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
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