Other than the fact that the Obama administration is full of former Clinton appointees, should we still care what former President Bill Clinton has to say? Although the world has changed significantly since Clinton left office, he remains a leading authority on the global economy, and the issues he cares about, particularly healthcare, welfare, education and globalization, all have far-reaching economic consequences.
Clinton had some ideas that were not politically pure: not perfectly liberal, not perfectly conservative. People made fun of Clinton for being a “policy wonk,” someone a little too knowledgeable and a little too fascinated by the details of government policy.
It is a gently pejorative term, but to this day Clinton wears it like a badge of honor. Clinton’s argument, which his immediate successor proved beyond dispute, is that details matter. You can argue all you want about liberal versus conservative, but good government requires more than rhetoric. Eventually, reality makes a difference. I outline his positions in my book, "Clintonomics: How Bill Clinton Reengineered the Reagan Revolution."
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Tax cuts are a perfect example. Everybody wants a tax cut, don’t they? There is no political down side. But is it good policy?
The answer depends on what you think is our worst economic problem. If you are a budget hawk and think we should always try to balance the budget, then tax cuts will probably make the deficit worse.
If you think government waste is our biggest problem, then you should support not just tax cuts, but also spending cuts. However, if our worst economic problem is unemployment, then you should support some intervention in the economy by the government.
In 1981, Reagan said government is not the solution; government is the problem. In 1996, Clinton said the era of big government is over. What’s the difference? The calendar is the difference.
When the Cold War ended, the world exited one era and entered another. To suggest the global era somehow ended in September 2001 indicates a severe case of tunnel vision — not merely the lack of peripheral vision but a failure to recognize that globalization, not terrorism or any specific act of terrorism, is the central reality of our time.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama famously said Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Clinton did not. Respectfully, I disagree with President Obama on this particular issue, and think “Clintonomics” proves the point.
Throughout his presidency, Clinton articulated a governing philosophy whose overarching agenda was to create more economic opportunity and enlarge the middle class. He shrank the government bureaucracy, made it more cost-effective, more relevant and more responsive to the competitive pressures of the global economy.
Although Ronald Reagan was a great communicator, Bill Clinton was the great policy wonk who re-engineered the Reagan Revolution, effectively solved problems such as welfare and the budget, and repositioned the American economy for the 21 century.
Jack Godwin is chief international officer at California State University, Sacramento. This article is adapted from “Clintonomics: How Bill Clinton Reengineered the Reagan Revolution.”
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