As the political pendulum is looking to swing away from the Republicans, it’s interesting to examine previous movements to and from the respective parties.
The Democrats took power in 1993 with a young and obviously talented Bill Clinton succeeding George H.W. Bush, who seemingly had played out the string on the shift to conservative government Ronald Reagan launched in 1980. Clinton took office as a plurality president, but with Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate seemingly primed for action.
His first year did not go well. His first budget — with a tax increase for top-bracket earners and benefits for lower-income families — barely survived in Congress. He found himself snarled in unproductive fights over gays in the military and other side issues, and in the fall, his big initiatives — reorganization of government, approval of the North American Free Trade Agreement and passage of health care reform — were piling up in Congress.
By the spring of his second year, the most politically important of those priorities — the overhaul of the health care delivery system — was hopelessly mired in committee, unable to muster enough support even to bring it to a floor vote in the House or Senate. The problem that Clinton had recognized as most disturbing for families, for business and for all levels of government was left to fester, unsolved.
So, the pendulum swung …
Fast-forward now to 2005, five years after the voters (with a nudge from the Supreme Court) entrusted Republicans with complete control of the elected branches of the federal government. What do they have to show for it?
Well, as promised, taxes have been cut, more for the wealthy than for others, but that promise has been kept. The overall economy has grown, but — in part because of tax policy — the gap between the rich and the rest has increased. The nation, caught unawares, has suffered a grievous homeland attack, and the chief instigator of that Sept. 11 savagery remains at large. We have invaded two countries seeking out terrorists — and years later, violence continues to cost the lives of Americans trying to pacify both Iraq and Afghanistan.
President Bush’s chief domestic initiative — reform of the Social Security system — suffered the same fate as Clinton’s health care effort: so little agreement within his own party that he was never even able to bring it to a vote.
Now that we’re looking at swinging away (rather than toward) the opposite party in office, what’s going to be different this time around?