Bill Clinton’s odious presidency

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tags: Bill Clinton



Thomas Frank is a Salon politics and culture columnist. His many books include "What's The Matter With Kansas," "Pity the Billionaire" and "One Market Under God." He is the founding editor of The Baffler magazine.

Everyone remembers the years of the Bill Clinton presidency as good times. The economy was booming, the stock market was ascending, and the mood was infectious. You felt good about it even if you didn’t own a single share.

And yet: What did Clinton actually do in his eight years on Pennsylvania Avenue? While writing this book, I would periodically ask my liberal friends if they could recall the progressive laws he got passed, the high-minded policies he fought for—you know, the good things Bill Clinton got done while he was president. Why was it, I wondered, that we were supposed to think so highly of him—apart from his obvious personal charm, I mean?

It proved difficult for my libs. People mentioned the obvious things: Clinton once raised the minimum wage and expanded the Earned Income Tax Credit. He balanced the budget. He secured a modest tax increase on the rich. And he did propose a national health program, although it didn’t get very far and was in fact so poorly designed it could be a model of how not to do big policy initiatives.

Other than that, not much. No one could think of any great but hopeless Clintonian stands on principle; after all, this is the guy who once took a poll to decide where to go on vacation. His presidency was all about campaign donations, not personal bravery—he basically rented out the Lincoln Bedroom, for chrissake, and at the end of his time in office he even appeared to sell a presidential pardon.

It’s easy to remember the official, consensus reasons why we’re supposed to admire Bill Clinton—the achievements which the inevitable Spielberg bio-pic will no doubt illustrate with poignant and whimsical personal glimpses. First was the economy, which did really well while he was in office. So well, in fact, that we had something close to full employment for several years while the Dow hit 10,000 and the Nasdaq stock index went effing vertical—flush times that are almost inconceivable from our present-day vantage point. Yes, the bubble burst soon after he left office, but so what? Surely those glory years of Wall Street trump everything. ...




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