Bill Clinton, the Best Politician (And President) of His Time
Last night, the master politician of his time gave a speech to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. President Bill Clinton, the man who left office with an approval rating in the mid-60’s, spoke less as a former President, and more as a spouse to a Presidential candidate. He talked about their relationship. He talked about her political career. He talked about what she would do as President. He humanized Hillary Clinton in a way that few others could even hope to. It was a vintage Bill Clinton speech.
I can’t help but feel bad for Bill Clinton. While lesser Presidents, like Ronald Reagan, have been elevated in their post-Presidency, President Clinton takes fire from all sides. To the hard-right, they will never let down his personal failings, despite the fact that America has largely rejected their view of him in office. To the hard-left, he was not liberal enough, and represents a period in history just before the progressive grassroots took over the Democratic Party. Many of the arguments against him take on heavy revisionism. Many more suppose he had powers over Congress that he just never had (and believe it or not, President Obama did for at least two years). He’s blamed for the political tone of his time, despite the fact he was the only Democrat able to cut through the Reaganism that infected the country in his day. The man is blamed for a lot of things that are simply unfair, untrue, and not even worth debating.
Here’s what I know about Bill Clinton- his Presidency was the best period America has had in my lifetime, by a mile. Job creation was high, unemployment was low, thanks to over twenty-million jobs being created during his tenure. The federal deficit was non-existent at the end of his Presidency, and in fact we had an annual surplus- and if we had maintained his policies, we would have eliminated the debt earlier this decade. He oversaw an economy that created jobs for 115 straight months. He raised education standards. Home ownership hit an all-time high. He expanded access to college education. He signed the Family and Medical Leave Act. Violent crime fell. He expanded internet access, especially in our schools. He signed gun safety laws. Poverty levels hit an all-time low, while real income rose across the board. Infant mortality fell. He signed anti-nuclear agreements and enacted them with Russia. He moved the Middle East Peace process further than any President in my life. The Presidency of Bill Clinton was a success.
I don’t mean to discount some of the substantive critiques, necessarily. I’d argue the Crime Bill of 1994 wasn’t the total evil it’s now cast as, but there are definitely evils in it. I’d argue that NAFTA isn’t the complete evil it’s viewed as today, but it has caused some pain. I’d argue there are definitely some problems with his Welfare Reform Bill, though it’s not all bad. I’d even concede that he probably shouldn’t have signed the de-regulatory bills on the banks that he did in the closing years of his Presidency, though that alone would not have stopped the 2008 crash. No, Bill Clinton’s Presidency isn’t all a bed of roses, but it is overwhelmingly good. Many of the negatives have been over-sold.
As I said before, Bill Clinton was the President in the best years of my lifetime. In the end, outcomes are what matter to the people who live in the time. President Clinton absolutely deserves credit for the good times that he oversaw. He oversaw a period of peace and prosperity that is really only challenged by President Eisenhower in modern American history.
Much like Eisenhower, President Clinton has spent much of his post-presidency defending his record against his own party. Much like President Eisenhower, America would be better off if he won the argument. President Clinton is the best politician of his time, and that’s why he left office overwhelmingly popular, defeating those who sought to destroy him. The historical record will also show that President Clinton was a really, really good President too, a man who oversaw a country who’s success we all would like back. I really enjoyed seeing him make his case again last night.