05/09/2005 12:00 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Revisiting Clintonism

Any discussion of figuring out how to bring life and spirit back into a Democratic Party that has become far too concerned with tactics and eking out short term victories has to consider where we have been before. One of the debates progressives need to have is over the meaning and legacy of Clintonism. That means a real debate – not just an attack on strawmen. In recent months, a dead consensus has emerged that Clintonism was just about “triangulation;” a soulless search for an empty center. But as I try to show in an article in this week’s New Republic, the truth is that – while Clinton did tack with the wind over the years – he carried with him a basic worldview and large vision of where America needed to go that remained remarkably consistent over 25 years in public life. Democrats need to think about Clinton just as Republicans spent years debating Reagan.

In focusing on the need to change our economic policies to respond to a global economy, in speaking to concerns that had to do with community and not just dollars and cents, and in working to rethink government’s role for a post-bureaucratic world, he not only took big steps but headed in directions that Democrats have lately abandoned. The “next Bill Clinton” will be a leader who brings not only a twinkle in the eye, but a vision for the future. And we need to have a real debate about Clintonism if Democrats are going to get off the sidelines of history and start moving forward again.