Awaiting this week’s State of the Union speech from President Trump reminds me of my favorite SOTU speech of all time.
“The era of big government is over,” President Bill Clinton told a joint session of Congress on Jan. 23, 1996, just days after he ended his shutdown of the federal government over a budget issue.
As a small-government, social-progressive Democrat, I thought I’d never hear those words from a Democratic president. I remember watching the speech from bed, and I sat upright and cheered when I heard him say that.
“We cannot go back to the time when our citizens were left to fend for themselves. We must go forward as one America, one nation working together, to meet the challenges we face together,” President Clinton told Congress. “Self-reliance and teamwork are not opposing virtues — we must have both.”
It was Clinton who kicked off “welfare to work” reform programs as well as “tougher on crime,” and he — and later his wife Hillary — even favored stronger borders.
Back then, even some Democrats joined Republicans in wishing that those who worked could live better than those who wouldn’t, and that big government would stop its assault on success, its confiscation and redistribution of earned income and income leveraged from capital.
I never thought I’d find myself wishing that Bill Clinton were back at the head of the Democratic Party, but
here I am, with a bit of wishful nostalgia. The Clinton presidency always has looked better with rose-colored
tint of rear-view glasses.
Yeah, he was a “rascal.” Everyone knew that. That he would get sexually involved with a young intern was not
a surprise to anyone. That he was so unsophisticated as to perjure himself about it, of course, was a surprise.
Now comes the “new face” of the Democratic Party, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who sees herself as the heir-apparent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Ocasio-Cortez is 29 (I have shoes older than her!), and she doesn’t know yet what she doesn’t know. In her first month, The Washington Post also gave her its multiple Pinocchios award.
As a spokesman for the likes of Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, she’s not found a capital-accumulating, job-creating entrepreneur she likes and respects.
Like some of President Obama’s early anti-colonialist influenced ideas, she sees capital creation as an exploitation of the working class, a legacy of when colonial-minded empire-builders set out — in her view — to dominate and extract without restraint, leaving behind an impoverished residue.
By its very presence, capital becomes the Scarlet Letter of entrepreneurial immorality, she feels.
Readers here who are free-enterprise, free-market thinkers need to see this mindset as a serious threat
to themselves and future generations. It’s out there, and it’s abundant, in the next generation.
At times, frankly most of the time, I feel very alone in the new Democratic Party.
Having been raised in it, and having volunteered and canvassed for JFK in 1960 and LBJ in 1964 and voting for Hubert Humphrey in my first election in 1968, having been vice president of the Campus Democrats at the University of Illinois in the 1960s, I’ve never left the party.
However, it clearly deserted me decades ago, and few are left in it who think like me.
Although he certainly is a flawed man, I’d expect that President Trump will remind us Tuesday — as he should — that America was built on the backs of loving and caring citizens working hard for a living, earning their keep and enjoying the benefits of American exceptionalism.