Who's The Better Politician: W. or Bill Clinton?
The implications of Tuesday's elections are starting to sink in. Nationally, the Republicans proved to have stunning strength, although Democrats seem to have done pretty well at the state level in various regions. Clearly, the President had coattails, and they will help him govern and implement his agenda this year.
This leads me to conclude that George W. Bush is a tremendous politician. I base that on two things: (1) his ability to get people from his team into office, and (2) the ability to get his agenda or policy items passed into law.
Bush entered office in 2000 with a 50/50 Senate and a House that had been bleeding Republicans. Yet he was able to pass his signature policies in the first several months like a tax-cut plan and No Child Left Behind. Even after Jim Jeffords switched parties, Bush was able to win Congressional approval for his plans, including the vote giving him authority to take care of Saddam Hussein (passed, if you recall, when Tom Daschle was Senate Majority Leader.) He also got a 15-0 resolution from an unwilling (if not downright hostile) U.N. Security Council.
He picked up Congressional seats and helped Republicans win back the Senate in 2002, an unprecedented move. He then implemented another bold round of tax cuts, conducted a war according to his terms, and passed a Medicare prescription drug benefit. And now he's been re-elected to another terms, bringing with him a House majority of about 30 seats and a 55-44 Senate majority.
So, in four years, this man has set the terms of the debate, won passage for his plans against determined opponents, and gotten more of his team into power. This is the mark of a masterful politician.
Bill Clinton, on the other hand, lost Congress, lost governorships, and lost state legislatures. His home state even abandoned his vice president in 2000. Clinton had few signature accomplishments. The 1993 tax plan was his but little else; even the vaunted welfare reform was largely the Republican plan. The interventions in the Balkans were waged largely without either general Congressional or international approval. A number of his proposals were issued by executive order because he couldn't get them through the legislative body. In terms of campaigning for candidates after his exit from office, his track record is spotty at best. The man simply wasn't a very successful politician.
Now, Bill Clinton has the greatest political skills of his generation, but he has made little impact with those skills. His skills were sufficient to keep his approval ratings high, even in the midst of impeachment, but they were inadequate to actually do anything.
In contract, Bush's political skills are widely mocked, causing some to even think he's not that bright. His approval rating dropped thirty points over two years. And yet look at what he's accomplished. Regardless of what one thinks of the merits of his proposals, what he says he'll get done, he gets done.
Now we get to watch him for four more years. I wonder if people will start to appreciate how good he is at his job before it's all said and done.