One of these Clintons is not like the other.
As the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign behemoth gets seemingly closer to raising itself and beginning its plod toward its great Philadelphia coronation, Republicans are giddy at the prospect of being able to remind Americans about the return of Clintonism. They should stop it, now, for three reasons.
First, while many Republicans never liked Bill Clinton and do not have universally positive memories of the mid- to late-90’s, many Americans—including conservatives and libertarians— look back on that period with fondness and nostalgia.
Second, too few Americans are or were then sufficiently politically engaged or news-addicted to remember the Clinton drama (aside from the Lewinsky scandal) that so many Republicans and media figures warn is already returning, much less treat it as a top priority.
But third, and most importantly, tying Hillary Clinton to her husband is an act of political malpractice that ignores the fact that on economic issues, she was—during his presidency, during her 2008 campaign, and still today—significantly to the left of him.
For whatever else one may say about him, Bill Clinton was and is a centrist. His presidency is remembered for the taming of the deficit, his advocacy for free trade, his signature of welfare reform, his legislation cutting the long-term capital gains tax rate, and perhaps most famously, his declaration that “the era of big government is over.”
That would not have been true if Hillary had had it her way. And if she has her way now—and if she makes it to the White House—a very un-Bill-like big government will remain in the cards for some time. Leon Panetta, who served as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget and then Chief of Staff during the earlier Clinton years, writes in his 2014 book that Hillary Clinton “picked at [the Clinton administration’s] economic program” of deficit reduction, “asking why there wasn’t more room for health care reform or other initiatives.” Panetta apparently felt that such “initiatives” would have proved too expensive, and would have undermined efforts to slash the deficit.
Moreover, after Bill Clinton passed his first budget, Hillary apparently opposed treating welfare reform as the next priority, again pushing for health care reform. Panetta also details this in his book, and it is significant given what we know about Hillary Clinton’s views on health care.
Her Hillarycare proposal, as it was dubbed in the 90’s, was a textbook example of government overreach that proved politically unviable. Obamacare, which remains loathed by so many across America, much more closely resembles the version of health care reform that Hillary Clinton advocated during her 2008 presidential run than that pushed by then-candidate Obama.
It may surprise those who have recently joined the political game to know that candidate Obama’s plan was decidedly smaller-government and less interventionist than Clinton’s, and that his was swapped for hers once Obama entered the White House. But that is a fact that cannot be avoided, though Hillaryland may in due course try to convince voters otherwise.
During Hillary’s failed 2008 presidential run, she explicitly pledged to increase the federal government’s role in the economy, presenting a contrast against her husband’s record and approach. In a late January 2008 interview with The New York Times, she talked up an “effective, vigorous government.” She also appeared dismissive of opposition to confiscatory taxation, speaking of the “nostalgia and pride” with which Americans look back on the period just after World War II, when the highest marginal tax rates ran above 90 percent.
As of 2007, Hillary Clinton was on record opposing future free trade agreements and calling for an overhaul of NAFTA, one of Bill Clinton’s signature accomplishments. In a November 2007 CNN debate in Las Vegas, she called NAFTA a “mistake.”
This was interesting, given that even as Hillary had begun trashing the agreement and was set to continue to do so, Bill confirmed that he still supported it, and said in a September 2007 interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that knowing everything he knew then, he would still have tried to pass it. Contrary to Hillary’s claims, Bill said, NAFTA had not hurt American workers.
More recently, Hillary and Bill have appeared to disagree over the Keystone XL pipeline. In 2012, the State Department, then headed by Hillary, “recommended to President Obama that the presidential permit for the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline be denied and that at this time, the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline be determined not to serve the national interest.” Shortly thereafter, Bill Clinton went on record saying of Keystone XL that “I think we should embrace it.”
As the Hillary machine revs up and begins its trundle towards Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, and beyond, expect to read more about the differences between the two Clintons. Hillary may benefit politically from leveraging her husband’s record, reputation and rhetorical skills, all of which remain more an asset to her than a liability. But on all of these counts, one of these Clintons is not like the other. Republicans would be smart to ensure the country comes to understand that, sooner rather than later.