Thursday, January 2, 2014

I once read that Dwight Eisenhower...

...actually preferred Ronald Reagan to Richard Nixon for president in 1968. And I remember feeling a little surprised. Even though the General never cared much for Nixon personally, they were much closer politically, right? I mean, Ike and Nixon were relative moderates while the Gipper was an ideologue, right?

This morning I read that Bill Clinton swore in Bill de Blasio as New York's 109th mayor. Michael Daly has a piece in the Daily Beast, "Bill de Blasio Starts His Progressive Revolution," which says (my emphasis):

To make it all the more unreal, de Blasio was to be sworn in by President Bill Clinton, who had arrived with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. De Blasio has a long history with the Clintons, but they had remained neutral during the mayoral race. Their presence at Wednesday’s ceremony was widely seen as recognizing that the progressive message with which de Blasio became mayor had also made him representative of a new national dynamic in which Democrats were actual Democrats.

When the big moment came, the former president rose from beside the person who is presently most likely to become the next one. One factor that could change things for Hillary Clinton is this new progressive surge, which Bill Clinton forthrightly embraced in his brief remarks. He declared that he “fully endorsed” de Blasio’s “core campaign commitment” to address the Dickensian disparity in prosperity and opportunities between the wealthy few and struggling many.

“This inequality problem bedevils our entire country, and, I can tell you from my work, much of the world,” Clinton said. “We cannot go forward if we don’t do it together.”

Now you can interpret Clinton's presence in one of two ways: either the former president was acting cynically and strategically, as Daly suggests; or, like Eisenhower before him, Clinton is actually more ideological than we had assumed.

Think about it: Eisenhower was elected after the Democrats had held the White House for twenty years and had enacted the most progressive agenda in American history. After Ike left office, Kennedy and particularly Johnson ushered in even more reforms. The times were quite liberal. Clinton, on the other hand, was elected after the GOP had controlled the White House for twenty of the previous 24 years. And, during at least eight of those, the Reagan Revolution (or was it a counterrevolution?) did everything in its power to roll back the New Deal and Great Society. The mood in the country was clearly hostile to Big Government. Maybe Ike and Clinton shelved their true ideologies and governed from the center out of sheer necessity.

So what does all this mean? I'm not sure, but maybe Bill Clinton would have acted differently under different circumstances. Maybe, like Eisenhower, he's more ideological than we thought. Maybe he does prefer progressives. And, maybe, if elected, Hillary will be more liberal if the times allow it. That's not too hard to imagine, is it? After all, Theodore Roosevelt and Bobby Kennedy sure moved left over time. Maybe it just depends on the backdrop.

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