Early in his impassioned, policy-packed speech to the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday, Bill Clinton urged: “Ask the mayors who are here.” The former president had in mind how problems are addressed in the “real world.” He offered a one-word explanation: “cooperation.” That has been the missing element in Washington, a willingness to put aside the fierce partisanship of a campaign to strike the deals that are part of the give and take of effective governing.
Both Democrats and Republicans have taken partisanship too far. Yet the recent record now is ample that Republicans had practically no interest in cooperating with Barack Obama. Part of that may be due to the president making such a cause of overcoming the divisions in the capital. Deny him the achievement, the dark logic follows, and you diminish his stature, getting closer to the objective defined by the Republican leader in the Senate of denying the president a second term.
What Clinton reminded is that president did make overtures, placing Republicans in his Cabinet. The president included Republicans ideas in the stimulus package, various tax cuts, for instance. He adopted Republican ideas for health-care reform, insurance exchanges and the individual mandate. The absence of reciprocation worked against him, leaving an impression of weakness, a man negotiating with himself.
For the president, the task of the campaign is showing what he has achieved in face of such resistance. In that way, Clinton provided much assistance, not so much in revealing the falsehoods and distortions, say, about Medicare and welfare reform. The former president connected the dots, pointing to the initiatives launched for “a new, modern successful economy of shared prosperity.”
That may be small comfort to the many without jobs. The economy is better. It has not recovered, let alone reached flourishing. As Clinton explained, crucial pieces have been put in place. They include an investment in clean energy and the adoption of fuel-efficiency standards as part of an energy, environment and economic strategy.
Add improvements in student loans and the Race to the Top program (the latter part of the stimulus and reflective, again, of Republican ideas). At its core, the auto rescue took aim at a long postponed yet essential reordering of the industry. The Affordable Care Act seeks a modernizing of health care, whether through electronic records (more stimulus) or incentives to prevent hospital-acquired infections, seeking to curb costs while maintaining and improving quality.
A credible, long-term plan for the budget deficit is essential, too, Clinton reminding about the president’s framework for a balanced approach. These are some of the parts of a better performing economy, a variation on the principle of cooperation, elements blending into the foundation for a stronger whole. This is how progress is achieved in the real and changing world.