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Time To Write About This Guy

The Clinton Presidency

by James Leroy Wilson
January 17, 2001

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Time To Write About This Guy_James Leroy Wilson-The Clinton Presidency One risks the charge of plagiarism when writing about Bill Clinton. Much of what will be said has already been said. You know, he saved the Democratic Party and at the same time destroyed it. He tried to take over one-tenth of the economy (health care) and is credited for "not getting in the way" of prosperous times. He was a victim of witch-hunting persecutions, yet by obstructing every single investigation he did nothing but make himself look guilty. He cut back the military yet deployed it everywhere. He is credited for balancing the budget and reforming welfare though he opposed both. He supported speech-abridging campaign finance reform even as he broke every reasonable law limiting the influence of foreigners in our political process. He was a deficit hawk who tried to delay balanced budgets for ten years. Was it all hypocrisy, a lack of principle, or just historical paradox?

Another common theme is wasted talent. A man so smart, who could communicate so well, really didn't accomplish very much while in office, and those things he did were actually based on Republican ideas, such as free trade.

I think what saved him was his communication skills, although he never really did say anything very inspirational or memorable. He exploited two old Democratic themes and appropriated one Republican theme. The Democratic themes were group rights and individual welfare. The group rights rhetoric kept two Democratic core constituencies, feminists and blacks, loyal. Defend the right to an abortion to the utmost; initiate a "National Dialogue on Race" which would not listen to any objection to affirmative action. And though Clinton signed legislation requiring recipients to get off welfare and find jobs, what I mean by "individual welfare" is broader than that. Under Clinton, the federal government would not only rule, it would not only provide services and protect us, it would care. By telling us he feels our pain, Clinton suggested that it was the federal government's responsibility to solve all of life's problems. This attitude seduced more than a few "soccer moms" and a whole lot of "single moms."

What Clinton appropriated from the Republicans was prosperity, the economy. The Reagan question of 1980 and 1984 came to us again, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" Moderates distressed slightly by the Lewinsky scandal would shrug and say, "Well, at least he knows how to run the economy."

Taken together, these add up to a philosophy of sorts, that the federal government is encharged with promoting the American Dream, the vision of ever-increasing opportunities and prosperity for all. Liberty is not part of the equation here, only economic and social "rights." No wonder Clinton was at his rhetorically weakest in foreign policy, unable to persuade the American people why we should take sides in Somalia, invade Haiti, expand NATO, continue sanctions on Cuba, or bomb Yugoslavia. His philosophy, shallow as it was, could not go beyond generalities like "human rights" or "national interest." Not that these terms don't mean anything, it's just that Clinton didn't tell us what he meant by them.

To the American people, these problems seem so far away, and only future historians can sort out which of Clinton's policies proved wise and which provoked disastrous consequences and set bad precedents. What is scarier is the complacency on the domestic front. Study Waco to see if the ATF and FBI followed the proper "rules of engagement," but don't question whether the laws David Koresh supposedly violated were even constitutional. Demonize a freedom-loving family to justify a midnight raid for an alien child. Defy every statistical indicator and pretend that violence in schools is up to justify more gun controls. Bully the entertainment industry into making anti-drug plots on television programs under the government's review. Step up the War on Drugs, which has, so far, violated at least six of the ten articles of the Bill of Rights. (Next thing you know, Clinton will propose quartering of soldiers in people's homes to see if anyone but those partisan right-wing extremists would notice or care.)

Whether you call it unprincipled or hypocritical, Clinton's administration embodies the emptiness of the American political mind. We talk about liberty, but it's all just cheap talk; what we mean by liberty is getting what we want when we want. Never mind that the federal government is more intrusive than a King George or a Santa Ana could have imagined; the government staying out of one's sex life is now the one and only acceptable definition of personal freedom. And never mind that it is entrepreneurs who create jobs and workers who make the economy stronger, give the credit to the President of the United States and the people he appoints. The rhetoric of the nanny state, the fruits of a market economy, that's what Bill Clinton has given us. Self-centeredness in word and deed is the American Way these days.

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