That Old Clinton Magic

Josh Marshall puts his finger on what’s so odd about the new idea that Bill Clinton is some kind of political svengali who can/could help Democrats avoid their current political problems with his bold acts of strategic genius:

But let’s not be born yesterday. Anyone over 35 has a good adult memory of the 1994 midterm. That’s when Stan Greenberg was telling congressional candidates to run away from President Clinton, just two years after Stan helped engineer his election. Clinton was considered toxic politically in broad swathes of the country — swathes that anyone around then has to remember look an awful lot like the swathes where President Obama is toxic today. And even though the country was then in a comparatively mild economic funk rather than a full blown catastrophic and persistent recession, for all his political skills President Clinton couldn’t do anything the stem the tide. He was impotent, diminished, helpless, crushed and all the rest.

Conversely, Bill Clinton cruised to re-election and survived a major sex scandal thanks to the fact that US economic performance got very strong. I think it’s a mistake to write that all off to “good luck” or deny that real political skills were involved, but the skills at hand had to do with keeping himself, his administration, and his party focused on delivering the goods even as they were buffeted by all kinds of nonsense. Politics matters, a lot, but the reason it matters is that holding a political coalition together matters for policy and policy outcomes matter in people’s lives. But popularity as such stems from improved quality of life, not message.