It’s tough being conservative Democrat.
For some Southern Democrats, this past weekend was like deja vu all over again. In 1992, Bill Clinton ran as a pragmatic, forward-thinking Democrat who promised to turn his back on big government liberalism. But soon after being elected, Clinton began forcing Democrats to take tough votes on tax increases, gun control and NAFTA.
Conservative Democrats in Clinton’s Congress were left with two bad options: 1. they could vote tin a way that reflected their district, or 2. they could help the president by casting votes that were unpopular back home.
Because Clinton was the first Democrat elected to the White House in over a decade, most Democrats blindly went along for the ride. A few years later, most of those Democrats were run out of Congress in the Republican Revolution of 1994..
I always wondered what would have happened if more Democrats in 1993 had forced Clinton to be the moderate leader he became after the GOP was swept into power. I asked the same of Republicans over the past eight years who foolishly refused to stand up to George W. Bush.
Would a defiant Democrat or Republican who crossed their own party’s president been in better shape to weather a political storm?
And today, do Democrats gain anything politically today undercutting Barack Obama on health care reform?
It’s hard to say but I do know that after my congressman voted for the Clinton tax increases, I drove him from the race by hammering away on those votes every day.
The Democratic candidate who replaced him immediately began to try and put space between himself and Clinton. But every time he did, he seemed to weaken himself even more. My opponent angered his base without convincing voters he would stand up to Clinton one elected.
Realizing that running against his own president was a high wire act of the first order, I used my debate time pounding away at his ambivalent relationship with the president.
“Would you have voted for Clinton’s gun control bill or not?”
Would you really have just said no to Bill Clinton’s tax increases?”
After insisting that he would have voted against just about every major piece of legislation Bill Clinton proposed in his first two years, I would finish each debate by asking one question.
“Did you even vote for Bill Clinton two years ago?”
After stammering for a few minutes, he would mutter the words “uh huh” and then have to answer a series of additional questions that tied my poor Democratic opponent to a president who was out of step with the voters of my district.
I learned on that first campaign that running away from your own party’s president pleases no one.
I don’t know how President Obama’s health care battle will resol but I do know this. There are dozens of scared Democrats wondering tonight whether their congressional careers have been shortened by yet another president whose policies were far more liberal than promised.
Given the current political landscape, these Democrats have every reason to be concerned.