It was a stunning spectacle yesterday when former President Clinton took the podium from President Obama in the White House briefing room to help shove the Obama-GOP tax deal down the throats of Democratic activists and Congress members.
It was a fitting spectacle too (carried live on CNN) – since Bill Clinton paved the way in teaching how a Democratic president can win battles through the votes NOT of his own party but of the Republicans.
Remember NAFTA, the trade deal loved by big business and Republicans – and opposed by Democratic constituencies like unions, environmentalists and consumer advocates? President Clinton passed NAFTA in 1993 with the votes of nearly 80 percent of GOP senators and almost 70 percent of House Republicans. Meanwhile, House Democrats opposed NAFTA by a ratio of more than 3 to 2.
More than a year ago, I warned that Obama would follow Clinton’s lead in winning some of his biggest fights by allying with the GOP against his own base.
Following much White House lecturing and name-calling (“the professional left,” “f**king retarded”) aimed at the activists who put him in the Oval Office, Obama shafted his base this week and broke another promise, this time on tax breaks for the rich.
Look for another Obama/GOP alliance if Democrats in Congress find their voices over Obama’s bloody, costly, unwinnable folly in Afghanistan.
These kinds of deals can become habit forming. After NAFTA, Clinton went on to other bipartisan deals – cutting welfare for the poor while extending welfare to the media conglomerates in 1996, and concluding his tenure with deregulatory giveaways to the investment banks that led directly to the financial meltdown of 2008.
And Obama seems to have less backbone and fewer firm principles than even Bill Clinton – even more prone to a Stockholm Syndrome-like tendency to cozy up to his Republican batterers.
So it was quite a scene yesterday, with voices on CNN almost giddy that the gray ghost of pro-corporate “bipartisan compromise” was back at the White House.
Meanwhile, independent Bernie Sanders was electrifying much of the country by railing for eight and a half hours in the Senate against the wealthy getting billions in tax breaks while deficit-hawks take aim at Social Security and other vital programs.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only American fantasizing that one day a fighting independent like Bernie would occupy the White House.
Instead, with Obama, we seem to be getting the best Republican president since … well … since Clinton.