Reagan set the politics; Clinton played the steward. ...Newt Gingrich and his followers were intent on enacting a far crueler version of Reaganism. Clinton, sensing their threat, smartly co-opted their principles and refashioned them as part of a relatively progressive and unquestionably compassionate agenda. In doing so, he succeeded in making some admirable policy advances... and staving off their most dangerous initiatives.
That's not the way I remember it.
Bill Clinton, along with Tony Blair in Britain and Jean Chretien in Canada, created a new liberalism: a progressive agenda that also emphasized fiscal responsibility. This new approach blew the lid off the old conservative complaint that liberals were fiscally irresponsible and poor economic stewards ("tax and spend"). At the time this movement was called The Third Way, but since then it has just been accepted as what modern liberalism is. To some on the left it spells abandonment of core values, but to me it is responsible leadership.
Even though welfare reform had seemed anathema to previous generations of Democrats, the welfare state as it existed in 1992 was not working for welfare recipients or the country, and so Bill Clinton reformed it. He didn't do this (as Republicans like to pretend and Democrats have been duped into believing) because he was triangulating: he did it because it was the right thing to do.
A similar initiative was all the hard work that Al Gore, as vice-president, put in to reforming government to make it work better and more efficiently. Other examples were middle class tax cuts and balancing the budget - they were things Clinton did because they were right thing to do, and they fit in with his Third Way approach. Dick Morris might like to tell people that Clinton was out-Republicking the Republicans, but that it is not the essence, purpose or legacy of the policies.
To say that Clinton adopted Reagan's values is ludicrous. Clinton didn't adopt trickle-down economics. He didn't follow the crazy Libertarian economic policies of Reagan guru Milton Friedman. He didn't try to break the unions. He didn't adopt an environmental policy that claimed trees were major polluters. He didn't promote school lunch programs in which ketchup and mustard were deemed vegetables. He didn't adopt the rabid anti-communist policies that caused Reagan to persecute and attack small Central American and Caribbean countries or make slimy secret deals with Iran. He didn't divert the scientific geniuses of the day into a pie-in-the-sky missile shield.
The genius of Bill Clinton was that he didn't reject policies just because the opposition supported them. That doesn't mean that he adopted the values, agendas and platform of previous governments.
Bill Clinton didn't accomplish everything we would have liked, but that's because America voted in a Republican congress. The buck stops there.