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Following Clinton's lead

Posted: November 11, 2010 4:24 p.m.
Updated: November 12, 2010 5:00 a.m.

When Republicans handed Bill Clinton’s hat to him in the 1994 election, gaining control of Congress in a GOP landslide, the former Arkansas governor moved deftly to the middle of the political spectrum. It was a spectacular turnaround following his and his wife’s failed health care initiatives, and it not only saved his presidency, it made him a model for other elected officials who learned to listen to what voters said and adapt their own policies to the mood of the country.

It remains to be seen whether the current Democratic party can or will follow suit, though initial reactions don’t point in that direction. President Obama has spent quite a bit of interview time explaining, in essence, that his administration simply didn’t articulate its policies well enough for voters to understand them. He’s been reticent to admit -- understandably -- that the real reason for the recent Democratic debacle was that Americans simply don’t like his policies and the direction in which the country is moving.

Democrats in Congress appear to be headed in the same direction. If we are to believe most news reports, the party will elect the same tired leadership that it has had for the last two years, including Nancy Pelosi as the party’s House leader though she is one of the most divisive figures in politics and will continue to be a Republican and centrist target if she remains in power. The other two top House Democrats, Stony Hoyer and Jim Clyburn, are fighting it out for the second spot. What’s new or invigorating about that?

President Clinton proved his political brilliance 16 years ago when he read the shifting winds of change among the electorate. Despite his personal foibles, he left office with a budget surplus and a business climate in which nearly everyone was prospering. Democrats today could learn a lesson from that, but it appears that might be a concept they refuse to grasp.

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