The 1990s — Let’s Set Our Sights Higher

Another argument that many Clinton supporters make for her candidacy is that she will return us to "Clintonism" — the magical 1990s. As Hillary herself loves to say: "It did take one Clinton to clean up after the first Bush, and it might take another to clean up after the second."

And it’s true, the Clinton years were good years. I’ve been able to vote since 1984, and as I’ve written here before I enthusiastically supported him in both elections.  I am a Democrat, and I fondly look back at the 1990s relative to what came before, or what has come since

But while the Clinton years were good years, they were not great years for our country. And if we’re brutally honest with ourselves, many of the most noteworthy accomplishments during the Clinton presidency were actually enabling key planks of the Reagan platform that benefited the wealthiest the most.

A balanced budget with reduced government spending. NAFTA. Welfare reform. A tougher crime bill.

We didn’t make noticeable progress on any of the most fundamental planks that are important to progressives.

We didn’t get health care done.

We did little to improve our public schools.

We didn’t ratify the Kyoto Treaty (Al Gore was left hanging on that one) or tackle global warming in a fundamental way.

We didn’t insist on higher mileage standards for our cars, and did almost nothing to reduce our dependence on oil.

We ignored the poorest of our cities, and ignored our poorest citizens. New Orleans didn’t just suddenly get poor between 2001-2005.

This lack of achievement was not because Bill Clinton was a bad president. But rather because he never built the governing coalition behind a progressive platform. And perhaps no one could have built such a coalition at that time — the country was just not ready for  such a change, and many voters were still wedded to Reaganism.

Now, though, we all sense the country may be ready for a more progressive politics. One of the things I’ve liked about Obama and Edwards is that they’ve seen this, and built campaigns to take advantage of this shift in the national mood.  To build something more durable than a tactical 51-49 win.

Senator Clinton, conversely, is an incrementalist at heart, the first Clinton presidency remains her lodestar.

It’s fine to have nostalgia for the 1990s. But let’s not set our sights so low — the country is ready for much more, we need a leader who can tap into that and not squander the opportunity in front of us.