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1992 Redux?

Back in 1992, the two major English-speaking democracies (the United Kingdom and the United States) held elections which, while they went different ways, the more conservative party holding on in the UK while being voted out here, offered a similar lesson — that when times are tough, people are only willing to change course when they have confidence in the opposing party. In both nations, the opposition party led in polls in the immediate run-up to the general election.

While Neil Kinnock’s Labour Party picked up seats that year, substantially reducing the Conservative majority in Parliament, voters deciding at the last minute opted for the incumbent party, not confident that the Kinnock, from Labour’s left wing, could pull the UK out of its then-lingering recession. Thus, even in a recession, British voters preferred the mundane Major and his incumbent Conservatives to his more colorful challenger.

In our country, however, also suffering under a recession, Bill Clinton presented himself as “New Democrat.” And while he was critical of then-President George H.W. Bush’s policies, he, unlike the Democrats of today, did not oppose everything a President Bush proposed. He was mealy-mouthed on the First Gulf War, eventually coming out in favor and agreed with the incumbent on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). So well did he put forward his in that campaign that I can still remember it fourteen years later. That Democrat promised a middle-class tax cut and to “end welfare as we know it.”

In short, Clinton won in 1992, not merely because things were not as good as they had been in the 1980s, but because he put forward a more moderate agenda than had previous Democratic nominees. More importantly, he used his charm to present his platform in a positive manner. Unlike his Republican opponent that year, he had learned from Ronald Reagan and knew to be optimistic, playing to people’s hopes.

Without that positive, moderate message, Clinton would likely have suffered a similar fate similar to that of his British counterpart. People want something to vote for. They need to have confidence that if they “vote the bums out,” they’re going to get someone who will not make the same mistakes those bums did. Unless things are really, really bad, people’ll just pinch their noses and vote “the bums” back in. As they did in Britain in 1992.

Watching the Democrats finding themselves flat-footed with the good news this past week, we realize ever more clearly how they’ve been banking on things being really, really bad to help them take control of both houses of Congress this fall. Unlike the only Democrat since FDR to win two terms as President, today’s Democrats aren’t offering much of an agenda for America. Commenting on their latest plan, Peggy, showing why she has the qualities of a goddess of wisdom, puts it:

This week Democratic members of Congress and other elected officials unveil their “New Direction for America,” the party’s declaration of its reason for being. It said it stands firmly and unequivocally, without fear or favor, unwaveringly and with grit for . . . reducing the cost of student loans. And making prescription drugs less expensive. And raising the minimum wage. Etc.

This is not a philosophy but a way–an inadequate way, but a way–of hiding the fact that you don’t have a philosophy.

Without a philosophy, the Democrats are going to have a hard time convincing wary voters that they’re ready for power.

Just as Francine Busby ran a point ahead of John Kerry’s 2004 showing in her district in last week’s special election, so did Neil Kinnock’s Labour party run ahead of its showing in the 1987 election. But, despite the recession that year, it was not enough for Labour to return to power.

Although things are not going as well as we Republicans would like (which is, to some degree, of our elected officials’ own doing), the opposition party has presented itself as a force of obstruction, rather than a source of ideas for progress. Come this autumn, wary voters may well look at the Dean-Pelosi-Reid Democrats as our good friends “across the pond” saw Neil Kinnock’s Labour Party and will keep the more conservative party in power, albeit with a reduced majority.

-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com

UPDATE: Captain Ed’s read of the latest CNN poll on party preference in congressional voting parallels the point I raise above, holding that the “results appear to benefit incumbents more than anyone else. The voters in individual districts may well stick with what they have rather than change horses if the trends remain.” Read the whole thing!

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10 Comments

  1. oh yeah. NAFTA and the Gulf war. what great cans of worms they opened up: the Iraq war and massive illegal immigration, respectively. Clinton ended welfare as we know it because democrats are better economists than republicans and know how to balance budgets. They govern better in general, just don’t campaign as well. If you read Barry Goldwater’s “Conscience of a Conservative” you’ll see more Howard Dean than george Bush believe me

    Comment by lester — June 16, 2006 @ 5:51 pm - June 16, 2006

  2. Clinton won both his elections because Ross Perot split the Republican/Conservative vote. There is no other reason. Clinton was the only president in the last century that didn’t get a majority EITHER time. He won with a plurality.

    Comment by Voicemale — June 16, 2006 @ 9:15 pm - June 16, 2006

  3. great rewrite of history Lester, typical liberal. Clinton reluctantly signed the bill and said “we’ll fix it later”, he did it out of political pressure and never “fixed it later”. You sign something and say “We’ll fix it later”, you can’t come back later and act like it was your idea! Oh yeah it worked and you a lib, sure you can

    And to blame massive illegal immigration on Bush as if a Democratic Pres would have stopped is like saying John Kerry would have doubled the troop strength in Iraq. All the protests against the tightening of immigration laws have come from liberal democrats.

    You want to brag on Liberal policies, make sure thats waht they are

    Comment by greenmiler — June 16, 2006 @ 11:41 pm - June 16, 2006

  4. Greenmiler, recall that in 1992, Clinton made himself palatable to moderates by saying he’d “end welfare as we know it” — a line from his 1992 speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president.

    And Voicemale, Clinton wasn’t the only president in the last century not to get a majority either time, he shares that distinction with another Democrat — Woodrow Wilson.

    Yes, despite the brilliance of his campaigns in 1992, he never mustered a majority.

    Comment by GayPatriotWest — June 17, 2006 @ 2:10 am - June 17, 2006

  5. we realize ever more clearly how they’ve been banking on things being really, really bad to help them take control of both houses of Congress this fall.

    Correction. THe libs have been FABRICATING those things whiche are “really, really bad to help them take control of both houses”. If they can’t fabricate it, they’ll spin it.
    You know as well as the rest of us that what’s good for America is bad for them. They have to create doom & gloom and do their damndest, even if it means destroying America, to get their power back.

    Greenmiler, recall that in 1992, Clinton made himself palatable to moderates by saying he’d “end welfare as we know it” — a line from his 1992 speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president.

    Aye, but he didn’t do a damn thing about it until Republicans handed it to him. That was par for the course for Clinton. He didn’t do a damned thing about anything until he was forced to do so and in a lot of cases, he didn’t give a shit even then.

    Libs will gladly screw you over to retain their birth-right of power and then turn around and bite the pillow for anybody else who wants a piece. Nah. Clinton was a bigger whore than Lewinski.

    Comment by ThatGayConservative — June 17, 2006 @ 6:29 am - June 17, 2006

  6. Yes, but Clinton’s campaign was nothing but rhetoric. The only reason we got welfare reform, for example, was because the Gingrich Congress passed it, and over Clinton’s veto (after he promised to reform welfare in his campaign). He campaigned as a moderate, and the minute he was elected, turned hard left.

    Comment by rightwingprof — June 17, 2006 @ 9:59 am - June 17, 2006

  7. Exactly, rightwingprof in #6, but remember, this post is about the campaign of 1992, not his Administration.

    If Democrats like Clinton, figure out how to run to the center in ’06, then veer to the left in the unfortunate event that they take control of either house, it could help make ’08 a Republican year.

    Comment by GayPatriotWest — June 17, 2006 @ 1:41 pm - June 17, 2006

  8. rightwingprof- preposterous. as another poster pointed out Cliton had campaigned on reforming welfare and passed the deficit reduction act in 93. Also, their are currently MORE republicans in the legistlature than there were in 94 and we have a bigger debt and more spending. not only is it a mojority, but it includes many of the same people as the much vaunted “contract with america” group. plain to see who was keeping who in check.

    and if Gingrich was so good how come he was DRIVEN OUT by his own party!!!

    Comment by lester — June 17, 2006 @ 3:13 pm - June 17, 2006

  9. No, we do not have a bigger debt. Debt is meaningful only as a percentage of the GNP, and we have a SMALLER debt.

    Democrats expect their “leaders” to be liars. That’s why Democrats were aghast when practically the day after the 2004 election, Bush started working on the things he promised to do in his campaign — and started whining about “unifying” and “compromising” — because the concept of a President actually trying to do what he promised is utterly lost on liberals.

    Comment by rightwingprof — June 18, 2006 @ 1:45 pm - June 18, 2006

  10. #9 rightwingprof — June 18, 2006 @ 1:45 pm – June 18, 2006

    No, we do not have a bigger debt. Debt is meaningful only as a percentage of the GNP, and we have a SMALLER debt.

    I’m sure that you can provide a citation to support that assertion.

    I do not have the slightest idea whether or not the assertion is true. Quite frankly, since the federal government–unlike most state and local governments and most of private industry–does not operate using a “capital budget” (in which capital expenditures are capitalized and then amortized), it is probably next to impossible to properly analyze the federal budget.

    Comment by raj — June 19, 2006 @ 7:01 am - June 19, 2006

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