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Robert Reich: How Odd that Mitt’s Smitten With Clinton

May 21, 2012

Mitt Romney has spoken highly of the Clinton administration. Is it pandering, or could he really mean it?


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Image from Flickr via cpence

By Robert Reich
By arrangement with Robert Reich

Mitt Romney is full of praise for Bill Clinton even as he heaps scorn on Obama.

“Almost a generation ago, Bill Clinton announced that the era of big government was over,” says Romney. “Clinton was signaling to his own party that Democrats should no longer try to govern by proposing a new program for every problem.” By contrast, President Obama has “tucked away the Clinton doctrine in his large drawer of discarded ideas.”

This is politics at its stupidest. Polls show Bill Clinton with higher favorability ratings than Obama, so Romney does what any vacuous opportunist politician does—tries to associate himself with someone more popular, and maybe bring along some of those white males who voted for Clinton in ‘92 and ‘96.

But it won’t work. It might even backfire.

I was in Bill Clinton’s cabinet. I was in charge of Clinton’s economic transition team even before he became President. I’ve known Bill Clinton since he was twenty-two years old.

Romney doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

The Obama administration has been far friendlier to business than Bill Clinton ever dreamed of.

Clinton doctrine? As president, Bill Clinton raised taxes. Government receipts as a percent of gross domestic product rose from 17.5 percent in 1992, when Clinton was elected, to 20.6 percent in 2000, when he left office. Supply-siders screamed. They predicted the end of civilization as we know it.

In 2011, President Obama’s third full year in office, government receipts were down to just 15.5 percent of GDP.

Does Romney really prefer Clinton’s approach?

Under Bill Clinton, the top income tax rate was 39.6 percent. It’s now 35 percent, courtesy of George W. Bush. Obama wants to return to the 39.6 percent rate, but he doesn’t want to restore the Clinton rates on the middle class. Obama wants a lower rate on the middle class than the rate under Clinton.

(Romney doesn’t even mention George W. Bush, by the way. He now refers to him as “Obama’s predecessor.”)

So why, exactly, does Romney prefer Clinton over Obama?

The Obama administration has been far friendlier to business than Bill Clinton ever dreamed of. Obama bailed out Wall Street, no strings attached. He bailed out General Motors and Chrysler. His healthcare law creates giant benefits for Big Pharma and big insurance. By contrast, business hated Clinton’s major initiatives, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Think about the modesty of Obama’s healthcare plan (which was enacted) relative to Bill Clinton’s immodest one (which wasn’t, due largely to the opposition of Big Pharma, big insurance, and the AMA). Obama’s plan bears far more resemblance to Romneycare in Massachusetts than to Bill Clinton’s failed plan.

During the first three years of Bill Clinton’s administration the government invested far more in education, infrastructure, basic R&D, and the Earned Income Tax Credit (a wage subsidy for the poor) than has the Obama administration to date.

So Romney really prefers Clinton to Obama?

In his absurd attempt to drive a wedge between Obama and Clinton, Romney has even gone so far as to suggest Obama has a “personal beef” with the Clintons.

Doesn’t Romney know the Obama White House is brimming with veterans of the Clinton Administration–from Gene Sperling (head of the National Economic Council) to Alan Kreuger (chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors), to Hillary Clinton herself?

Doesn’t he know Bill Clinton is already campaigning hard for Obama?

And that almost everyone who served with Bill Clinton is dead set against almost everything Mitt Romney stands for?

Oh, one more thing. Romney has done whatever he can to appeal to right-wing evangelical Christians, from opposing same-sex marriage to decrying abortion. Perhaps Romney doesn’t remember Bill Clinton was impeached for lying under oath to cover up an affair with an intern?

Robert B. Reich, one of the nation’s leading experts on work and the economy, is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton.

Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written thirteen books, including his latest best-seller, Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future; The Work of Nations: Preparing Ourselves for 21st Century Capitalism which has been translated into 22 languages; and his newest, an e-book, Beyond Outrage. His syndicated columns, television appearances, and public radio commentaries reach millions of people each week. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, and Chairman of the citizen’s group Common Cause. His widely-read blog can be found at www.robertreich.org.

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