Bill Clinton was a hell of a politician — at least when it came to Bill Clinton. When it came to building the Democratic Party — well, not so much so.
Democrats entered the Clinton era with huge majorities in both houses of Congress. Two years later they were gone. Clinton doesn’t deserve all the blame, of course, but he has a fair share coming.
He gave the country (or the country gave him, depending on one’s viewpoint) years of strong economic growth. He kept the peace, for the most part. Peace and prosperity — yeah baby, that’s the stuff. Yet, at the end of his eight years, he turned the country over to the worst president in history.
Does Clinton deserve all the blame for that? Of course not. But once again, he does get his share.
Bill Clinton was a political star, but, unfortunately, in many ways a very selfish one. Party building just wasn’t his thing.
Barack Obama seems on the verge, of course, of becoming an even bigger political star — and the early signs were encouraging on his commitment to building a stronger Democratic Party. That was actually one of the primary reasons I supported him for the nomination. And this seeming commitment to party building carried forward to the general election, where his decision to run a more nationally centered campaign than customary — and even more so his decision to go aggressively into states the Democrats had previously written off — did wonders for the Democratic Party.
And that’s a very big deal. I know it isn’t politically correct to say it right now, but the truth is that helping to build a strong Democratic Party — one that can win consistently — is the single biggest contribution Barack Obama can make to achieving positive progressive change in this nation. A single gifted president, even serving for the full eight years, can only do so much to improve this nation. A strong progressively rooted Democratic Party, able to effectively fight the good fight for a generation or more, on the other hand, can change the world.
I think Obama knows this: but, to be honest, he’s starting to scare me a little. He played the GOP masterfully during the stimulus bill debate. But there’s a danger in his incessant talk of bipartisanship. It has the effect of putting the GOP — and its response to Obama’s proposals — into the very center of the story, while at the same time marginalizing other Democrats.
Why should anyone care what congressional Democrats have to say about the economy, when the whole storyline has become how the GOP will respond to Obama’s proposals?
Look what’s happening: the Sunday talk shows and cable gabfests are awash in Republicans. Given Democrats are now in control of just about everything in Washington, on first blush, this seems nothing short of astonishing. Yet, the fact it’s occurring is undeniable: television news programs are offering up wall to wall Republicans, but nary a Democrat to be seen. Why?
The now well documented media bias in favor of giving Republicans an inordinate share of the screen time on televison news talk programs is one factor, of course. But something else is also at play. Unquestionably, one big reason Republicans in Congress are getting more than their share of media coverage is because Obama, through his futile quest to win them over, has made them the story, not the Democrats.
It would be a mistake to underestimate the danger this poses. If nothing else, it means that most of the public debate over economics right now is being fought on the GOP’s turf.
I understand the siren song of bipartisanship sounds loudly in the spirit of our new president. And making a public show of reaching out to the GOP is probably good politics — at least for Obama himself. But building a strong Democratic Party is better politics. And it is also an essential element to building a better and more just America over the long haul.
So two words, Barack: party building. Press them to your chest and put them under your pillow at night. Never forget them and never neglect them. Because when all is said and done, they may just represent the single most important inheritance you can give this nation.