When Clinton Praised Reagan

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Still more from the vault. E.J. Dionne recalls a time when an up-and-coming Democratic pol with national aspirations had some nice things to say about Ronald Reagan and his ideas:

It was a remarkable moment: A young, free-thinking presidential hopeful named Bill Clinton sat down with reporters and editors at The Post in October 1991 and started saying things most Democrats wouldn’t allow to pass their lips.

Ronald Reagan, Clinton said, deserved credit for winning the Cold War. He praised Reagan’s “rhetoric in defense of freedom” and his role in “advancing the idea that communism could be rolled back.”

“The idea that we were going to stand firm and reaffirm our containment strategy, and the fact that we forced them to spend even more when they were already producing a Cadillac defense system and a dinosaur economy, I think it hastened their undoing,” Clinton declared.

Clinton was careful to add that the Reagan military program included “a lot of wasted money and unnecessary expenditure,” but the signal had been sent: Clinton was willing to move beyond “the brain-dead politics in both parties,” as he so often put it.

His apostasy was widely noticed. The Memphis Commercial Appeal praised Clinton a few days later for daring to “set himself apart from the pack of contenders for the Democratic nomination by saying something nice about Ronald Reagan.” Clinton’s “readiness to defy his party’s prevailing Reaganphobia . . .,” the paper wrote, “is one reason he’s a candidate to watch.”

Of course, this whole flap–and what really set off Bill Clinton–has never been about what Obama said about Reagan; it has really been about what Obama suggested about Bill Clinton when he said, “Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it.”

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