Readers of my blog know my feelings about Bill Clinton’s neo-Reaganism. If he was ever a liberal, which none of us who were eighteen and thought we were eternal in 1992 questioned because We Need a Change proved as potent a bromide as Hope and Change in 2008, the roots disappeared beneath the earth after 1994. The Arkansas governor who chaired the Democratic Leadership Council before — goodness what a coincidence — when George H.W. Bush led the Gulf War coalition demonstrated his commitment to Wall Street by a series of increasingly grotesque accommodations: “welfare reform,” the V-chip, midnight basketball, the Defense of Marriage Act, and a monstrosity called the Telecommunications Act of 1996 whose effects on media still reverberate; it’s the reason we add the adjective “corporate” as a modifier. Robert Rubin and Larry Summers enjoy sterling reputations thanks to working under Clinton’s aegis. To quote W.H. Auden, it was a low dishonest decade, surpassed only by…the next one.
So I remain skeptical. What Clinton did for Barack Obama last night was anoint him as not only his successor but as the true heir to conservatism — the kind of conservatism in which the White House regards commitments to minorities (in this case LGBT men and women and working women) as a kind of noblesse oblige. Clinton’s triumph was patiently laying out, with all the aw-shucks folksiness and data crunching at his command, why Mitt Romney leads a radical party — one that has squelched its own commitment to socially conscious plutocracy in the Nelson Rockefeller, Dwight Eisenhower, and — yes — Richard Nixon tradition. Which is not to say that Obama hasn’t signed more legislation benefiting Americans in two years than Bill Clinton did in his disastrous interregnum before 1994; and, if Chris Hayes is correct, I prefer Obama as a steward of meritocracy than Mitt Romney’s devotion to leveling it. In twenty years disgust over Obama’s foreign policytmight become essential on-the-other-hand qualifiers much as LBJ’s prosecution of the Vietnam War did. If Barack Obama wins in two months, he is in Bill Clinton’s debt.