Presentation on theme: "Bill Clinton and the Culture Wars. Post-Reagan America: The Issues Post-Cold War: the “end of ideology”? “New” economy: protectionism or globalisation?"— Presentation transcript:
Bill Clinton and the Culture Wars
Post-Reagan America: The Issues Post-Cold War: the “end of ideology”? “New” economy: protectionism or globalisation? Party system: a new Republican majority?
Patrick J. Buchanan, GOP national convention, 1992 There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself… The agenda Clinton & Clinton would impose on America--abortion on demand, a litmus test for the Supreme Court, homosexual rights, discrimination against religious schools, women in combat--that's change, all right. But it is not the kind of change… we can tolerate in a nation that we still call God's country.
The “Culture War” Orthodox v progressive believers: authority of scripture Correlated with urban v rural America; “red states” v “blue states” Role in Republican strategy 1990s issues: gays in military, gay marriage, abortion, sex education, school prayer… adultery
The “New Democrats”: A new “southern strategy” Generational change Moderate on cultural/social issues Economic appeal to middle class Agenda: crime, welfare, free trade
Clinton and the Culture War Clinton came to symbolise counterculture: drugs, “draft-dodging”, marital infidelities… BUT : Southern Baptist upbringing, appeal to multiple religious constituencies In Arkansas politics: had learned to appeal to conservative Democrats A “third way”: e.g. Abortion should be “safe, legal…. and rare”
“It’s the economy, stupid” v. the solidification of the religious / partisan alignment in American politics & society
“People out here don’t care about the idle rhetoric of ‘left’ and ‘right’ and ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ and all the other words that have made our politics a substitute for action.” Bill Clinton, 1991
The 1988 Election
The 1992 Election
“there is nothing wrong with America that cannot be put right with what is right with America”
But what did “New Democrat” mean? “Culture Wars” issues: gays in military, “partial-birth” abortion, gun control: Clinton on “liberal” side? “Liberal” on fiscal issues?: lack of interest in balanced budgets, raised taxes “Big government”?: universal health insurance proposals …lost “moderate” image without shoring up liberal base
1994 “Republican Revolution”
Oklahoma City Bomb, April 19, killed; 800 injured
The politics of “triangulation” “Common ground” speeches on key issues: abortion, capital punishment, gun control, “V-chips” (but vetoed “partial birth” abortion bill) 1996: “the era of big government is over” (but supported raising minimum wage) Signed 1996 welfare cuts (or “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act”)
The politics of “triangulation” Key issue: budget deficits. Clinton accepted Gingrich’s goal of balancing budget, but not means of getting there: battle over protecting medicare and social security Government shut-down Jan-Feb 1996
“A vast right-wing conspiracy”?
Impeachment An unlikely alliance: Cultural conservatism plus licentious media Importance of public opinion Constitutional legacy? Reinforced kulturkampf Public disillusionment with politics Contributed to decline of presidential prestige?
Clinton’s Agenda Accepted the reality of globalisation: NAFTA, normalising trade with China Intervention in Kosovo, military strikes against Iraq Failed to get Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty ratified by Senate
Clinton and the Party System Republican ascendancy? Critical election theory: 1968? 1980? 1994? Or the basis for a new post-Reagan Democratic majority? 1968 onwards: an era of divided government, with 1994 signifying tilt to GOP? Clinton as a “preemptive president” (Stephen Skowronek): “third way” politics, “triangulation”
Clinton’s Legacy for the Democratic Party KEY QUESTIONS: 1.Responsibility for 1994 GOP gains? 2.Did “triangulation” serve only his interest rather than Dems? 3.Distanced Dems from old liberalism? 4.Failed to convince party over foreign trade policy
The 1990s An interlude between Cold War and “War on Terror” Continued rise in inequality Economic growth, low unemployment, interest rates AND inflation Clinton: a trimmer who ducked the big questions and wasted an opportunity to revive liberalism, OR a gifted politician who tacked an effective middle way between liberals and the dominant conservatives?
Culture Wars…. or was it the economy, stupid, after all?