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Morning Jay: It Was Never Bill Clinton’s Party

6:00 AM, May 31, 2012 • By JAY COST
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4. In 2008, Barack Obama ran a campaign that was implicitly opposed to Clintonism. His notion of change was not simply to get rid of Bush, but also to do away with the old, i.e. Clintonian, version of the Democratic party. Hillary Clinton and Obama essentially tied in the nomination battle, but Clinton’s vote was strongest in areas that have been abandoning the party, while Obama was stronger with many of the party’s loyal groups. More important, the party establishment – as embodied by the superdelegates – decided overwhelmingly to nominate Obama rather than Clinton. Indeed, that was an early signal from House speaker Nancy Pelosi, certainly no Clintonite, who communicated that the superdelegates should back the delegate leader (Obama) and not the popular vote leader (potentially Clinton).

So what we have then is a history of the Democratic party being skeptical of Clinton, then pushing him so far to the left that he lost public opinion, then rebuking his vice president, and then his wife in the 2008 election.

Clinton’s real triumph came in persuading the middle of the country that he was a good steward of the economy, and that was due in large part to the fact that the congressional Democrats were run out on a rail in 1994. The GOP sweep of the House and Senate effectively liberated Clinton from having to deal with the left wing interests that dominate the party caucuses, especially in the House, and enabled him to govern as the “New Democrat” he promised to be.

It was a great political feat, and went a long way to rebranding the public image of the Democratic party. But the structure of the party itself never changed. Indeed, the same problems that prompted reformist Democrats in the 1980s like Clinton to start rethinking their party’s politics are still around. If anything, they have grown only more powerful in the ensuing years, especially in the House. The new left interest groups have created supremely sophisticated lobbying operations, the older conservative unions have died out and been replaced with more leftwing groups like AFSCME, the SEIU, and the NEA, and the moderate core of the party – the white South as well as Northern, church going Catholics – have joined the GOP.

Davis is right that today’s Democratic party is not Clinton’s. But really, it never was his party in the first place.

Jay Cost is a staff writer for THE WEEKLY STANDARD and the author of Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party and Now Threatens the American Republic, available now wherever books are sold.

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