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Obama and Clinton

Ron Brownstein compares his pre-midterm election interviews with President Bill Clinton in 1994 and President Barack Obama last week. The two men, he says, couldn't be reacting more differently:

On the Sunday before the 1994 Republican landslide, I interviewed President Clinton on a fittingly dank morning in San Francisco. Sitting in the backseat of a surprisingly threadbare presidential limousine, Clinton seemed to physically sag under the weight of the approaching repudiation.

As we drove through empty streets, Clinton ricocheted between bitter denunciations of “the intense partisanship of the congressional Republican leadership” and rueful second-guessing of his own decisions. Repeatedly, as if fingering worry beads, he returned to the difficulty of maintaining a thread of connection with voters. “You are so far away from folks, and it is so easy in this environment … for them to feel like they are out of touch with you,” he said. Later, he lamented that he had spent so much time trying to pass his legislative agenda that he had failed to think enough about “how we keep the people in the process” and maintain their support for his program. The gloom surrounding him felt as thick as the fog shrouding the skyline.

When a colleague and I interviewed Obama in the Oval Office last week, he echoed Clinton’s specific point about communication. (Obama argued that the economic crisis he inherited required him to take so many rapid actions that he could not “communicate [my agenda] effectively to the public in any coherent way.”) But in all other respects, Obama struck a conspicuously different tone.

Where Clinton agonized, Obama analyzed. It was clear that Obama has started to think seriously about how he will navigate a Washington with many more Republicans in it. But nothing about him suggested that he viewed the impending arrival of those Republicans as evidence that he needed to radically rethink his presidency. Obama sounded neither shell-shocked nor defiant. He seemed entirely focused on the practical: where he might work with Republicans, and where he expects confrontation (education, infrastructure, and energy in the first group; taxes, health care, and Social Security in the second).

Photo credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

By Ezra Klein  | November 2, 2010; 11:11 AM ET
Categories:  2010 Midterms  
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Comments

I don't find this all that surprising -- Obama was able to do a lot more with his unified two years than Clinton was.

Posted by: AaronSVeenstra | November 2, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

I guess this means he isn't resigning?

Posted by: klautsack | November 2, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

There's a reason he's called "no-drama Obama."

Not to mention, odds are very little will objectively change for him in terms of getting his agenda passed. The biggest change will be in the budget.

The filibuster meant almost all his agenda was dependent on Mary Landreiu, Bill Nelson, Max Baucus, and the Mainers. The House was an afterthought on everything except the budget, which can pass the Senate with 50 votes.

All this election does on a real level is turn the budget into every other bill. The Senate's dysfunctionality meant that Obama had to deal with Republican intransigence on everything but the budget...now the budget is part of that math, too. Whatever.

The only real wild card is largely beyond Obama's control: it's how crazy the House Republicans are. Remember, these are the guys who tanked TARP, and Boehner doesn't have a track record of being able to corral them.

As for the nonsense that this creates the potential for "embarrassing" votes for Dems, or that investigations can make the Administration's life harder, I'm not buying it. These guys have Fox News. They destroyed ACORN with 178 seats in the House, and 40 in the Senate. They don't NEED the subpoena to launch lies into the stratosphere--hello, death panels? Sarah Palin's every twitter feed is treated like a divine pronouncement, it's not like things will get much worse simply because Republicans have more institutional levers at their disposal.

Obama is a very reality-based guy, even if the press corps isn't. The reality for him is that his agenda isn't all that much harder to pass tomorrow than it is today, even if the Democrats lose 80 seats in the House.

This should signal something important about our government's inability to function. Sadly, it will be totally un-remarked upon, while pundits hyperventilate that a Republican majority smaller than the current Democratic majority somehow conclusively proves we have a "center-right" nation that is fleeing "socialism." Or something.

Posted by: theorajones1 | November 2, 2010 12:18 PM | Report abuse

Obama also called upon Democratic voters to "punish their enemies."

Posted by: tomtildrum | November 2, 2010 12:55 PM | Report abuse

@tomtildrum:

Well, I sincerely hope they are punished before they "destroy the Obama presidency."

Posted by: cadal | November 2, 2010 1:19 PM | Report abuse

The man's got a compass, and he doesn't veer off it for political or ideological reasons, only pragmatic ones. I voted for the analytical guy, and I got the analytical guy. I know it's frustrating to some, but I find his kind of patient, honest, and unflappable steadiness reassuring in this time of teh crazy. While the rest of Washington is running around like chickens with their heads cut off, he's moving forward and not looking back. We will survive this.

Posted by: JJenkins2 | November 2, 2010 2:25 PM | Report abuse

JJenkins2, fair enough. But Obama had a certain commitment to his party that, unfortunately, he failed.

On the other hand, one could have said same the same of Reagan in 1982.

Posted by: constans | November 2, 2010 5:13 PM | Report abuse

That seemed like a sharp take.

Some Clinton comparisons are understandable, but they were getting overblown. While Clinton did move to the center, he didn't pull the New Democrat thing out of thin air; his DLC stance predated the presidency.

It's a different country now, facing different problems (something Clinton himself seems to understand better than some of the people who covered him). And today the New Dems look like this:

http://www.propublica.org/article/new-democrat-coalition ...

Posted by: jes7 | November 2, 2010 7:25 PM | Report abuse

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