The Current Crisis

Missing Bill

The 1990s Democratic centrist is today a dinosaur.

By 3.12.09

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WASHINGTON -- Our nation's capital is filling with nouveau New Dealers, social engineers, men and women with a glint in the eye. All are anticipating the orgies. There is a stimulus bill of $787 billion, an appropriation bill of $410 billion, a housing bailout bill of $275 billion, and the Prophet Obama's colossal budget, promising $3.55 trillion of expenditures (including a $634 billion "down payment" on healthcare reform). My heart goes out to the American taxpayer, of course; but, somewhat to my surprise, I reserve a special sadness for former president Bill Clinton. In his party he is a dinosaur. Today, as the Obamaists swarm through Washington, the centrist from the 1990s must feel forlorn.

For years it has been his boast that he balanced the federal budget and maintained vigorous economic growth. He expanded free trade and working bipartisanly with Republicans reformed welfare. People left the welfare rolls and took remunerative employment. Usually federal spending hovers around 20% of GDP. In the Clinton Administration it dropped to 18.4% -- the lowest level since 1966. Bill said "the era of big government is over," and he meant it.

Today his party has passed him by. Bill, can we now be friends? I apologize for all my past rudeness, even the jokes. It is a matter of public record that you have made friends with Dick Scaife. Allow me to be next. Let us convene a conference. We could explore market solutions to public problems and together we could promulgate a manifesto on free trade. I shall bring some friends from the Heritage Foundation and the Hoover Institution -- Ph.Ds. Perhaps we can plot how to re-reform welfare after the Obama Administration shanghais the poor back into the welfare trap.

Under the Prophet, federal expenditures will soar to 27.7% of GDP. That is the highest rate of expenditure since 1945.The deficit will hit $1.7 trillion this year and after a brief decline rise above $700 billion. His budget contemplates a recovery, but in 2010 spending will still be in the range of 24.1% of GDP. Moreover, he will raise taxes and cut the military back.

Though we are mired in a recession whose recovery is still in doubt, the Obama Administration is going to move on all fronts. As his White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel has said, "Never let a serious crisis go to waste." If you are suffering from the recession you might find Emanuel's line callous, but that is just the way Democrats talk nowadays. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton put it this way: "Never waste a good crisis."

Both of these crisisists apparently believe there is something systemic in the United States that needs to be radically changed. Perhaps they think that the past twenty-five years of growth that began with the Reagan Administration and continued through the Administration of Emanuel's former boss, Bill Clinton, was a failure. So working simultaneously the Obama Administration is going to fix the banking crisis, the housing crisis, and the economic slowdown. That is not all. It promises to usher in nationalized healthcare, nationalized education, and a nationalized energy policy abundant with green energy funded and regulated by the government. There is more going on over in the cluttered White House West Wing. Three million jobs are being created while the automobile industry and the housing industry are being saved.

With all of this hurly-burly going on I hope my new friend is not going to suffer the blues. In less than four years his presidency is going to be looked back on fondly by Democrats and even by me. I think it is increasingly evident that Bill's Democratic successor is the most ill-prepared man to serve as president in a long time. My mind goes back to President Abraham Lincoln's abrupt successor, Andrew Johnson. Mr. Obama's problems in staffing his government suggest as much as does the low quality of many of his nominees, at least the nominees who were not dropped for tax irregularities or for being under grand jury investigation. Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner looks and sounds like an undergraduate. His colleague Peter Orszag is hardly better. In the months ahead we shall see what other duds the president has brought aboard.

His White House staff seems particularly inept. In a matter of days, led by our novice president, his staff got in a no-win row with Rush Limbaugh. Then the White House offended Prime Minister Gordon Brown with an amateurish reception that roused the ire of the British press, and I should think the prime minister too. The British press was already spreading rumors that Obama is anti-British because of his staff's unceremonious return of a Churchill bust that Prime Minister Tony Blair sent to the White House on loan after 9/11.

So cheer up, Bill. Your legacy is going to look fine, save for that unmentionable run-in with what was her name again? Already things are turning against the Prophet. Just the other day Howard Fineman, writing on the Newsweek website, noted that "the American establishment is taking his [the president's] measure and, with surprising swiftness, they are finding him lacking." Bill, let's have a beer.

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About the Author
R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is the founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is the author of The Death of Liberalism, published by Thomas Nelson Inc. His previous books include the New York Times bestseller Boy Clinton: the Political Biography; The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton; The Liberal Crack-Up; The Conservative Crack-Up; Public Nuisances; The Future that Doesn't Work: Social Democracy's Failure in Britain; Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House; The Clinton Crack-Up; and After the Hangover: The Conservatives' Road to Recovery.