Monday, Apr. 26, 2004

The Clintons

We have spent a dozen years now puzzling about, arguing about and gossiping about the state of their union. But one thing about the most intriguing couple in the U.S. is beyond dispute: they have made the Democratic Party a very different sort of political institution.

Bill Clinton wasn't joking when he made that two-for-the-price-of-one promise during the 1992 campaign. Everyone who knew them knew that his New Democrat philosophy had been the product of a two — decade dialogue that Bill and Hillary Clinton called "the conversation," which stressed personal responsibility and the sort of change that couldn't be labeled liberal or conservative. Their ideas helped fuel a continuing revolution in center — left political parties around the world.

Once in Washington, they almost lost their way. They tried to take the traditional route on health care, coming up with the kind of Big Government solution you would expect from Old Democrats. But they saved his presidency by balancing the budget, getting tougher on criminals and ending welfare as we knew it. Today, with the exception of free trade (of which they are staunch advocates), there is almost no argument among Democrats on the principles of the Clintons. In Europe the doctrine came to be called the Third Way and acted as a model for Britain's Tony Blair and Germany's Gerhard Schröder. When George W. Bush ran for the presidency in 2000, his "compassionate conservatism" had more than a faint ring of Clintonism.

Which is why, after all the scandal and controversy, the Clintons remain the brightest stars in the Democratic galaxy. Her memoirs were a blockbuster; his are certain to be. And with every move comes a new round of speculation. Are they burnishing a legacy or laying the groundwork for a second Clinton presidency? As long as we have the Clintons, they will keep us talking—and guessing.

From the Archive
The Humanity of Hillary: As her book proves, Clinton is at her best when she is least guarded about herself