NYT: Clintonian Centrism a ‘Strategic Masterstroke’

A New York Times profile (1/8/11) of author/economist Robert Reich was headlined “Obama the Centrist Irks a Liberal Lion.” It’s hard not to see where reporter Michael Powell comes down in the debate over Democrats moving to the right:

Mr. Reich sees a parallel with his former boss, Mr. Clinton, and draws no comfort from the comparison. Confronted with a muscular Republican majority in the House in 1994, Mr. Clinton mastered triangulation, which is to say he sailed into a sea neither Republican nor Democratic. It was a strategic masterstroke, but he threw overboard some liberal founding stones.

It’s hard to know whatis meant by a term like “strategic masterstroke.” Obviously Bill Clinton was re-elected; whether voters were responding to Clinton’s supposed drift to the right is much more debatable. (Theeconomy improved from 1994 to 1996, which is likely to have been more important.) In any event, Clinton-style centrism did the Democratic Party no favors. As FAIR founder Jeff Cohen wrote (L.A. Times, 4/9/00):

While Clintonism may be good for Bill and Hillary and Al–all of whom seem willing to say or do anything to win the next election–it’s worth asking whether Clintonism is good for the Democratic Party.

Let’s do the numbers. When Clinton entered the White House, his party dominated the U.S. Senate, 57-43; the U.S. House, 258-176; the country’s governorships, 30-18, and a large majority of state legislatures. Today, Republicans control the Senate, 55-45; the House, 222-211; governorships, 30-18, and almost half of state legislatures.

The Democrats under Clintonism resemble a house of cards, with the Clintons and Gore inhabiting the White House atop a party structure crumbling because of an ever-shifting foundation.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.