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August 08, 2004

Should I Have Voted for Clinton in 1992?

I mentioned in a previous post that I now think, ex post, that in 1992, I should have abandoned sentiment and caution, and voted for Perot or Clinton instead of Bush the First.

This, of course, requires explanation.

Bush the First was an excellent president, whereas Clinton was a joke, and Perot might have been even more out of place as president. We'll put aside the Perot hypothetical and focus on Clinton. If the Russians had still been threatening, it would have been too dangerous to have Clinton as president but the Cold War was over, and foreign policy was not so important. We did have the purchase of the U.N. by Saddam Hussein's Oil for Food program, the neglect that gave rise to 9-11, Clinton's blockage of U.N. action to stop the Rwanda genocide, and the absurd Kosovo War, where we helped Albanian drugrunners by bombing Yugoslav civilian targets, but none of these things turned out to be as disastrous as, say, a Soviet conquest of Germany.

On the plus side, the domestic results of Clinton's ineptitude were good, at least in his first term. Bush Senior and Junior each have at least one very bad social program to their debit-- the Americans with Disabilities Act, which unconstitutionally forces huge wasteful expenditures on very large bathrooms and empty-by-law parking spaces, and the presription drug medicare program, which will result in huge spending on behalf of the wealthiest age group in America and probably will result, indirectly, in price controls on drugs and the crippling of the most impressive sector of the health care industry. Clinton found himself unable to do any such damage. He did repeal some of the Reagan tax cuts, but that is a smaller matter.

Administratively, it took a long time for Clinton to fill his appointive positions, even with a Democratic Congress. It is now pretty much forgotten, and perhaps wasn't noticed much even in 1993, but the Clinton Administration was very slow off the starting block. It just couldn't get organized for a year or two, just as one might expect of a bunch of Arkansas politicians who cared more about elections than actually running things.

Finally, and most important, Clinton ended the dominance that the Democrats had had over Congress since the 1950's. This was all the more important because from perhaps 1950 to 1974, there existed many conservative Southern Democrats and Northern Cold War Democrats, but by 1988, almost all of them were gone, so Congress was truly controlled by people who were staunch liberals on all issues. Clinton, by a mixture of incompetence and selfishness, ended this. (Note, too, as a footnote, NAFTA and welfare reform, both bad politically for the Democrats but good for Clinton).

To be sure, Clinton's contribution towards good government were largely completed by 1996, so Dole would probably have been better for the 1996-2000 term. But even there, recall that Dole was a major supporter of the American for Disabilities Act.

Foreign policy is more important these days. That means that we had better keep Bush in office despite his poor domestic record. But the wise Democrat, if he cares more about policies than about who carries them out, probably should vote for Bush on account of his domestic policies too. Kerry would probably end up like Clinton in his second term, less beset by scandal, but unable to get much done with a Republican Congress.

Posted by erasmuse at August 8, 2004 11:10 PM

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I think there's a Capitol Hill-White House dynamic at work here which interacts with the Democrat-Republican dynamic. In general, the White House is the branch of govt. that takes the initiative and gets the credit for new domestic programs. The same is true of the Democrats. Combine these two, and the most hostile environment for big new domestic initiatives is a Democrat in the White House and Republicans controlling the Capitol.

Break it down:
1) With Democrats controlling both branches, the Democratic president wants new programs, and the Democratic Congress wants to support the president of its party and also share the Democratic credit for new programs.

2) With a Republican president and a Democratic Congress, the White House still wants some big new initiative (being a president counteracts to some degree being a Republican), while the Democrats in Congress are weakened in their resistance to these programs (being Democrats and hence in favor of new initiatives, weakens their partisan hostility to initiatives from a Republican president).

3) With both branches in the hands of Republicans, again the Republican president will to some degree want big new domestic initiatives, and the Republican Congress will, while generally skeptical, not want to defeat a president of its own party.

But with 4) a Democrat in the White House and Republicans controlling the Congress, the president is doubly eager for new initiatives (being both president and a Democrat), but the Congress is triply oriented to stopping him: 1) it's Congress, 2) it's Republican, and 3) its trying to defeat a partisan rival in the White House. Outcome? Gridlock, no new programs, budget surpluses, strong economy.

Which is why a Dole presidency in 1996 probably would have resulted in some kind of health care/prescription drugs/whatever big new expensive initiative that would have sucked the surplus dry four years before Bush's did.

Posted by: Chris Atwood at August 9, 2004 12:11 PM

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