The Clinton Legacy

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

9
Clinton's Domestic Policy: The Lessons of a "New Democrat"

PAUL J. QUIRK AND WILLIAM CUNION

The record of President Bill Clinton in domestic policy provides an opportunity to consider an important question for future presidents: What happens when a politically moderate, or centrist president attempts to lead a deeply divided, or polarized Congress? Can such a president set and hold a moderate course for domestic policy? Or will his or her agenda fall victim to simultaneous attack from the left and the right? If a moderate agenda is possible, what kinds of policies will it consist of? Will they be mere compromises, or can they somehow rise above ideological conflict to serve the nation's broadest interests?

The dynamics of electoral competition in our era suggest that presidents are increasingly likely to face these questions. On the one hand, the national electorate prefers a moderate Democrat or a moderate Republican over a more extreme candidate of either party in general elections for the presidency. On the other hand, state and House-district electorates increasingly are sending either liberal Democrats or conservative Republicans to represent them in Congress. As a result of these trends, presidents may increasingly find themselves almost alone--in conflict with most members of both congressional parties--in the middle of the political spectrum.

Clinton's case tells us a good deal about what such presidents can accomplish in domestic policy, and what they cannot. Judging from his experience, they

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