The Death of Clintonism


In September 1963, two months before his death, John F. Kennedy mused aloud to his old friend the journalist Charles Bartlett about the prospects for the 1968 presidential election, in which, he presciently worried, his brother Robert might run against Lyndon Johnson.

“He gave me the feeling he wasn’t pleased,” Bartlett would recall years later. “He wanted a record of his own. I sensed that he wanted the Kennedy administration to be Jack, and Bobby was going to turn it into a succession thing. Jack didn’t want a dynasty, although I am sure his father would have wanted that.”

By all accounts, Bill and Hillary Clinton never had any such qualms, and now their quarter-century project to build a mutual buy-one, get-one-free Clinton dynasty has ended in her defeat, and their joint departure from the center of the national political stage they had hoped to occupy for another eight years. Their exit amounts to a finale not just for themselves, but for Clintonism as a working political ideology and electoral strategy.

Twenty-five years ago, Bill Clinton almost single-handedly repositioned the Democratic Party for electoral success, co-opting and defusing Republican talking points and moving the party toward the center on issues like welfare and a balanced budget, in the process becoming the first presidential nominee of his party since Franklin D. Roosevelt to win two consecutive terms. But even as he left office after the bitter 2000 recount, and George W. Bush returned the White House to Republican hands, there were questions about whether Clinton’s political philosophy would endure beyond his own tenure.

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