The Blog

In Fox Interview, Bill Clinton Refers to Obamacare in the Past Tense

A Freudian slip from Slick Willy?

3:11 PM, Feb 23, 2010 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Major Garrett recently conducted a revealing interview with former president Bill Clinton. They touched on a range of topics, including the president's health, Haiti, and the current state of the Democratic party. What struck me, however, is how Clinton kept referring to Obamacare in the past tense.

For instance:

GARRETT: Some say this political season is like 1994, does it feel that way to you?

CLINTON: Little bit. I think -- I think that the same thing happened. The health care is hard to do, but I thought it would happen this time because all the trends that prompted me to act are worse. We're now spending 17.2 percent of our income on health care, nobody else is over 11.5, and that's tiny Switzerland. Canada's at 10.5; Germany and France are generally rated the highest in overall health outcomes, they're between 9 percent and 10 percent of income. Which mean, in effect, we spot every other country in a global economy a trillion dollars a year in healthcare costs. And it's not designed -- it would be different if we were giving better health care to everybody, but we don't cover 16 percent of the people and that country rises to 30. At some point during every year, 30 percent of Americans are without health care coverage. So -- and there are lots of things we could do to cut the costs. So I thought it would happen, but --

GARRETT: Was it an overreach?

CLINTON: I don't know if it was an overreach. I think that they either needed to move faster or slower. That is, if they had a bill that the Senate and the House should have reached a grand center and set about implementing it so that all the fears that were raised could either be disproved or if they turned out to make a mistake, they'd have time to start correcting them. Or -- either that or you have to deal with all the economic, other economic issues first.

But the problem is, it's very hard to see how America can be a leading economy in the world, in the 21st century, if we spot everybody else a trillion dollars before we ever start to work. And that's essentially what we're doing with healthcare costs.

My favorite part is when Clinton says, "I think that they either needed to move faster or slower." Now that's Clintonian equivocation!

In a recent episode of Inside Washington, Mark Shields observed that since 1960 there have been only two presidents to leave office after eight years with 65 percent approval ratings: Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. Shields then said, "Tell me the ideological grid in which they fit."

Will do. Both Reagan and Clinton, the first from 1981 and the second from 1995, governed from the center-right. Clinton's major achievements in office include NAFTA and the WTO, welfare reform, balanced budgets, and a capital gains tax cut. In 1996, Clinton prematurely declared the "era of big government is over." Government spending as a percentage of GDP was lower at the end of Clinton's presidency than at the beginning. Before Hurricane Monica struck, he was poised to push a Social Security reform that may have included personal accounts.

Sure, Clinton was helped by an incredible economic boom and eight years of apparent peace. But to his credit, after 1994 he learned that Americans do not want to be governed from the left. You would have thought Obama would get this, too, since in 2008 he campaigned from the center, as a figure who transcended both race and politics and would govern in a non-ideological fashion. Then he turned around in 2009 and handed the keys to Nancy Pelosi, David Obey, Henry Waxman, and Harry Reid. Democrats: Great Society liberalism is just as ideological as Reaganism!

Why won't Obama take a page from President Clinton, whom he has derided in the past, and thereby save his presidency? Simple. Because he hasn't been forced to. And he won't be forced to -- unless the Democrats lose Congress.

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 15 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers