Washington Monthly Writer: If Hillary’s Elected President, She Should Nominate Obama For the Supreme Court

March 12th, 2015 11:05 PM

After President Obama leaves office, presumably he’ll write a book about his White House years, but then what? Veteran journalist Steven Waldman has a suggestion. In the March/April/May issue of the Washington Monthly, Waldman recommended that if Hillary Clinton becomes POTUS, “Obama should be her first Supreme Court appointment. It’d be good for her, and very good for progressives. Would he want it? It’s possible he’d view it as too confining, but it may be the only job a former president can get that won’t seem like a step down.”

In the same column, Waldman, a former Washington correspondent for Newsweek and a senior adviser to the Federal Communications Commission for two years during Obama’s first term, disputed the conventional wisdom that Obama is markedly more liberal than Bill Clinton (bolding added):

[T]he Obama and Clinton presidencies complement, complete, and reinforce each other. To oversimplify, Clinton provided the policy and ideological original thinking; Obama’s the one who got the policies over the goal line.

Obama has not often been a policy innovator. Most of his big proposals were designed in the Clinton administration or by Clintonites. Obamacare was close to what Hillary proposed in 2008 and to the right of what the Clintons proposed in the 1990s. His first big environmental push was a centrist, market-oriented cap-and-trade regime. His stimulus package was almost one-third tax cuts. For all the attention to Obama’s slight weakening of the welfare law, the more striking thing is that he has pretty much left welfare reform—the most conservative thing Clinton did—intact…It’s a testament to how much Clinton changed the Democratic Party that even a conventional progressive like Obama ended up being “New Democrat” on most issues.

Conversely, Obama completed and expanded on the Clinton presidency in key ways. The most obvious is passing health care when Clinton couldn’t…Clinton started a modest-sized “direct lending” program that allowed college students to borrow straight from the government, bypassing banks; Obama got the banks out entirely, saving taxpayers billions in the process. Clinton proposed raising fuel efficiency standards for cars from 27.5 mph to 40. He failed. Obama has successfully raised them, with a target of 55 mph by 2015. Clinton moved the military from being actively hostile to gays to the milder-but-problematic policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell”; Obama allowed gays to openly serve.

But the bottom line is an impressive list of large policy accomplishments. Clinton’s legacy wasn’t undone by Obama; it was enlarged. We tend to think of Clinton as the canny pol and Obama as the visionary, but the truth is closer to the opposite. Clinton was the philosopher who reimagined progressivism in the modern era; Obama is the guy who made it happen. Clinton was the JFK; Obama the LBJ.