Bill Clinton thinks he deserves more credit for reforming welfare and balancing the budget.
“I go crazy every time I read the conventional wisdom,” he said Friday night at his presidential library in Little Rock, Ark. “So part of the Republican narrative is that I was ‘saved’ from myself by the election of the Republican Congress [in 1994] that ‘forced me’ to do welfare reform and ‘made the balanced budget possible.’”
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Clinton said reporters and commentators “keep saying this, overlooking all relevant facts.”
The 42nd president said Arkansas had been a test case for reform during his governorship. At the federal level, he said 43 states received federal waivers to implement welfare reform before the GOP-controlled House passed the final bill.
“And yet I kept reading how this was ‘a Republican idea,’ just because President Reagan had a good story about a welfare queen and a Cadillac who didn’t exist,” Clinton said.
The feisty comments came during 20 minutes of unscripted remarks that immediately followed a one-hour panel discussion commemorating the 20th anniversary of Clinton announcing his run for president in front of the nearby state house. They showcased a Clinton determined to present himself as a transformational figure.
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Six senior aides from the 1992 campaign had waxed nostalgic, praising their old boss for revitalizing the Democratic Party and changing the way campaigns are run.
When Clinton took the microphone, he riffed on the importance of offering voters a compelling story line.
“I’m telling you this to point out that we need a coherent narrative,” he said. “The No. 1 rule of effective politics, especially if the people you’re running against have a simple narrative — that government is always the problem, there is no such thing as a good tax or a bad tax cut, there’s no such thing as a good program or a bad program cut, no such thing as a good regulation or a bad deregulation — if you’re going to fight that, your counter has to be rooted in the lives of other people.”
His speech included an attack on the tea party governing philosophy.
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“We need to understand that one of the things that tends to tilt things toward the Republicans’ anti-government narrative is our country was born out of a suspicion of government,” Clinton said. “King George’s government was not accountable to us. That’s what the Boston tea party was about. When the tea party started out, at least they were against unaccountable behavior from top to bottom. Then it morphed into something different. If you want to go against that grain, you’ve got to tell people you understand it’s a privilege and a responsibility to spend their tax money, but there’s some things we have to do together. And that’s what the purpose of government is, to do the things that we have to do together that we can’t do on our own.”
“If we can make that choice credible,” he added, “then our candidates — starting with the president — and our principles will be fine.”
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