Bill Clinton’s bad advice

“Probably there are people in this room still mad at me for that budget because you think I raised your taxes too much. It might surprise you to know that I think I raised them too much, too.” — Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonTrump’s first year in office was the year of the woman Can a president be impeached for non-criminal conduct? Dems search for winning playbook MORE, 1995

This was the sheepish admission of President Clinton after the 1994 midterm elections, when he lost the Democratic majority in both the House and Senate in one of the most historic turnover elections ever. Voter backlash from his (or rather, his wife’s) attempt to place the federal government in charge of healthcare, and his unbridled boldness in instituting the largest tax increase in history, was swift and uncompromising. After the ’94 bloodbath, Clinton was forced to work with the new GOP majority, which yielded welfare reform, balanced budgets and something that had long been as elusive as Bigfoot — an actual budget surplus. 

In fact, of the positives that occurred during the recalibrated Clinton presidency, each one was due to the president having been duly chastised by the voters and instructed by the electorate to work with the Republicans they felt compelled to send to Congress to curb the overreach of a Democratic president. Without congressional Republicans, we would not have seen the economic expansion of the 1990s — a fun fact former President Clinton remains stubbornly loath to admit.

Fast-forward to 2011 and it’s déjà vu all over again, except President Obama also has the failed stimulus spending debacle and near-double-digit unemployment to explain away.

A failed Democratic president whose initial victory was based largely on his high degree of “coolness” was likewise committed to raising taxes, spending limitlessly and growing government and its role in our lives, including our health, but was stopped cold by the voters in last November’s midterm elections — at least temporarily. Interesting that former President Clinton, who redeemed himself with the voters by working with Republicans, is now advising President Obama to, under no circumstances, compromise with congressional Republicans on the budget and the debt-ceiling limit. But Clinton’s “don’t blink” advice might have nefarious roots.

Why would Bill Clinton discourage a fellow Democratic president from following the same recipe for success that saved his presidency and allowed him to earn millions of dollars now as a globetrotting senior statesman? After all, according to Obama campaign guru David Axelrod, it is still “cool” to support Obama, so at least on that front, Obama should have earned his stripes with fellow exemplar of “cool” Bill Clinton. Indeed, perhaps that’s the crux of the problem.

Throughout the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, Bill Clinton was tight-jawed, cold and oftentimes out-and-out angry with candidate Obama, refusing to appear in public with him even well after his formal nomination at the Democratic National Convention. He was not willing to help him close that stature gap so soon or so easily. He was not going to forgive him for perceived underhanded dirty campaigning against his wife in the primary. So it is not so difficult now to see how Bill Clinton might lean toward being a bit of a stinker about sharing the world stage as the only two-term Democratic president since FDR, particularly with a guy he doesn’t apparently like or respect. Hence the bad advice about not blinking when it comes to working with congressional Republicans — advice that seems suspiciously more like a shiv in the back than helpful, if misguided, encouragement from an elder sage.

Republicans are not the enemy. Nor are they freelancing willy-nilly on policy. Last November, the message from voters was unmistakable: Cut spending, balance the budget, eliminate deficits, pay down the debt, let job creators create jobs, repeal ObamaCare. Republicans in Congress are doing their level best to accomplish what voters demand, yet congressional Democrats, President Obama and Bill Clinton are doing their level best to demonize Republicans for answering to the electorate.

Obama needs only a cursory review of Clinton’s presidency to see what brought him back from the brink, and then mirror that strategy. In other words, don’t listen to what Bill Clinton says. Listen to what Bill Clinton did when voters elected a Republican Congress as the antidote to him.

Jacobus, president of Capitol Strategies PR, has managed congressional campaigns, worked on Capitol Hill and is an adjunct professor at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management. She appears on CNN, MSNBC and FOX News as a GOP strategist.