Skip to comments.Shattering the Clinton Myth
Posted on 03/04/2004 5:31:04 AM PST by Maria S
As Bill Clintons presidency recedes further into the national rearview mirror, those sympathetic to his world-view continue to worship much of the myth of his administration. Despite the recklessness, policy gyrations, ineffective national security policy, and criminality that permeated the Clinton White House, the liberal-left conventional wisdom regards Clinton as a genius who personally created peace and prosperity, only to see his successor plunge the country back into despair. Hillary Clinton is sure to seek to use her husbands mythical legacy as way of getting onto the White House stage herself someday.
For those interested in countering this spin, facts and analysis disproving the Clinton myth have been abundant but diffuse; the contemporary political literature has lacked a concise but comprehensiveand accuratesummary of the Clinton administration. Until now. National Review Editor Rich Lowry has endeavored to fill the gap with Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years. From its apt titleClinton always cared much more about his legacy than about the good of the countryto the ignominious events of its finale, Legacy is the product of a skillful writer who knows how to marshal meticulous research and thorough documentation. Even the 100+ pages of notes are highly readable, a veritable anthology of Clinton era vignettes and tidbits.
Opening with a character sketch that provides a framework for the chapters to follow, Lowry notes, The sympathetic gloss on the Clinton Presidency is that it was a substantive success despite Clintons failings. It was really the opposite. Despite the conventional wisdom, the primary beneficiaries of the Clinton administration were . . . the Clintons. Clinton and his Baby Boomer generation, suffering from delusions of cultural and educational superiority, felt that they deserved to run the country.
Part One of Legacy examines the politics and policies of Clintonism. As Lowry details, Clintons personal myopia and aversion to risk guaranteed a presidency of remarkable smallness, at least, once HillaryCare perished. Clintons core governing philosophies desperately followed political trends; true leaders set trends. Legacy documents the four phases of Clinton: the early leftist lean, chasing the country rightward after the Gingrich revolution, defending his campaign finance and litigation criminality, and finally returning to the Left and the launch of his legacy operation.
Rightly condemning Clintons annoying rhetoric about how he had grown the economy, Lowry examines the economic and Clintonian records and concludes: Altogether it was a characteristic Clinton performance, featuring dishonesty, double-mindedness, and good fortune. In no sense did he save, transform, or grow the economy, and only the power of well-coordinated repetition has bolstered the illusion that he did. While history is likely to treat Clintons economic management more kindly, Lowry does present a sound case.
Welfare reform, one of the great accomplishments of the 1990s, was foisted upon Clinton by the Congressional Republicans; indeed, Clinton had vetoed reform until Dick Morris warned that Clinton had to choose between avoiding a leftist third-rail and a second term. The first 1960s President also embraced a law and order renaissance, albeit a poll-driven one. Another of Clinton administrations most important and beneficial policy legacies, was simply that its health care plan was crushed.
Part Two covers the meat and potatoes of the Clinton years and hence carries the title Scandal & Law. Of the hypocrisy of the Lefts defenses of Clinton, Lowry observes, The scandal wars of the Clinton Administration represented the revenge of 1970s liberalism on 1990s liberalism. Indeed, the Left championed the independent counsel and unrestrained political investigations of the President, until the President happened to be a Democrat.
Legacy reminds us in vivid detail of Clinton Administrations pervasive lawlessness, from its disdain for the rights of sexual harassment litigants to its lust for Communist Chinese campaign cash, to its plans to destroy Monica Lewinskys reputation, to the powerand aggression of Janet Reno. Even though the material is familiar to most and frustrating for those who decry the soiling of American institutions, Lowrys summary is enlightening.
Part Three reviews the most damning element of Clintons record, his disastrous foreign policy. Because of its obsession with another legacy, that of Vietnam, A defeatist, apologetic attitude toward American power was instinctual for much of the Clinton team. Given its cowering foundation, the Clinton administration favored what Lowry termed in-between wars that limited risk and reward and eschewed the vigorous assertion of American and Western interests.
Had Clinton ordered more than half-measures against Islamofascism after the bombings of the World Trade Center, the African embassies, or any of the other attacks that occurred on his watch, 9/11 might never have happened. Apologists sometimes argue that such action would have prompted political criticism, offering a revealing glimpse of their priorities. In two countries peripheral to American interests, Bosnia and Kosovo, Clinton achieved mixed victoriesdecisiveness in both cases would have saved more lives.
Beyond his weakness in the face of Islamofascism, Clintons diplomacy repeatedly failed in strategic venues. He appeased North Korea on nuclear weapons in 1994, Yasser Arafat as part of his legacy quest for a Nobel Prize in 2000, and Saddam Husseinexcept for a few bombingsin 1998. All of these Clinton miscues contributed to the problems that George W. Bush has confronted with personal and political courage. Guided by leftist philosophy, Clinton embraced the terrorist-as-criminal mantra, declining Sudans offer to turn over Osama bin Laden to the U.S. in 1995-96. As Lowry summarizes, it was Clintons cowardice that kept him from vigorously fighting the terror war.
Hillarys win and the ascension of millionaire speculator Terry McAuliffe to head the Democrats salvaged the near-term political legacy that Al Gores loss would otherwise have jeopardized. While Clinton left office in a blaze of petty corruption, ranging from the pardoning of Marc Rich to pilfering White House trinkets, the gathering Islamofascist storm and Clintons inadequate responses ensured that Bush would have to confront one of the gravest threats the U.S. has ever faced.
Legacy recounts the age of Clinton with a poignancy that compels the astute reader to experience the era anew, but this time without the hope of a happy ending for the country. Lowry also verges on overplaying his hand on the Clinton era economy by suggesting that Clintons contribution was immaterial. While the GOP encouraged sound policies and the 1990s boom might indeed have grown out of the Reagan Revolution, Clinton was at the helm and denying him a share of the credit could undermine Legacys otherwise irrefutable case. Although the author notes Clintons remarkable propensity to zig-and-zag based on polls, conservatives and libertarians must temper such criticisms with the knowledge that many of Clintons flip-flops landed him on much firmer policy grounds; welfare reform shines as an enduring example. Unfortunately, the people who could learn the most from Legacy are the most likely to disregard the book.
Quibbles notwithstanding, Legacy will stand as an enduring chronicle of the real Clinton legacy. To his considerable credit, Rich Lowry has provided a book that doubles as a revealing look at the true Clinton legacy and a handy reference for those who want at their fingertips an invaluable tool for reversing the Clintonista spin.
"I ask that all Americans demonstrate in their personal and public lives... the high ethical standards that are essential to good character and to the continued success of our Nation."
--President Bill Clinton, October 17, 1997. "National Character Counts Week."
Also, don't forget the legacies of Haiti, letting Osama grow and attack without response, the "middle east peace" at any price to Israel, etc...
To ascribe Clinton's shortcomings in office to character flaws has now become the common wisdom, but falls well short of explaining what he was about.
I too was a sixties lefty, I sat around with other radicals dreaming of the day when we could place one of our own in the White House, one who would promptly proceed to dismantle the hated "military industrial complex". I got a real job, realized the wrongheadedness that this America hatred represented, and Bill Clinton never did either.
Everything Clinton did was ideologically driven, not the result of his admittedly numerous character flaws. He was about power first, and the reduction of American power through various means second. Even his embrace of NAFTA served both ends nicely, as it ingratiated him to business, enabled him to put out the "for sale" sign to them, and resulted in huge contributions from big business in the runup to his '96 campaign.
Had this guy had more time, and a little less opposition, business would have been completely complicit in what would have been his eventual neutering of American capitalism.