Like Barack Obama, Bill Clinton ran on the mantra of “change,” but many of his plans for it ran aground not long into his presidency. Now Obama seeks to enact the radical changes Clinton couldn’t.
His recruitment of Clinton-era leftists isn’t “governing from the middle,” but an attempt to implement the thwarted radicalism of Clinton’s first two years in office. It suits the ideological purposes of the media to push “the middle” gradually leftward and cast the return of experienced Clinton-era hands as a measure of Obama’s caution and moderation.
But this is circumspection at the service of radicalism. Obama is not choosing experience over radical change, but choosing experience for the sake of it. What the Daschles and Holders couldn’t accomplish in the 1990s they will try again now. The passage of time hasn’t made their positions any less radical.
A sign of the ease with which Obama practices stealth radicalism is that he can even take positions to the left of those early Clinton-era positions and still retain the media’s halo of moderation.
Notice that at change.gov legislation Clinton passed — legislation that was considered outrageous at the time — is deemed insufficiently liberal in Obama’s eyes. Take Clinton’s job-killing Family and Medical Leave Act. It is just not good enough for Obama: “The FMLA covers only certain people who work for employers with 50 or more employees. Barack Obama and Joe Biden will expand the FMLA to cover businesses with 25 or more employees, and to cover more purposes including allowing: leave for workers who provide elder care; 24 hours of leave each year for parents to participate in their children’s academic activities at school; leave for workers who care for individuals who reside in their home for 6 months or more; and leave for employees to address domestic violence and sexual assault.”
Expansion of past liberal legislation, not modification of it, is the theme of the web page for the most part, whether it’s Clinton’s minimum-wage hikes (which Obama thinks should be turned into a “living wage”) or “hate crimes” legislation: “Obama and Biden will strengthen federal hate crimes legislation, expand hate crimes protection by passing the Matthew Shepard Act, and reinvigorate enforcement at the Department of Justice’s Criminal Section.”
That an incoming president has a special section devoted to the “LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender] Community” isn’t exactly a sign of governing from the middle either. Obama hints at his support for gay marriage on the page by including the word “full” in front of same-sex civil unions: he favors not just civil unions but “full civil unions.” Or, as his wife put it during the campaign, “robust” civil unions. Whenever Obama arrives at that nebulous destination point to which he referred in his victory speech, euphemisms like “full civil unions” will apparently no longer be necessary.
The Clinton-era retreads Obama is selecting wanted these purer liberal positions in the first place and will have another crack at advancing them. They are eager to sweep away the very compromises, such as the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the military and Defense of Marriage Act, that political resistance forced them to craft reluctantly. This prior experience, and the bogus media-decreed establishment respectability that comes with it, will make their task all the easier. An Eric Holder or Tom Daschle are far more effective conduits for radicalism than any fresh face championed by Daily Kos.
Obama likes to present his positions in the form of triangulation — he is just offering a reasonable third way. But he invariably places the third position to the left of the first liberal one, or at best restates it (as in the case of tax hikes, in which he used tax rates under Clinton to argue for the moderation of his plan; he wasn’t raising taxes, he said, but “restoring” previous tax rates).
His decision to clear the bench of old Clinton hands in Washington fits this game plan perfectly. Still ringing in their ears is the Fleetwood Mac-performed inaugural them of “yesterday’s gone.” While they couldn’t accomplish that in two years or two terms, they now have a chance to get “there” with Obama.