July 1st, 2004
Back to opinion page.
Reviewing Clinton's presidency
Disgraced ex-President Clinton's new book, My Life, is shattering sales records and bringing back the debate over the Clinton years. Much of the debate (thanks to Clinton bringing it up himself) is swirling around the Monica Lewinsky scandal, with Republicans and Democrats re-treading the old arguments about Clinton's impeachment. (I've fallen into this myself on my blog.)
But there's much more to the eight years when Clinton occupied the White House than the sex scandal that became the most memorable aspect of his presidency.
In 1992, I was a conservative Democrat, and I supported Clinton in his bid for the White House. I saw in Clinton what I thought was a "new Democrat" who would chart a more moderate course. Soon after Clinton was inaugurated, I realized my mistake and switched parties.
In his first year, Clinton passed the second-largest tax increase in American history and introduced a plan to nationalize the American health care system, a socialist scheme that contributed to the Republicans' victories in the 1994 Congressional elections. (More on that later.)
Early on, the Branch Davidian cult in Waco, Texas held a standoff with the federal government over various charges against cult members and cult leader David Koresh. A foolish raid on the compound started a standoff that led to the disastrous events of April 19, 1993. On that day, the United States government used military force against its own people and caused the deaths of 80 people including 19 children. Since then, Waco has become a symbol of a government out of control.
Unfortunately, Clinton didn't use the same philosophy us using overwhelming force in Mogadishu, Somalia, as he did in Waco. An editorial in the Wall Street Journal sums up Clinton's failures:
American troops (who were there risking their lives to stop a man-made famine) were massacred by terrorists because of Clinton's failures. As the bodies of American heroes were disgracefully dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, Ungrateful Somalis danced in the streets and celebrated the murder and mutilations of the people there to save their lives.
Not long after, we departed from Somalia. Clinton's weakness damaged America's credibility abroad, which is summed up in this quote by Osama bin Laden, the architect of the September 11th terrorist attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center:
Clinton's weakness not only cost American lives, but it emboldened terrorists like bin Laden. Would there have been a September 11th had Clinton made it clear that America would respond to terrorism in a swift and devastating manner?
Clinton, with his flip-flops, incompetence in Waco and Somalia, and determination to dramatically expand the federal government, provided the Republicans with something they had not had in 40 years: control of the U.S. House of Representatives. Running largely against Clinton, the Republicans pulled off a huge landslide and the Democrats have yet to recover what they lost in 1994. The Republican Congress (and the shadow of hsi re-election campaign) would later persuade Clinton to sign the 1996 welfare reform act, after he vetoed it, of course.
There were, of course, other Clinton scandals besides Lewinskygate. One of these was the disturbing appearance of 900 FBI files in the White House, many of them on prominent Republicans. In addition, there was the shadow of Clinton abusing the Internal Revenue Service to harass political opponents.
Despite a very weak Republican opponent and a brilliant political strategy of reinventing himself, Clinton won re-election with only 49% of the popular vote in 1996. Bob Dole had 43% while Ross Perot had 8%. In other words, 51% of the American people voted against Clinton returning to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for a second term.
There are a lot of things to remember about Clinton's eight years as President, and Lewinsky is but one of many. When we are able to look back at Clinton's presidency, history will not show him in nearly as positive of a light as he hopes.