Bill Clinton really is a sign of how far to the right American institutions have lurched in recent decades. While pilloried as a "socialist," Clinton, as president, was actually more conservative, from a policy standpoint, than George Bush Sr., his Republican predecessor, and, looking at him generically, his governance would have been regarded by any neutral observer as mainstream conservative Republican right up until he came into office.
There's an unfortunate "conventional wisdom" about Clinton though. It began during his administration. The crux of it is that Clinton ran for office as a DLC "New Democrat"--a conservative--then took a hard turn to the left, once elected. This led to a public rejection of his--and thus of liberal--rule, a rejection most prominently expressed by the Republican seizure of congress in 1994. Chastened by this, goes the "conventional wisdom," Clinton became much more like the conservative he'd run as.
If one had a quarter for every time some variation on this theme had played out in the corporate press over the years, one would be very rich indeed. It's biggest flaw is that it isn't true. Not a word of it. The problem it represents--and the reason I'm addressing it here today--is that this "conventional wisdom" is now being used against Barack Obama as an argument against his adopting any overly liberal ways.
Obama doesn't seem to need pounded by this in order to avoid acting on any liberal instincts he may have; his choices for top positions in his administration continue to be a carnival of beasts. Still, there was the San Francisco Chronicle a few days ago saying Obama "must tack toward the political mainstream to avoid miscalculations made by President Bill Clinton, who veered left and fired up the 1994 Republican backlash."
This has already drawn an appropriate reply from columnist Norman Solomon.