Obama’s strikingly bold agenda contrasts sharply with Bill Clinton’s early months as President.
Though circumstances were certainly very different in 1993 - the economic problems Clinton inherited were obviously less acute than they are now and Clinton won the White House without achieving a majority of the popular vote – the new president was the first democrat in 12 years and he came to office with his party controlling both houses.
We knew that President Clinton was brilliant, remarkably articulate and perhaps a political genius, but that wasn’t enough. What was missing? The new administration was stumbling badly after five months (Remember “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”). By 1994, with the defeat of health reform, we were teed up for the 1994 Congressional takeover by Republicans.
It could be argued that Americans were not ready for progressive leadership in the early 1990s - that the electorate was still in a Reagan frame of mind - and that Clinton’s political skills were keeping conservatives at bay. Many democrats made the case at the time that “triangulation” was a practical approach to governing.
Clinton the centrist promoted sound fiscal policy, presided over a period of economic growth and stability, expanded environmental protection and appointed moderate and reasonable federal judges. But he did little to thwart - and in many cases supported -financial market deregulation which would contribute to the economic blow-out a decade later. And then, of course, there was that issue which our opponents would exploit very adroitly, leading Clinton and the nation to the humiliating spectacle of impeachment and then on to Republican rule.
Obama and Clinton are both extraordinary achievers, enormously successful and self-made. One difference between them is their time in history. But what may really separate Obama from Clinton is that this president is not engaged in a public struggle with his internal demons over his identity. Barack Obama, so far as we can see, knows who he is.