If you can read only one article on politics this month make it Jonathan Cohn’s article in New Republic Online about Bill Clinton and the current state of the Democratic party. It is as blisteringly accurate as it is elegantly executed.
There is an important debate going on among Democrats today over this question: was welfare reform, fiscal discipline, and Clintonite triangulation a tactical effort to fend off the right and restore belief in tempered, but activist, government? Or was it simply a new approach to progressive governance which is good public policy on it own merits?
Cohn takes aim at another group who believe Clinton’s two-terms in office did great damage to the Democrats, ceding all sorts of intellectual ground to the right, and accomplishing nothing worthwhile in the process.
(I know many of the people Cohn is talking about and frankly, they’re one of the reasons I’m now freelancing — but that’s a story for another day.)
It’s one thing to argue that faith in activist government has now been restored to the point where progressives can again afford to think (and spend) big; quite another to believe that there was really no problem with the progressive project that needed solving and that we’d be better off today if Bill Clinton had come back after the 1994 debacle and reproposed National Health Care Insurance and gobs more spending on everything under the sun.
It’s hard to listen to these folks and not be reminded of some gaggle of nasally-voiced French intellectuals circa 1948, puffing cigarettes and sipping coffee in some Montmartre cafe, whining about America’s many evils while remaining utterly oblivious to the fact that the US Army saved their collaborationist asses from national humiliation only a few years before.
Anyway, read the article. It’s very good.