Source: Al Jazeera
Ever since Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980 with an appeal to blue-collar whites, politicians have chased the “Reagan Democrat.” The key to capturing swing states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, the theory went, was to win over white workers turned off by “tax-and-spend liberalism” and the excesses of the Democratic Party.
Bill Clinton restored Democratic control of the White House in 1992 by wooing back some of these voters. His role in transforming the Democratic Party at the national level throughout the 1990s is undeniable. It was Clinton — not Reagan — who balanced the budget and ended “welfare as we know it,” cementing a long-running reorientation of his party. Where Democrats once sought to expand the welfare state, the Clinton-led party managed its decline.
In this pursuit, the president found an ally in his wife. As first lady, Hillary Clinton echoed the administration’s tough-on-crime rhetoric and strongly supported landmark achievements such as the 1996 welfare reform bill, which placed onerous new restrictions and requirements on recipients of the program, and the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
This wasn’t a mere case of spousal solidarity: Hillary Clinton’s own ideological background is rooted in the “New Democrat” tradition embraced by her husband’s administration. The New Democrats pursued a “third way” between the European-style social democracy and free-market orthodoxy and rallied together under the auspices of the now defunct Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) in the late 1980s. Their platform was a direct response to the Reagan-era triumph of conservatism and its perceived sway among ordinary voters.
According to the New Democrats, blue-collar whites were wary of “big government.” By crafting policies palatable to these voters, Clintons and their allies, the story goes, were able to capture the White House and at least guarantee some form of progressive governance, albeit watered down, after the era of Reagan.