from Phil Gram in The Wall Street Journal,How Obama Transformed America


Americans have always found progressivism appealing in the abstract, but they have revolted when they saw the details. President Clinton’s very progressive agenda—to nationalize health care and use private pensions to promote social goals—was hardly controversial during the 1992 election. But once the debate turned to the details, Americans quickly understood that his health-care plan would take away their freedom. Even Mr. Clinton’s most reliable allies, the labor unions, rebelled when they understood that under his pension plan their pensions would serve “social goals” instead of maximizing their retirement benefits.

In its major legislative successes, the Obama administration routinely proposed not program details but simply the structure that would be used to determine program details in the future. Unlike the Clinton administration’s ill-fated HillaryCare, which contained a detailed plan to control costs through Regional Healthcare Purchasing Cooperatives and strictly enforced penalties, ObamaCare established an independent payment advisory board to deal with rising costs. The 2009 stimulus package was unencumbered by a projects list like the one provided by the Clinton administration, which doomed the 1993 Clinton stimulus with ice-skating warming huts in Connecticut and alpine slides in Puerto Rico.

Voters used the first off-year election of the Obama presidency to express the same disapproval that they had expressed in the Clinton presidency. Democrats lost 54 House and eight Senate seats in 1994, and 63 House and six Senate seats in 2010.

Mr. Clinton reacted to the congressional defeat by “triangulating” to ultimately support a bipartisan budget and tax compromise that fostered broad-based prosperity and earned for him the distinction of being one of the most successful modern presidents. Mr. Obama never wavered. When the recovery continued to disappoint for six long years he never changed course. Mr. Clinton sacrificed his political agenda for the good of the country. Mr. Obama sacrificed the good of the country for his political agenda.

Most important, the American people, who came to embrace the Roosevelt and Reagan transformations, have yet to buy into the Obama transformation. For all of these reasons it appears that the Obama legacy rests on a foundation of sand.