Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) spoke recently at a National Journal event and heaped unexpected praise on a former president.
"I remember when Bill Clinton -- his first two years were not very dramatic. But when the Republicans took over both houses, the House and the Senate, President Clinton was intelligent enough to say, 'Well I better work with them.' [It disconcerted] a lot of Democrats and in that process balanced the budget three years in a row, passed welfare reform."President Clinton now, if it hadn't been for some other difficulties, would go down in history as a pretty darn fine president. I think he should anyway, because he was willing to work on these problems and to solve them."
Robert Schlesinger, marveling at Hatch's "Clinton Nostalgia Syndrome," noted that the Utah Republican raised these observations as part of a larger argument: if Republicans controlled both the House and Senate, it would "help President Obama" by forcing him to "work with" GOP lawmakers and accept more far-right policy proposals.
That's right, "help."
There are a few interesting angles this. For example, Hatch now believes Clinton was a "pretty darn fine president," but when Clinton was actually in office, Hatch called Clinton a "jerk" and voted -- twice -- to remove him from office as part of the impeachment proceedings.
It makes me wonder about the future. In 15 years, when Republicans have moved on to hating someone new, will a whole lot of them look back on contemporary events and say, "You know, maybe that Obama character wasn't so bad"?
But given the context, what seems especially amazing to me is that Hatch sincerely seems to believe Clinton was "willing to work" with Republicans, but somehow Obama is not.
Reality suggests otherwise.
I honestly wonder where GOP lawmakers come up with stuff like this. I was pretty politically engaged in the 1990s -- full disclosure: I was an intern in the Clinton White House in 1995 while in grad school -- and I honestly don't recall a single moment in which congressional Republicans celebrated the then-president's "willingness to work" with the GOP. Indeed, they were consumed at the time with a seemingly endless amount of contempt for the Democrat who dared to win two elections.
More recently, however, Obama has brought Republicans into his cabinet and administration. He's embraced Republican ideas as his own. He's tried schmoozing Republicans outside of their official duties. He's adopted policy measure his Democratic base hates, but which he'll nevertheless tolerate in the hopes of bipartisan cooperation. He's tried meeting Republicans more than half-way on everything from health care to immigration, deficit reduction to energy.
In response, GOP officials have refused to compromise, and instead launched a series of government-shutdown threats and debt-ceiling crises.
Perhaps the best way to put this is to turn the question around on Hatch. Can the Utah Republican identify a legislative area in which Obama hasn't been willing to work with conservatives? Are there any concessions Hatch is willing to propose in the name of bipartisan cooperation with the Democratic White House?