In 1994, Republicans despised Bill Clinton, and they were excoriated in the media as “Clinton haters” or “Clinton crazies.” Brian Beutler at the New Republic described them as having “spent the 1990s turning every gnat fart in the Clinton White House into a six-part inquiry.” They were mocked for letting their irrational loathing of all things Clinton get in the way of doing their jobs.
But the thing that historical revisionists overlook is just how substantive the Clinton crazies were, ideologically speaking. Newt Gingrich didn’t become the first Republican Speaker of the House in 40 years simply by foaming at the mouth and hurling obscenities at the White House every chance he got.
90’s Republicans hated Clinton, but they had a platform
Quite the opposite, in fact – he crafted a coherent, popular agenda in the form of the “Contract with America” that nationalized the midterm congressional elections in a way that hadn’t been done in living memory. He proposed a series of specific items he wanted enacted into law, promising that if voters were to entrust the GOP with control of Congress, they would deliver.
And deliver they did. Almost every item of the Contract was sent to the president’s desk, and a great deal of it was actually signed. Bill Clinton had vetoed welfare reform twice, but after his shellacking in the ’94 midterms, he signed the very same bill into law over the objections of his own party and a hysterical media, who insisted that the bill would lead to millions of people dying in the streets.
In retrospect, Clinton’s welfare reform is now lauded as his signature accomplishment, and those who excoriated him are now the ones who laud his centrism and moderation. The reality is that the centrism and moderation came from Congress, not the White House, and while Clinton got the credit, the 1990s were largely Newt Gingrich’s America.
Today’s Democrats loathe Trump… and that’s all
Compare and contrast that with our present circumstance, where the party out of power is beside itself in its hatred of a relatively unpopular president. Today, as opposed to the 90s, the media is amplifying the Democrats’ discontent in a way that would have been unheard of twenty-four years ago. It’s a perfect opportunity for Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to steal a page out of Gingrich’s playbook and seize the moment to capture the public’s imagination.
So what is the Democratic agenda? So far, it’s three words: “I hate Trump.”
The petulance of that slogan was on full display during the State of the Union, where Pelosi looked she was sucking on a lemon every time Trump said anything about reaching across the aisle. It was visible in the Democratic squirming whenever blatant pro-Americanism made its way into the chamber. It’s quite clear they can’t stand this guy, and it’s equally clear they have nothing to offer by way of alternatives.
You’d think they’d have learned the basic lesson of Hillary’s campaign, namely that just not being Donald Trump isn’t enough to win elections. As Trump’s popularity continues to rise in correlation with a healthy economy, Democrats would do well to write their own Contract with America that has more than three words in it.
(Image via screenshot of Nancy Pelosi during President Trump’s first State of the Union address)