Bill Clinton, Republican role model

Obama’s reaction to 2010 was very different from Clinton’s response to 1994 for several reasons. Unlike in ’94, the Democrats narrowly held onto the Senate. This enabled them to kill Republican legislation without forcing the president into every confrontation. But differences between the two men are more important than their different circumstances.

Clinton came from a relatively conservative state and had been rebuked by the electorate earlier in his career for moving too far to the left. He had been forced to tack to the center before. Obama came from a liberal state and had no such experience. What Clinton did to appeal to moderates through policy, Obama has generally tried to do with his personality and rhetoric.

While Obama is a defender of returning the country to Clinton-era tax rates and Clinton appears in a television ad praising Obama’s economic plans, the plain fact is the two men have operated under different ideas of how to grow the economy. Obama isn’t a Kenyan, but he’s certainly a Keynesian. Clinton, meanwhile, believed in stimulating growth through lower interest rates brought about by smaller deficits—a posture that gave him more room to negotiate with Republicans.

Finally, the two have different standards of success.