Nearly a quarter century later there are still political kernels of wisdom to be harvested from Bill Clinton’s improbable, history-making 1992 presidential campaign – wisdom Americans can consider after emerging from their bunkers to survey the smoking, salted ground on November 9th.
A new documentary film, Crashing the Party, etches the biggest lesson of Clinton’s candidacy in stark relief – that by eschewing traditional Democratic Party special interests for the needs of working class voters, Clinton was able to appeal to a much broader swath of the electorate. By taking deliberate aim at the political middle, Clinton defeated a sitting president with high public approval ratings.
The intellectual heft behind Clinton’s “New Democrat” message of moderate and pragmatic politics was mined from Al From’s Democratic Leadership Council. Crashing the Party ably details how From formed the DLC after unapologetic liberals got their clocks cleaned in multiple presidential elections.
And when scandal struck the Clinton campaign, the deep underpinning of hard-won support inoculated the campaign from a terminal outcome. Another political lesson lost on the flaming carnival barker Cheeto running for president today, who is currently pulling a Slim Pickens on the Republican Party.
The film also conjures overwhelming parallels between the position the modern GOP will be in after Starship Trump crashes into the sun, and the desert Democrats found themselves wandering in after the Dukakis defeat in 1988. Much of the coverage of Crashing the Party teases out this narrative, too.
But one thread missing from the discussion was what if as president, Hillary Clinton took the same approach to governing our deeply divided country?
In the aftermath of a presidential election cycle of unprecedented vitriol and peyote button per hour doses of outright lunacy, Hillary Clinton is going to govern a deeply divided and hyper polarized country. She will also face an entrenched opposition party loaded with calcified hatred of the new president. Is pressing an overt liberal agenda in that environment going to yield any results?
Even though as a Senator Hillary Clinton was more liberal than President Obama, there are strong indicators she plans to lead from the center. The New York Times’ Jonathan Martin sussed out a confirmation of her intentions from the Wikileaks email hack:
Upshot: The Hillary hacks should worry the Bernie wing more than center-right Republicans about how she’ll govern
Senator Chuck Shcumer (D-NY) is in line to be the Senator Majority Leader should the Senate flip. In an interview with CNBC’s John Harwood Schumer echoed Crashing the Party’s pragmatic message, saying the only hope he has to un-mire Congress is aim his agenda right at the middle (class).
HARWOOD: A lot of Americans are looking at the end of this election and saying, “What is going on?” What do you say to that?
SCHUMER: I’d say the number one thing going on is that middle class incomes are declining. When middle class incomes decline, America is a different place. In general, we’re a bright, sunny, optimistic people. The only time America becomes sour is when middle class incomes decline.
I was having lunch with two members of Washington DC’s lobbyist class recently and was struck by their magnified cynicism. Both are veterans of special interest driven legislative knife fights, and have represented long time Democratic Party allies.
But the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency and the increasing probability that Democrats could gain control of one, if not both houses of Congress, did not make these lobbyists happy. Instead, they say should a house of Congress flip, that it would flip back into GOP hands the very next cycle. What motivation will Republicans have to work with Hillary Clinton when they can just wait until control is returned in 2018?
Crashing the Party does offer an antidote to this cynical malaise. The film details how toxic politics like Trump’s harkens back to the Willie Horton days, making voters even more cynical.
“The only way to combat that is to provide a more nourishing product,” Bruce Reed former CEO of DLC says in the eerily prescient Crashing the Party. “Solve people’s problems and they remember you for it.”
After Trump crashes his party, Republicans are going to need the political equivalent of the Jaws of Life to get back in the electoral game.
Hillary Clinton will be dealing with an even greater challenge, and if Crashing the Party is any lesson, will need to aim her governing Jaws of Life at the political middle.