Friday, August 10, 2007

The Golden Age of America...

Our democracy must be not only the envy of the world but the engine of our own renewal. There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America. -- Bill Clinton, First Inaugural Address

In the early 2000's, I used to make an argument to friends that history would one day look back on the last decade of the 20th century as the Golden Age of America. For almost a decade, America experienced a sort-of new Pax Americana - a time of peace and prosperity simply unrivaled in American history.

But that story is rarely if ever told today. Instead, over the past two years, crescendo-ing over the past six months, we are constantly bombarded by propaganda by the conservative right alleging that the Clinton Presidency accomplished nothing; was a do-nothing administration; did not do anything for America, etc. And people, apparently, are actually buying into this propaganda.

In my opinion, this is just a calculated attempt by the Right to cast dispersions on the Democratic Party in the run-up to Election 2008. More specifically, it is probably an attempt to de-legitimize the candidacy of Hillary Clinton by negating the accomplishments of Bill Clinton's administration. You see, least hard-core wingers...are running scared. They realize that America remembers what a good President was like, even thought we've had 6+ years of incompetence now. America is impressed by this slate of Democratic candidates who are willing to take our nation in a new direction. And more specifically, as America gets to know Hillary Clinton (not the right-wing caricature of her, but the actual candidate) they like her, they see her as a strong, intelligent, nuanced, and having the gravitas of a Commander-in-Chief. Heck, that is enough to give a conservative nightmares.

So they make stuff up. They try to convince regular folks, independents and traditional Republicans that the Clinton Presidency was a joke. That he accomplished nothing. Therefore, another Democrat - or Hillary herself - will accomplish nothing.

That simply could not be further from the truth.

Let me be honest - Bill Clinton was not one of America's "Great" President's. In my opinion, he will not go down in history as one of the top five, the "upper-echelon" if you will. And, it must be conceded that Clinton and his administration was unable to accomplish nearly as much in his second term as in his first - because of the most shameful, partisan witch-hunt in American political history. I don't excuse Clinton's affairs in office. It was wrong, and frankly pathetic. The lack of judgment regarding his personal life that he showed in office is enough, at least for me, to have knocked him out of the running for one of our Greatest Presidents, even if he had accomplished more than what he did. Having said that, his impeachment was nothing more than a political sham, and it took the focus away from the work of the American people.

But, the amazing thing is what was done in the 8 years of the Clinton Presidency. It is a truly amazing record, and one that has probably not been seen in the post-War era. To combat some of the revisionist propaganda about the lack of accomplishments of the Clinton era, below is a PARTIAL list of accomplishments and initiatives passed or put in motion during 1993-2000. Not everyone will agree politically that each of these items was a home-run. The point is the VAST amount accomplished during Clinton's two terms...especially when contrasted with the abysmal record of the past 6+ years.

Accomplishments of the Clinton Presidency
Domestic Legislation:
~ Family Medical Leave Act (1993) - unpaid leave to care for a newborn child or sick family member without losing jobs
~ Brady Bill (1993) - gun safety legislation
~ Creation of AmeriCorps (1993) - most significant public service program since the 1960s
~ Expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit* (1993) - provided tax relief to millions of low-income working Americans
~ Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act* (1993) - raised taxes on the top 1.2%, lowered taxes for 90% of all small businesses and 15MM low-income Americans
~ Omnibus Crime Act (1994) - included supplemental funding to local governments for 100,000 new police officers
~ Paperwork Reduction Act* (1995) - streamlined federal government processes; reduced bureaucracy; saved tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer money
~ Minimum Wage Increase* (1996) - was not increased again for 11 years
~ Defense of Marriage Act (1996) - allows state-determination of recognition of marriage
~ Welfare Reform (1996) - most significant welfare overhaul since the programs inception
~ Creation of the Hope and Lifetime Learning Tax Credits* (1997) - makes two years of post-secondary education available to Americans at no cost
~ Creation of the Roth IRA* (1998) - tax savings for retirement

Economy (*Note: many of the economic and tax laws listed above play directly into this area):
The longest period of peace-time economic expansion in American history - including:
~ Average economic growth of 4.0%
~ Creation of 25MM new jobs, 92% in the private sector (more than the previous 12 years combined)
~ Real Median Family Income increases (after falling each of the previous four-years, and having been stagnant since)
~ Unemployment reached its lowest level in 30 years (before Bush Admin changed the definition of unemployment to kick the long-term unemployed off the rolls)
~ Inflation at its lowest level since the Kennedy Presidency
~ Home ownership at 67%
~ 7MM fewer Americans in poverty than when Clinton entered office (lowest poverty rate in 20 years)
~ Largest increase in higher education funding since the GI Bill (expansion of federal loan and grant programs; Lifetime Learning Credit and Hope Credit which enable any American to achieve 2 years of post-high school education for free)
~ Smallest welfare rolls in 32 years
~ Largest budget surplus in US history (after inheriting the largest deficit in US history)
~ Lowest government spending as a share of the economy since 1966
~ Lowest tax burden as a percentage of family income in 35 years
~ Surplus used to pay down debt - $360BB worth of debt paid down (remember, at the end of Clinton's second term, the government was running a surplus and was projected to pay of the ENTIRE federal debt by 2009...four years later, the US had it's LARGEST budget deficit in history AND highest debt level in history)
~ Lowest federal debt since the 60s
~ Balanced budged for the first time since 1969

~ NAFTA (1993) - established North American Free Trade Zone (Canada, US, Mexico)
~ Creation of the WTO (1995) - world-wide initiative, US was a leader in getting it done
~ Numerous other free trade agreements with Asia, South America, and others -
~ Normalized trade relations with China

Foreign Policy:
~ Agreed Framework with North Korea (1994) - kept N. Korea w/o nukes until Bush pulled out of the framework upon taking office
~ Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (1996) -
~ Containment of Iraq (1993-2000) - including numerous bombings to enforce the no-fly zone and prevent the re-emergence of weapons of mass destruction
~ Kosovo War (1999) - NATO run, US led
~ Mideast Peace Talks (1999) - attempt to end the 2d Intafada through diplomacy

Non-Legislative Initiatives:
~ One America Initiative - race relations initiative
~ Justice Department (FBI) investigated, found, and convicted the 1993 World Trade Center bombing terrorists

General Notes:
~ First Democrat to be re-elected to the Presidency since Franklin D. Roosevelt
~ Highest end-of-Presidency approval rating since the end of WWII
~ Lowest crime rate in 26 years (overall crime rates went down each year during the Clinton era)
~ Lowest teen birth rate in 60 years
~ Lowest infant mortality rate in American history

That, my friends, is a record of accomplishment standing alone. It shines all the more brightly when placed in comparison to the last six years of the Bush Administration.

No, Bill Clinton was not one of greatest Presidents in American history. He's not in the top five. It's unlikely he cracks the top-10, although that is probably where the argument begins. The years of the Clinton era in many ways swept clean the mess and murk of the 70s and 80s, and left America stronger, safer, smarter, and more optimistic than it had been in a generation. As President, Bill Clinton accomplished as much or more domestically than any President in post-war America.

Yes, he had massive faults, poor judgment, and down-right wrong aspects of his personal life. And don't let this list convince you that I believe that everything on here was a great policy, or great decision. The point of this overview is not the wonderful things that Clinton did, but rather, the things that his Administration accomplished. Anyone can find these things using a simple Google search...but the concerted effort of the Right is to not allow people to think critically for themselves (or google for themselves) - they want to tell people what to think. Don't believe the hype about the "do-nothing" Clinton Presidency. It simply isn't true.

As President, Bill Clinton was massively successful, and massively accomplished.

The Clinton era was a new Pax-Americana, the Golden Age of our still-young nation.

Related Posts: Clinton Presidential Center


MGK821ZA said...

You have provided a good summary of the accomplishments of the Clinton administration.

"Let me be honest - Bill Clinton was not one of America's 'Great' Presidents."

Without the event of a national crisis, usually in the form of a war, it is difficult for a President to demonstrate the leadership skill and accomplishment that can later result in a bestowal of the mantel of historical greatness. Clinton said something exactly to this effect shortly after 9/11 occurred when he wished this type of opportunity had been available while he was in office. One area where I believe Clinton could have possibly achieved more results in would have been to have pressed much more vigorously for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. The Gulf War left the US as the only super power in the region, and there was a loose international coalition in place. More pressure should have been placed on both sides to make the compromises in their positions which, could have lead to a resolution of this problem. Clinton had Rabin and Arafat to the White House in 1993 and they all had a nice hand shaking photo op. But this should only have been the beginning of the process, and he needed to continue the unpleasant but necessary task of arm twisting these leaders once they got back home in order to force them to live up to the bargain. Leaving the job up to the normal diplomatic process eventually resulted in the typical inaction and stalling, and thus a lost opportunity.

Blake said...

Thanks for the comment.

It is certainly true that the Clinton Admin was unable to accomplish anything tangible re: Mideast Peace negotiations. The counter-argument, however, is that the situation was likely left no worse when they left office.

Probably no US government has ever done enough to push peace negotiations in the Middle East, which is strange given our strategic interests in the region.