Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Truth of the Clinton Legacy

Eugene Robinson and I usually agree on most subjects. Yesterday's column (viewing it may require you to register to view The Washington Post if you haven't already) addresses the Clinton legacy and particularly the behavior of one former president with the first name of Bill.

My early criticisms of the Obama campaign involved his unwillingness to make light of the truth of the Clinton years. Make no mistake, I was not encouraging Obama to resort to dirty tactics or to smear the name of Bill Clinton, rather that I wished he'd point out the facts of the matter. They are often damning enough. Though Robinson does not state this, Clinton's centrist governing style acquiesced and conceded to the demands of a Congress hostile to him, which passed a massive Welfare Reform Act in 1996, a piece of legislation which bears his signature. This bill did more to negatively impact the entire Black community as a whole and yet it strikes me as deeply ironic that Bill is somehow perceived as the "First Black President".

As Robinson does note, increasingly blustering invectives from former President Clinton directly attacking Obama do cheapen his legacy and effectively remove the luster. The past seven, soon to be eight years of George W. Bush's horrific time in office have many of us longing for better days. However, let us not allow nostalgia for some supposedly golden age to taint our perception of the truth. Clinton's two terms in office accomplished some good things, certainly. However, what we have learned in recent times is that much of the economic prosperity of those times was largely illusory and on paper. Corporations grew, profit was made, but to what ends? I assert, and I assert strongly that business which functions without a few crucial regulations has a tendency to exploit workers in pursuit of profit and to take financial liberties based on greed, rather than sense. Thus is the drawback of a truly Laissez-faire capitalist system.

Obama's strategy thus far has been to take the high ground and rely on the power of suggestion and implication rather than overt volleys. At the time, I believed this was a philosophy doomed to fail, since politics as it has been defined over the years resorts to direct full-frontal assaults and the American people often fail to grasp the full impact of any idea unless it is clearly spelled out for them. Obama himself, through his own actions, may not be changing minds or the political landscape, but Bill Clinton's attitudes and angry responses may effectively be doing Obama's work for him, and in a much more effective manner than the Senator from Illinois could ever hope to do personally. If that was the intention of the Obama campaign from the beginning, then I tip my hat to those on his staff and to the candidate himself who were all forward thinking enough to devise such a ingenious strategy.

I also agree that Ronald Reagan was a transforming political figure in American politics. I disagree with the nature and scope of many of Reagan's transformational policies, but by saying it in that manner, Senator Obama merely stated the obvious. Our current President Bush has "changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not" as well, and decidedly not for better. That's no different than saying that Franklin Delano Roosevelt changed the trajectory of this country to a degree few of his predecessors or most Presidents since then have come close to accomplishing. The quotation does not state whether the reforms these Presidents made were essentially good or bad, just that they were substantial and that they occurred. When you get right down to it, the impact of policies is often far more substantial and meaningful then their quantity. Quantity of change does not always correlate to quality of change. Indeed, getting a few things done 100% correctly may be far more important and desirable than massive, sweeping, broad innovations that inadequately attempt to fix a totality of problems.


Anonymous said...

CK - You make excellent points here.It's true that in many ways, Clinton carried on the policies that began with Reagan.

Obama could make hay with a lot of this if he wanted to "pander" to the left and to certain "interest groups."

Instead, he appears to be playing to the center, which is, I suppose, the safe route.

The important thing that never gets addressed in this part of the campaign is this: A President does not operate in a vacuum. No matter what our current President thinks (and for some reason, so do the Dems????), the President must work with the other branches of gov't to make something happen.

Comrade Kevin said...

You are exactly right, DCup.

Any President who wants the majority of his agenda passed MUST have bipartisan support or he or she will get NOTHING accomplished.

Batocchio said...

Fair observations, all, although praise of Reagan, along with some of Obama's other gambits, raise concerns for me.

I left this over at PhysioProf's blog, but thought it might be wise to pass it on here, as well.

If you were asking for yourself about the Reagan laundry list, I'd go to the Big Con site and read Rick Perlstein, hit Paul Krugman's blog and read his latest book, hit Consortium News for their recent Reagan pieces, and read up on Iran-Contra. I'm happy to pass on specific links if you need, but most of it's pretty easy to find and quite recent.