SIDDIQUI: How Bill Clinton pushed Republicans to the far right

December 10, 2016

We have the extreme right controlling the White House, Senate and House at the federal level and GOP deeply entrenched across state capitols. The question: How did we get here.

I largely blame Bill Clinton for the extreme right turn our nations politics has taken, for the tea party and for the defeat of Hillary Clinton. Let me explain.

During his first term, Bill Clinton had a series of missteps, including the failure of Hillary Clinton to work out a deal with the GOP that would essentially be what we now call Obamacare. A disastrous mid-term election led President Clinton to hire GOP strategist (and Clinton friend) Dick Morris to help him out.

Morris urged Clinton to move towards “triangulation.” Triangulation sought to co-opt Republican ideas and rhetoric. Morris was the campaign manager of Clinton’s successful 1996 re-election campaign and the pragmatic policies of triangulation provided Clinton and the GOP much debated and heralded success.

I believe that public policy is at its best when it is a compromise between the two major political parties in our nation. Many have seen triangulation as simply a pragmatic way of making public policy in the center. Through the lens of history, I disagree.

Triangulation was the co-opting of a GOP agenda as a Democratic centrist agenda, which essentially moved the Democratic Party establishment to the right. The GOP had three options once this happened: First, they could simply join the Democratic Party; second, move to the left to distinguish themselves; third, move further to the right to further distinguish themselves. The first two are false choices which suggests the GOP as a movement had one option—the extreme right. It was the only option to them and they took it.

The abandonment of the progressive agenda by the Democratic establishment has hurt America. Not because the progressive agenda is necessarily the right prescription for public policy but because it has moved the debate within the conservative movement. In essence, the Democratic Party has become a debating partner within the conservative movement.

Free trade agreements were negotiated without a simultaneous plan to have public policy prescriptions to limit the damage of globalization for American workers. There was a real human economic cost to the American worker with the move to the right on free trade. Not to say that we can avoid globalization but that debate was one sided. It lacked progressive input.

Immigration policy during the Clinton years only discussed H1B1 worker visas while not thinking about low wage workers, the long lines for family reunification visas. Not that having more highly skilled workers coming to America was bad. But America also needed low skilled workers and families remained divided because of a one-sided immigration policy debate.

These one-sided debates provided us only with partial answers to a rapidly growing world. These one-sided answers are due to the public policy debate taking place on the right entirely.

The American political parties have built election coalitions based upon rhetoric and fear – not ideas. Donald Trump may be our nation testing that cynical establishments of both parties. The question is whether Donald Trump will be co-opted by the GOP or whether he can serve as a pragmatic deal maker for the American voters.

As a man of faith, a middle class father of four and working immigrant—and while I voted against Donald Trump—I continue to hope for my nation.•


Siddiqui is an attorney, has a doctorate from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IU and leads the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.


Recent Articles by Shariq Siddiqui / Special to IBJ

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