James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association, a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media, and a professor of communication studies at Whitworth University.

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Rachel Maddow stole my line

Posted by James McPherson on April 2, 2010

Actually I doubt that Rachel Maddow has ever read anything I’ve written, or overheard anything I’ve ever said. But my wife and I were surprised–and I felt affirmed, in an odd way–when the other night we heard her say something along the lines that she thinks “Bill Clinton was our best Republican president.”

I’ve been using that line, and that argument, for years. I don’t know if I’ve used in on my own blog, though my brother once wrote in his blog, ” I steal a line from my older and wiser brother in referring to Bill Clinton as the best Republican president since Eisenhower.” By the way, I’ll admit to being older, not necessarily wiser.

In my most recent book I didn’t go so far as to call Clinton a Republican (it was an academic work, after all), but I did write, “President Bill Clinton was lambasted as a liberal by Republican opponents, yet he drew critism for ‘stealing’ and implementing supposedly Republican ideas such as deficit reduction, international free trade, welfare reform, increased numbers of police officers, and charter schools.”

Of course we’re now seeing the same sorts of criticism and compromise with Barack Obama, though so far the Republicans are backing away from their previous ideas rather than complaining about theft–while Obama is well on his way to becoming at least our second-best Republican president. As for Clinton, elsewhere in the same book I wrote:

Bill Clinton might justifiably be considered the best conservative president of the modern age. After all, both his successes and his failures helped conservatives far more than they did liberals. By turning a federal deficit into a surplus (with considerable help from a Republican Congress, of course), overseeing sweeping welfare reform, and pushing through a North American Free Trade Agreement that corporations favored and most unions disliked, Clinton was truer to the policies of traditional conservatives than Reagan had been. … Further evidence of Clinton’s innate conservatism might be seen in the fact that many prominent neoconservatives turned their backs on Reagan’s former vice president to align themselves with Clinton when he campaigned for the presidency.

Elsewhere in the book I also note the observations of conservative George Will (before Will was apparently driven insane by Clinton’s sexual infidelities) and a couple of British observers that “Clinton’s big achievements–welfare reform, a balanced budget, a booming stock market and cutting 350,000 people from the federal payroll–would have delighted Ronald Reagan.”

In truth, I suspect that Maddow (an extremely intelligent and politically astute woman with a doctorate of her own) and I both have long been saying something that is obvious to most thoughtful followers of political history. But it’s something rarely acknowledged, and that I had never heard said by anyone other than myself until the other night.

And by the way, Rachel, I’ll forgive you if you let me pimp my book on your show.

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2 Responses to “Rachel Maddow stole my line”

  1. […] complained in the past about how America’s leaders were more conservative than the people they pretend […]

  2. […] like most other presidents, and that’s the problem. He’s certainly no liberal; like Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Obama is a politically practical neo-conservative who relies on a combination […]

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