The Clinton Presidency: First Appraisals

By Colin Campbell; Bert A. Rockman | Go to book overview

9
Domestic Policy: The Trials of a Centrist Democrat

PAUL J. QUIRK AND JOSEPH HINCHLIFFE

The central claim of Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign was that, in contrast with Republican President George Bush's preoccupation with foreign affairs, he would concentrate on solving the nation's domestic problems. He would create jobs, cut the budget deficit, promote investment and economic growth, reform the health-care system, change welfare, and stand tough against crime, among other things. As important as these particular commitments were, Clinton also stressed a general orientation toward the role of government. Rather than defend the orthodox big-government liberalism of his party, he would approach domestic issues as a more conservative "New Democrat." Promising a "New Covenant" between the people and their government, he emphasized traditional values such as individual responsibility. In fact, he borrowed Republican rhetoric to distinguish himself from the "tax-and-spend" liberals.

This centrist posture was crucial to Clinton's success in winning back many middle- and working-class white voters who had abandoned the Democrats in the three preceding presidential elections. Along with a loss of public confidence in President Bush, this posture was the key to Clinton's victory in the election. But the success of the New Democratic platform in the election by no means guaranteed that President Clinton would be able to stick with a centrist agenda and implement it--or, in other words, that it would prove a viable program for governing. Even more important, the New Democratic posture did not guarantee that Clinton would be a skilled or effective president.

A number of obstacles stood in the way. To begin with, Clinton faced

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