Who’s More Clintonesque, Obama or Romney?

By
Photo: Pool/2011 Getty Images

Mitt Romney wants to Etch A Sketch his way back to occupying the center, but his first step is to shove President Obama out of it. Romney's effort took the inevitable turn yesterday of praising Bill Clinton, to whom Romney also compared President Obama unfavorably. This is Romney's way of painting Obama as a big-government liberal, in stark contrast to the previous Democratic president:

President Clinton said the era of big government was over. President Obama brought it back with a vengeance. …

President Clinton made efforts to reform welfare as we knew it. President Obama is trying tirelessly to expand the welfare state to all Americans, with promises of more programs, more benefits, and more spending.

Old-school liberals saw a problem and thought a government-run program was the answer. Obamacare is the fulfillment of their dreams.

Is Obama really way to Clinton’s left? (And is Romney, by extension, closer to Clinton?) Broad ideological comparisons are sort of subjective and hard to nail down. But let’s try to get a handle on Romney’s claims. The biggest single difference between the two parties is taxes. Republican refusal to accept any tax increases is what prevented a bipartisan agreement on the budget and the size of government. And here, Obama’s position is that taxes on the very rich should revert to levels set by … Bill Clinton. Taxes on everybody else should be lower. So that is a position to the right of Bill Clinton.

It is true that Obama has expanded the welfare state by creating an entitlement to health insurance. But as Jonathan Cohn points out, Obamacare finances a major part of its new spending for the uninsured by cutting other entitlement spending. That’s why Mitt Romney has been relentlessly attacking Obama for cutting Medicare. It’s true! Obama cut Medicare. He has also cut domestic non-entitlement spending to levels that, if held, would represent historic lows. (Hopefully those levels won't hold.)

Now, is the notion of expanding the welfare state by making health care universal some left-wing Old Democrat idea that a New Democrat like Clinton would reject? Well, Clinton did try to create universal health care, and he proposed a more liberal plan than Obama proposed. I suppose you could define the Clinton record as including only things that Clinton passed, excluding things he tried to pass but failed, which would exclude the Clinton health-care plan.

But I’d further note that the plan Obama passed was based on the plan created by Mitt Romney. Romney had touted that very idea as the basis for a national plan before reversing himself. Was Romney circa 2007 to 2009 also a crazy liberal?