barry Goldwater ran for president in 1964 on a platform of small government, sound fiscal policy, and strong national defense. An electorate confused by the fading glow of Camelot didn’t understand that message and went with Lyndon Johnson. Resoundingly. After Johnson’s Great Society had time to take effect and with the further clarity provided by Jimmy Carter’s term in office, Reagan said basically the same things Goldwater had said and won. Just as resoundingly. This is where we’re headed.
A true politician would have equivocated after the recent midterm election, sacrificing on some issues to try and save parts of a larger agenda as Clinton did after he lost the House for his party in a midterm. There was politically advantageous ground for Obama to give on immigration and the Keystone pipeline. Instead, he has decided to go all in. There will be much to fix in two years, but this president, in everything he does, is guaranteeing the backlash of fiscal conservatism and constitutional renewal that started earlier this month. Keep up the good work, Mr. President.