Sidney Blumenthal: Celebrating Bill Clinton's Candidacy
Sidney Blumenthal served as assistant to the president during the second term and is the author of “The Clinton Wars.”
The 20th anniversary of Bill Clinton’s announcement for the presidency will be celebrated this weekend at a gathering of those involved in the 1992 campaign in Little Rock. The following article was written for the occasion.
After the Gulf War, the bulls of the Senate who had regarded themselves presidents-in-waiting demurred before the astronomical popularity of President George H.W. Bush. From the cloakroom to the great newsrooms, those who decided to venture into the race were written off as “the Democratic B-team — the end-of-the-bench substitutes who get to play only when the game is presumed to be hopelessly lost,” as Newsweek reported.
Then, suddenly, the underpinnings of the long Republican era disintegrated. The recession discredited supply-side economics, which Bush had already discarded by breaking his ironclad campaign promise, “Read my lips, no new taxes.” Patrick Buchanan’s challenge from the right disclosed profound internal schisms over social policy, despite Bush’s appointment of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, an insufficient sop. And Bush’s muteness in foreign policy about the shape of things to come after the collapse of communism, beyond the phrase “the new world order,” sealed him as yesterday’s man.
Bill Clinton quickly vaulted to the head of the pack. Even though he was the longest-serving governor in the country at 45 years old, his ascent was mysterious to those looking to the traditional sources of political authority. He seemed a contradictory jumble. Yet his supposed vulnerabilities were really underlying strengths. Only someone who had emerged from the idealistic movements of the 1960s could understand how its virtues and vices had altered the Democratic Party and how the liabilities could be lifted. Only a child of the civil rights movement in the South, elected as a Southern progressive among its legacies, could have learned through trial and error the practical politics of governing in a Southern state under the long shadow of the Reagan period....
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