The specific “New Democrat” rhetoric and policies, including welfare reform and fiscal discipline, that infused Clinton’s presidential campaigns and administration were reflections of the 1990s — aimed at political problems that were confronting Democrats, and public policy problems confronting the country, as defined by large blocs of voters in both parties. These are a primary source of disdain toward Clinton from an ascendant left. It’s true that some of Clinton’s remedies from those years are hardly relevant to new political imperatives and new policy problems in 2020.
But some of Clinton’s approach to politics and governing is relevant — and is woefully absent from contemporary politics. What’s more, it is a mistake to attribute Clinton’s success to some kind of political mystique. He did not prevail in two elections and an impeachment battle merely by being a silver-haired, silver-tongued charmer.
Clinton’s brand of politics, by my lights, had five identifiable, non-mystical signatures that could and should be emulated by a new generation of Democrats (or for that matter by post-Trump Republicans). These should hold merit even among people who believe Clinton should be canceled for his personal failings or who deplore his policy record.