Saturday, June 26, 2004

The Clinton Presidencies and The New Coalition


Two valuable posts from Mark Schmitt over at the Decembrist. The first explains that Clinton's Presidency from 1993 through 1994 is quite different from his presidency from 1995 on. The latter, and not the former, involved the famous Clintonian triangulation. Although Mark does not mention it, it is worth pointing out that after 1998 Clinton's tactics changed again. The Lewinsky scandal led him to seek support from Democratic liberals in order to stay alive. However, precisely because of the Lewinsky scandal, he did not in fact make many important domestic policy initiatives during this period, so the alliance with his party's liberal wing did not amount to much.

The second post is about how Kerry can govern if he defeats Bush in 2004:

In short, President Kerry will only be able to govern if he is able to split the Republican Party. The split has already opened thanks to the White House's ideology of total control and the embarrassment and chaos it has caused; Bush's defeat will open it much wider, freeing Republican moderates to acknowledge the insanity of the past three and a half years. But Kerry must complete the split, just as Reagan completed the split of the Democratic Party, and we must allow/encourage him to do it. Otherwise, we're doomed to watch him negotiate the terms of surrender of his presidency to a soulless cat-murderer.

This seems right; I would add another level of analysis. The tenor of Bush's presidency was set early on by the fact that his party controlled all the branches of government although it did not enjoy wide ranging popular support (the Congress was almost evenly divided and Bush lost the popular vote). This encouraged Bush to try to ram though legislation with only a very tiny majority. His Administration wanted to get what it could while it still controlled all the levers of power.

If Kerry wins in 2004, he will face a very different set of considerations. He will probably not control both houses of Congress. That means that he will have to form a working coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans to push for any of his legislative priorities. Knowing that you must form a bipartisan coalition gives an Administration a very different tone and style than knowing that you don't have to pay very much attention to your political opponents. The alignment of political forces will thus push Kerry toward conciliation and compromise. The frustration of the past four years and a widely shared belief that partisan demonization has gone too far will help him achieve this goal. But everything will not be sweetness and light. Bush partisans will be quite bitter about their loss. If Kerry wants to govern effectively and set a new tone, he will have to reach out to moderate Republicans very early and establish that they matter. That will give people incentives to believe that cooperation is better than divisiveness and confrontation.


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