Tags: Clinton | book | Reagan

Obama Needs Clintonomics — and Soon

Friday, 01 May 2009 12:32 PM

By Christopher Ruddy

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CIA Director Leon Panetta has some urgent advice for President Obama: Read “Clintonomics” and use it!

Panetta’s advice is no secret. He is referring to a new book just out, “Clintonomics: How Bill Clinton Reengineered the Reagan Revolution,” (AMACOM) by Dr. Jack Godwin, a political scientist.

[Editor’s Note: Get “Clintonomics” at Amazon.com. Go Here Now.]

Here’s what Panetta said about “Clintonomics”: “This book is a must read for those struggling to figure out the present economic crisis.”

As we all know, Obama is one of those struggling.

Before Panetta assumed his CIA post, he had served as President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff. Panetta is a pragmatic man, not an ideologue.

So his praise for this new book should come as no surprise.

But what is surprising is that, as a Republican of the Reagan type, I couldn’t agree more with Panetta’s assessment.

Author Godwin’s basic point is that, contrary to widely held opinion, Clinton did not seek to turn back the economic policies of Ronald Reagan, dubbed “Reaganomics.” Instead, he embraced them and perfected them.

Godwin’s point of view is even more interesting because the foreword to the book is written by John Garamendi, who served in the Clinton administration as deputy secretary of the Department of Interior.

When Clinton came to office in 1993, the economy was in a downturn.

“Clinton attributed the country’s less than optimum economic performance to low productivity, low growth, stagnant wages, unemployment, budget deficits, and high healthcare costs, among other things,” Godwin observes.

“He outlined the essential components of his economic plan: shifting our emphasis from consumption to investment; making public policy friendlier to workers and families; reducing the federal deficit and cutting government waste; reforming the tax code; and, of course, creating jobs.”

Clinton, in short, sought to put a happy face on Reaganomics. [Godwin points out that Reagan himself disliked the characterization that it sounded like an “aerobic exercise or fad diet.”]

Reagan strongly believed that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Though Clinton did not agree with that view, he did believe that government needed to be both improved and downsized.

Both Clinton and Reagan grasped the notion that the private sector, not the public one, is the primary productive engine of the economy.

Thus Clinton offered a “New Covenant,” which Godwin writes “was indeed based on an old idea — the idea that with opportunity comes responsibility. Clinton wanted to create a leaner, not meaner government . . . In practice, this meant downsizing the federal government, cutting unnecessary and wasteful spending, and bringing down the deficit.”

I can hear the Gipper applauding Clinton’s sentiment.

Clinton is even quoted as saying that he was “the man who downsized the government more than President Reagan did.” This is true.

Democrats have long complained that Reagan gave us huge budget deficits and grew the national debt dramatically.

This also is true.

Some on the left even saw a conspiratorial overtone to the Reagan deficits. Reagan ran up huge deficits to prevent the Democrats from funding new entitlement programs, so the theory went.

Although Reagan did run up the national debt wildly, it had nothing to do with entitlements. Reagan repeatedly stated, before and after his election in 1980, that he would opt for large deficits if he needed them to bankroll his military buildup to counter the Soviet Union.

Indeed, Reagan’s plan worked. The massive military buildup not only helped defeat the Soviet empire but also left the U.S. a sizable “peace dividend” in the 90s.

Ronald Reagan set the stage for Bill Clinton. Clinton’s brilliance was in realizing the gift he had received from the Reagan years. He easily could have moved to shift the “peace dividend” from declining defense expenditures to social programs. But he didn’t.

Instead, he reduced the growth of government, ultimately leaving his successor, George W. Bush, a budget surplus.

When Clinton came into office, he tinkered with nationalizing healthcare with the so-called “Hillarycare” program. But Congress thwarted his plans.

It was the best thing that ever happened to Clinton. After the healthcare debacle, he moved to the center. He adopted a bipartisan approach and even worked with Newt Gingrich in some areas, including welfare reform and cutting the capital gains tax.

“Bill Clinton launched his campaign to end welfare as we know it because he . . . believed millions of people were trapped in the system,” Godwin notes.

“When Clinton signed welfare reform legislation in 1996, he passed the greatest test of federalism, according to the standard set by Ronald Reagan himself.”

Clinton argued that entitlement programs do not work if the government does not require something in return from the recipient. He often referred to “the politics of entitlement” as a way of criticizing his own party.

“Some, but not all, in the national Democratic Party have placed too much faith in the whole politics of entitlement, the idea that big bureaucracies and government spending, demanding nothing in return, can produce the results we want,” he said in a speech.

“We know that is simply not true. There is a limit to how much government can do in the absence of an appropriate response by the American people at the grass-roots level.”

Clinton’s approach is starkly different from President Obama’s. With strong majorities in the House and the Senate, Obama has brushed aside a bipartisan approach. And unlike Clinton, he clearly favors the public sector over the private sector in restoring economic growth.

As Godwin says, Clinton’s governing philosophy was the logical corollary to the Reagan Revolution, stressing fiscal discipline and the end of big government.

“In public, Clinton positioned his governing philosophy as the antidote to Reaganomics,” Godwin writes. “In fact, Clinton and Reagan are fellow travelers separated more by party affiliation than political ideology.”

Barack Obama does have something to learn from Bill Clinton and “Clintonomics.”

Many Republicans have been reevaluating the Clinton years and realizing, as I have, that the country prospered under a more centrist approach. Obama should take the advice of his CIA director.

Editor’s Note: “Clintonomics: How Bill Clinton Reengineered the Reagan Revolution,” is available at Amazon.com. Go Here Now.

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