Election 2012

Is Romney More Likely Than Obama to Govern Like Bill Clinton?


People like Bill Clinton. They liked him during much of the time he was president; his approval ratings were solidly above 50 percent for the bulk of his two terms. And they like him now; over the summer Gallup put his current approval rating at 66 percent — as high as it was when he first took office in 1993. 

Indeed, Clinton's favorability ratings are substantially better than President Obama's. But Clinton has been trying to help the current president narrow the gap. He gave the best speech of the presidential campaign at this year's Democratic National Convention. And he's been hitting the trail to make the case for President Obama in the months since, becoming a major draw at campaign rallies. Over the weekend, he and Obama made their first joint appearance on the campaign trail.

Clinton has been sticking to familiar Team Obama talking points: Romney can't be trusted, and if Obama gets a second term, he will lead an economic recovery. The gist of Bill Clinton's argument, though, is pretty simple: If you like Bill Clinton — as many people do — vote for Obama.

But here's the thing. Neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney are returning to Clinton-era governance. Indeed, for all its flaws and evasions, some parts of Romney's proposed policy agenda actually look more Clintonian than Obama's.

Bill Clinton's presidency benefited greatly from a number of external factors: the end of the Cold War, low energy prices, the tech boom. But there's still a fair amount to like about the
policies over which he presided.

Here are some crucial facts about Clinton's governance: He raised income tax rates; he shrank defense spending in real terms; he block granted welfare; he kept government spending slightly below its historical average as a share of the economy; and he ran the smallest annual budget deficits of any modern president.

Let's take these one at a time.

On income tax rates, Obama, who wants to raise top marginal rates, can clearly claim to be Clinton's heir. Still, there are differences between the two. The president has said he wants to raise rates on income earned above $250,000 a year, but leave in place current rates on lower and middle income earners.

On defense spending, Obama, who has proposed to keep spending basically flat in the near term and let it rise slowly after that, is relatively closer to Clinton than Romney, who has proposed to set a floor for defense spending that would amount to a huge increase. But Clinton actually let defense spending drop noticeably in inflation-adjusted dollars over the first five years of his presidency before letting them begin to rise again, and they never reached the level they were at when he took office. 

Clinton also signed a bipartisan bill to block grant welfare, a financial assistance program with a long history of problems, to the states. This resulted in a substantial reduction in welfare rolls, which, years later, Clinton claimed as a success. Romney has proposed a similar overhaul for Medicaid, a deeply dysfunctional health care program for the poor and disabled. President Obama, in contrast, wants to roughly double federal spending on the program over the next decade.

Clinton also exercised spending restraint. He kept federal spending at an average of 18.2 percent of gross domestic product during his eight years in office, slightly below the historical post World-War II average. Romney has proposed reducing federal spending as a share of GDP to 20 percent, though he hasn't provided details about how he would do this (more on this in a moment). President Obama, meanwhile, wants total federal spending to equal 23-24 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).  

Finally, Clinton has the best record of balancing the budget of any president since John F. Kennedy. Obama's track record of trillion dollar deficits speaks for itself, and neither his gimmicky proposals nor his half-hearted nods to mounting federal debt don't suggest that he'd pursue aggressive deficit reduction in his second term. Romney isn't proposing to balance the budget immediately,  but he says he would put the country on track to a balanced budget over a decade, and points to the fiscal reforms he enacted while governor of Massachusetts as evidence that he can do so. 

So it's clear that neither candidate is offering a swift return to the relative restraint of the Clinton years. But on these five big-ticket policies of the Clinton years, Romney is somewhat closer on three. At least that's the case on paper (or PowerPoint, as the case may be).

The big problem with Romney, as Bill Clinton has argued, is that it's hard to trust his promises. The math behind Romney's tax plan doesn't add up, which means it will be hard — probably impossible — to fulfill all of his major economic promises. Romney's advisers have hinted, however, that his income tax cuts may not make the final cut. That actually tracks well with Romney's record. Running for governor of Massachusetts, he promised not to cuts taxes. He didn't, exactly. But once in office, he sought additional revenue by closing tax loopholes and raising fees (taxes, to the layman) instead.

Still, given Romney's problematic budget math and his campaign's unwavering commitment to evasiveness on crucial policy details, it's more than fair to be wary of the former governor's promises.

Indeed, that's the core of Clinton's economic argument against Romney, who has accused the GOP candidate of trying to "hide the numbers" of his economic plan. The problem is that it could just as easily be part of an argument against President Obama.

Obama's major budgeting second-term budgeting proposal is supposedly a $4 trillion "balanced" deficit reduction plan that cuts $2.50 in spending for every dollar in tax hikes. In fact, it's packed with obvious budget gimmicks. Strip them away and it's actually a $2 trillion plan made up almost entirely of tax hikes. When asked to defend the details, the Obama campaign can't make them add up.

Which is part of the reason why Obama has such a hard time running on his predecessor's successes. One of the reasons Clinton looks so good in retrospect is because he made his budgets add up. As the former president said at an Obama rally over the weekend, "Budgets based on arithmetic work better than those based on illusion." He was talking about Romney, of course. But it applies to President Obama too.

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  1. So Clinton is the LP gold-standard now for modern presidents? Good, that helps explain his high popularity.

    Only on Medicaid is Romney more Clintonesque than Obama. Most of the poor elderly don’t even know they use it. Only 12% of Medicaid goes to non-elderly adults.

    On the deficit Obama is clearly better since he has lowered the deficit ($1.2 trillion) that he inherited.

    Nice article.

    1. So Clinton is the LP gold-standard now for modern presidents?

      It’s called “damning with faint praise.”

    2. da-derp
      da-derp da-derp da-derp da-derp da-deeeeerp

      1. Your post made more sense than Shreek’s.

        1. Stick to monosyllabic posts then.

          1. Dude, almost ALL posts make more sense than yours.

    3. Clinton sucked slightly less dick than Obama did, and probably sucks slightly less dick than Romney will. That’s not a gold standard, asshole.

      1. Yeah, but Dumbya is lassoed around you conservatives neck like a millstone.

        And not only is he despised but Americans know he is the biggest failure in 100 years – contrast with Clinton.

        1. you conservatives

          Stupid trolls are stupid.

          1. Res, like John, Mike M, Red Rocks Rockin, and others are admitted GOP.

            1. Are you going to kill yourself tommorrow Shreik? Or at the very least are they going to take your laptop and box you live in to pay for your debts on Intrade?

            2. Goalposts say “Whoosh!”

              1. This could be made into a children’s song, like “the wheels on the bus”.

                The goalpost on the field go
                WHOOSH WHOOSH WHOOSH
                repeat the whole thing
                Alllll day loooong.

                The Chritfag on the post goes
                BLAH BLAH BLAH
                BLAH BLAH BLAH
                BLAH BLAH BLAH

                And Cetera

                1. The strawman on the thread goes
                  DERP DERP DERP

        2. So your only points are 1) that no, Clinton isn’t a gold standard, he’s just better than Bush (which just reinforces RPA’s point), and 2) non-democrats are automatically conservative.

          So your REAL point here is that you’ve got nothing but misrepresentations of political positions. Nice to know.

        3. Still need moar Christfag

      2. Clinton was better probably than Reagan. Not sure, but there’s an argument to be made.

        1. I think Clinton started with a better economy. But I would like to hear this. If only for the amusement value.

    4. Palin’s Buttplug| 11.5.12 @ 10:39AM |#
      “So Clinton is the LP gold-standard now for modern presidents?”

      You take what you can get; best mouse in a horse-show.

  2. But here’s the thing. Neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney are returning to Clinton-era governance.

    One of the things that sticks in my craw about this narrative is Clinton required a solid opposition party to keep him in check.

    Comparing his first term to his second in terms of both ideology and practical governance is a study in stark contrast.

    Much like when people scream, “We need Clinton Era levels of taxation!” and purposefully ignoring the spending levels being kept ,arguably, in check. Yes, he will get the credit since he was in charge, but to say it was all Clinton’s doing is an exercise in Cult of Personality attribution.

    That said, neither Shit Flopney nor Bronco Obummer will acquiesce to this type of situation, as they are both inherently Big Government spenders with one simply believing in a slower rate of growth over the aggregate.

    Fuck them both with a cricket bat decorated and adorned with self-tapping screws.

    1. Stop it with the disgusting eliminationist rhetoric. I bet you hate homosexuals and like guns, too, you Tea-Bagging miscreant!

      I think someone needs reporting to the Obama campaign for detention and reeducation.

      1. Thank you for your assistance, concerned citizen. Have no fear, the Truth Team is on the case!

    2. Solid opposition or not, Clinton was a careerist, and he had an excellent instinct for what made him popular.

      Fast-forward to Obama, and the guy is every bit the careerist, but he’s surrounded himself by the biggest clowns in the business, feeding him terrible advice.

      1. Now, of course, Christopher Hitchens would argue that Clinton’s careerism led to the unfortunate bombing of the Sudan pharmaceutical plant.

        But what 21st century president hasn’t made at least a dozen unfortunate decisions involving aerial bombardment of foreign targets?

        1. I thought Janet Reno proved the night watch guard had raped his own daughters and deserved to be bombed in that aspirin factory along with the medicine he tainted with his very presence, or was that another greatest hits moment of the 90s.

          1. A leftwing acquaintance was unable to understand why I was so “passionate” about Waco. Because the intentions were good, and the procedures were followed.

            You know Christopher Nolan really is an astute observer of the human condition.

            Nobody panics when things go “according to plan.” Even if the plan is horrifying! If, tomorrow, I tell the press that, like, a gang banger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it’s all “part of the plan”.

            It’s so true. This guy really didn’t see what was wrong with the Waco Siege, because all the Top Men had planned it and all the paperwork was filled out. It’s perfectly ok to machinegun children in their beds, provided they have a strange religion, and you fill out the forms in triplicate.

    3. You’d think the leftists of today would hate the Clinton years, where they were forced to embrace what they would consider conservative positions.

      1. Credit to Michael Moore.

        Back in the 90s, he was the kind of non-TEAM leftists that adamently disagreed with Clinton’s shift toward the right. It’s one of the reasons he voted for Nader in 2000.

        1. So was Lawrence O’Donnell.

    4. Or as I’ve noted, Newt Gingrich was the best thing that ever happened to Bill Clinton’s presidency. He probably would have been a failed one-termer had Gingrich not taken Congress. It forced him from the leftish policy mix of his first two years to the centrist tirangulator that people remember so fondly. Obama had the same opportunity in 2010, but he opted to forgo it.

      1. Quite the opposite. Newt shot himself in the foot by shutting the government down, and made Clinton look like a genius by simply not being a republican.

        Republicans have succeeded in repeating history this election by nominating crazy tea-party zealots who don’t think rape leads to pregnancy.

        1. Right, because elections won by Republicans are always in spite of the electorate’s deep-seated hatred of Republicans and everything they stand for.

  3. Those numbers only rank him favorable over the nullity of existence.

    Asks the question ‘Clinton or cake’ and the results will be very different.

    1. We’ve had a run on cake.

      1. If you reject cake it only means you reject your youthful heart, and your ideals which cake was just the first of many, the godfather of ideas at it where, in favor of someone who is only marginally better than dying (as opposed to Obama who is worse than death).

        1. the godfather of ideals at it where

          1. Perhaps even as it were?

            1. In my head it read ‘as it were’. That counts for everything, right?

              Plus, see my *note below.

        2. If you don’t like cake by age 20 you don’t have a heart, and if you don’t like pie by age 40 you don’t have a brain.

      2. Dad is great,
        He gave us the chocolate cake.

        1. Clearly, there is racism here somewhere. Why do you insist on “chocolate” and “Dad”?

          Also, that cake, you didn’t bake it.

          1. Take it up with Bill Cosby.

    2. How about Clinton v Boston Cream Pie instead?

      1. I’m not a fan of Boston Cream Pie, just too sweet without anything bitter or salty balancing that taste, so Clinton would get my vote on that one.

        1. Are you…..Monica??

          1. Can’t believe I left myself gaping for one that big. okay, I can.

  4. Clinton was corrupt in a different way than Obama. I don’t see how he was inherently better. Obama has had less opposition.

  5. “Clinton…kept federal spending at an average of 18.2 percent of gross domestic product…”

    It’s a garbage metric. This used to be the rationalization under Reagan as well, the deity of the right who did little to stem the tide. Well, except to mouth platitudes.

    Government spending rose during the Clinton years, as it did for Reagan, as it does for all these celebrity megalomaniacs.
    Clinton watched out for Clinton. Now looking out for Number 1 is fine, even for a “president”. But looking out for Number 1 ain’t so good when it’s on my dime, the coin that buys less and less each decade..

    He was/is a low-life, lying punk. But for the duped fans, don’t worry. He was no worse than the other 45. He was another buddy to the corporate elite, privatizing their gains, while socializing their losses.
    So I’m going to flagwave and cheer for these people? I’ll take a root canal over a rally, seven days a week.

    Further, to view a societal trend in terms of a four-year or eight-year window is absurd.
    View it in terms of generations. And it’s ugly. Whether it’s at the federal level, the state or local, dependency on the state apparatus, the bureaucracy that all but tells you when to crap, is enormously larger than it was yesterday. But not as much as tomorrow.

    But hey, trillions schmillions. The game is about hiding the forest for the trees, about hair-splitting bullshit. The government has succeeded well in that regard. And so here we are.

    1. WIMMINS HEALTH!!!11!onehundredeleventy!!

      1. Clinton accomplised one important thing. He showed the feminists to be the Leftist hacks they are. It was really enjoyable watching them lay down for him and argue sexual harassment is no big deal and rape allegations can be ignored, and having an affair with an intern is just dandy.

        1. Clinton accomplised one important thing. He showed the feminists to be the Leftist hacks they are.

          By that metric, I think you can say Obama occomplished the same thing with the media.

          1. If Obama loses tommorow, watching the media suddenly decide to question the government again will be priceless.

    2. Righteous rant. Bravo.

  6. Come on, I can’t be the only one who missed Clinton? Just his rhetoric (“The era of big government is over.”) indicates that it was a better time for everyone.

    1. If anyone misses Clinton, it’s nothing more than a harsh indictment of Bush and Obama.

  7. Bugfug Shreek hasn’t taken his perennial* election year eve dump on this thread like he has all the other threads today? Wow, what makes Peter so special. Did you rough him up a bit calling him on his shit, buddy (and if you did that’s special buddy)?

    *The first Monday of the month is no pedantry Monday, btw. Yes, we know you are all government employees that do that.

    1. He is on here. Expect him to go full Mary Stack before the day is over.

      1. Ah, fuck, you’re right. I had not cycled back to the start.

        1. Expect a cat 5 troll storm in the next 48 hours. If they win, they are going to go manic. If they lose, they might be even worse. Peak retard may actually arrive.

  8. He gave the best speech of the presidential campaign at this year’s Democratic National Convention.

    Clint disagrees.

    1. The Cosmotarians all hated the Clint speach. I and most everyone I know thought it was brilliant. But the Reason staff all convinced themselves it was a disaster. I can’t really figure out why. The “I can’t tell him to do that himself Mr. President” line was priceless.

      1. Yeah, I thought it was brilliant, too.

        Perhaps if they’d seen some of his films, they’d get the persona, too.

        Clint’s best work was always panned by East Coast establishment critics, too, while the rest of the country ate it up.

  9. Stevie Wonder performs for just 200 people at badly organised Obama rally

    I wonder if anyone told him.


    1. He counted with his nose, blind people can do that.

      1. Except for racist, white blind people, to them black people all smell the same.

  10. Clinton only looks better because the recession ended and combined with a tech boom to grow the economy while a lot of other post-induatial regions stayed largely stagnant. Add this to the Republican control of Congress post 1994 elections and you have a government that didn’t balloon the deficit or pass idiotic health care reform. They still managed to turn the housing market into a house of cards and screw with banking but that collapse came on Bush’s watch so Dems can over look that problem. So while they crucify Bush for a bad economy caused by a previous administration, they’re unable to extend that type of thinking to Obama who has had four himself to try to make things right but has been a total failure. I don’t like either party but the left’s hypocrisy these last four years has been damning.

    1. Good points. Bubba was politically shrewed (except for his dick) and lucky.
      But Dubya had only himself to blame. Not to even mention the dreadful war, he did nothing to really go after the carte blanche, “We’ll cover your ass when you fail” policies, which were exanding under all previous presidents.

      As an aside, anybody catch Clinton turncoat Dick Morris? He’s not even claiming to go out on a right-wing, Michael Barone-esque “limb.” Morris is calling it a Romney landslide, and he touted his credentials and scholarship regarding the tracking science. There’s cojones and then there’s cojones. He’s out of his mind to make that prediction.
      I guess that’s why these morons are on TV. They’re not afraid to advertise their prescience, and then excuse it, chuckle and ignore, when they look like fools.

      1. Morris also predicted the Senate going something like 8 seats up for Republicans in 2010. It’s his version of the Noble Lie.

  11. It’s already been pointed out, but back in the 90’s when we still used budgets to plan and execute federal spending, congress controlled the purse strings. The spending restraint attributed to Clinton was not entirely, or even mostly, of his own design.

    Before we all collectively hit our knees to suck Clinton’s cock for him, we might also want to remember things like federal agents blowing the head off of an innocent woman holding a baby, burning children to death while steamrolling over their compound in tanks, and rushing in with machine guns to save a little boy from his own grandparents and reunite him with his father… in Cuba. Also, it probably wasn’t noticed in Manhattan, but out in flyover country, we also had an “assault weapons” ban, which stands a symbol of the rape of the 2nd Amendment to this day. Lest we forget the anti-war crowd, we also had an undeclared conflict in Kosovo that looks a lot like Libya nowadays. Also, I’m not sure if the anti-drone crowd is against aerial bombing in general or unmanned vehicles for being unsportsmanlike, but if it’s the former, we rained down fire on brown babies back then too – we just had to use planes with pilots in the cockpits back then.

    Clinton-as-libertarian is a narrative that could only be made up in the hindsight of his successors.

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