As the 112th Congress gets down to business and the new arithmetic of the Republican House becomes a fact, President Obama is receiving advice from the pundit class that he should emulate the 1995 “move to the middle” strategy of President Clinton. Like Obama, President Clinton got a “shellacking” in the 1994 mid-terms. Like Obama, Clinton faced a backlash to his healthcare reform efforts (which, unlike Obama’s, did not result in transformational legislation). In the face of this challenge, Clinton is credited with “triangulating” his politics and policies towards the center that anchors the American electorate. In 1996, he defeated Bob Dole and earned a second term.
Without in any manner disrespecting the political genius of Bill Clinton; I suggest that two other factors were as instrumental in President Clinton’s re-election as was his triangulation. First, Clinton enjoyed an increasingly prosperous economy that was in a roaring recovery from the recession that he inherited from the first President Bush. Second, Clinton benefited from his opponents’ choice of an opponent for him. Bob Dole is an authentic American hero and deserves our gratitude for a decades long career of exceptional public service. However, as a Presidential candidate, he was no match for Bill Clinton.
As we approach the 2012 Presidential election, we would do well to consider the Clinton history and its lessons for the current Administration. One can wonder whether President Obama will be dealt a hand of similar circumstances to those that Clinton held: will unemployment steadily sink? Will the GOP offer up an imperfect candidate? If so, then four more years would be quite likely.